Father Forward (Part One)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A priest with a rare power of healing is intercepted by another from the distant future in order to heal the country's ailing president, and help rescue the only such healer of the future, the kidnapped child Element the Follower.

Submitted: April 08, 2011

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Submitted: April 08, 2011

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Likely, it’s but once or twice in a lifetime, but a belittling moment nonetheless, when the guy beside you receives the thunderous, applauding ovation nobody else quite gets, while yours is reduced to the single aunt or uncle with mom and dad in the middle bleacher section somewhere. That was certainly the case on graduation day for Father Martin Pinegully, in Rome, graduating from its famed Angelicum. The entire university shook, it seemed, (the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas)–to the tune of a crowd that was somewhat…boisterous.

Earnest Packle, on the one side, must have felt like the loser in a popularity contest, as must have Wendy Robinson on the other. And Paul Peters. And Jake Queed. And Julia Reeling. And…

But Father Pinegully took it all humbly, receiving the degree gracefully as he did everything else. He was a man of certain charisma, a well-mannered, even tempered fellow, known for his sense of humor and generosity. Born of the unlikely Lebanese/Irish descent, it was something he joked about freely. He was many different things to many different people, and yet there was no getting around that other thing. Father Martin Pinegully, let it be known, was a person with a disability. The wheelchair was a part of him, really, but to you or to me, let there be no mistake–“I’m not a disabled person!” his contention always boomed. “Always put the person before the disability.” His arms were particularly strong, and his mind very particularly so, yet the cerebral palsy had claimed his walking ability since birth.

Returning to his still standing row, congratulations on all sides, he caught the headmaster’s voice directed to the row. “You may be seated.”

Turning to Earnest Packle, he winked. “Yes, I may. Thank you, I will.” And that was Father Pinegully for you. He shifted his tassel.

Outside, the sun baked the Italian landscape–rays of light exposed the ancient Roman forum like a crown jewel. The graduates made their way through the great archways that lined the Angelica, destined for St. Peter’s Square beyond. Father Pinegully, for one, was not above a good party, if for the right reasons. Clenching his new Doctorate in theology, he decided that it just might constitute that right reason. The crowd around him actually struggled to keep up.

“Anybody else in the mood for Italian?”

Somewhere, far behind them, a bell rang somehow fervently in one of the cathedrals of Rome.

 

A bell rang at St. Jerome Catholic Church is Peoria, Illinois, U.S.A., where a rather droll speaking deacon was just ending his homily. “…As most of you know, Father Pinegully, who has been in Rome these past two years earning his doctorate, will be rejoining us next week. I know we all look forward to his return. If you can, you are invited Saturday evening for a nice welcoming party beginning at six p.m.” There was a rumble of enthusiasm and then:

“Go in peace.”

“Yes!” it was the squeak of one child. One child often overlooked amidst the congregation, a boy in a wheelchair who, like the aforementioned priest, could not walk to leave the mass, but only leave in the same melancholy way in which he had come. But today, he left with an excitement in his heart. Left with a spark of hope and anticipation that embraced him, and yet, he could not vouch for everybody. Not, for example, the man he passed on the way out. A man who only sneered at the news.

As far as the man was concerned, Pinegully’s was the job he should have. A cripple! So he may have this so-called mysterious gift from God. He doubted its validity. Even if he actually had it–even if it was true that he’d cured several chronically ill people by his own hands–it was still unreasonable for him, in his condition, to handle all the functions of the priesthood. He shouldn’t be senior pastor. Not according to this curate. He waited for all the laity to clear out, and Curate Long approached the deacon. In a hushed voice: “You won’t forget to remind the Father of his appointment with the Bishop on the 20th?”

Deacon Ron just shrugged. “Remind him yourself, Father Long, if you’re that concerned he’ll forget.”

 

It was on an outdoor observation ramp at the Peoria Public Airport, and little Tyler Trenton could not, or would not, keep his power wheelchair from ascending it. Like the proverbial carrot before the rabbit, the temptation for a fun new perspective was just too great. He had wanted to get as close to things as he could to see Daddy return, and, as fate would have it, he got his chance. Mom bumped into an old friend that temporarily diverted her attention, while the concrete accessible ramp near the runway caught Tyler’s. Up he went. But the next plane that approached landing diverted his own attention, and unconsciously he steered the power chair toward the edge of the ramp. To his surprise, the front wheel teetered over the edge with a thump, the railing too high to prevent it. Then, suddenly, to his greater surprise, something clanged into the back of his chair, and he felt it being lifted and pulled back. When he turned around, he saw him, coming up to rendezvous at the halfway point of the ramp.

“Don’t be alarmed, it’s just a grappling hook,” Father Pinegully said. “I keep it handy just in case I find myself in similar circumstances and need to pull myself out of danger. Now, son, I wonder if someone is looking for you.”

Little Tyler looked astonished as he watched the final seconds of the mechanical grappling hook and rope automatically recoil back into the side of the guy’s chair. “Wow, mister. That was cool!” and little Tyler proceeded to invite Mr. Cool to his school for a special show and tell.

He accepted. That was Father Pinegully for you.

 

Saturday evening. St. Jerome Catholic Church Fellowship Hall. The place was packed. “Tonight is a momentous occasion,” this from Peoria’s Mayor Bell as the vast majority of the crowd was finishing their provided meal and were sparsely heading back to the dessert table. “Father Pinegully has added yet another accolade to his impressive resume. That of doctorate in theology. (Applause). But we’re here tonight, not only to recognize this accomplishment, but of 30 years of tireless work in the community, and, indeed, the nation. (Applause, standing). As mayor, I must say I am proud that this special man calls Peoria home, and we’re here tonight to publicly thank him, and to present just a small token of our appreciation.” (Thunderous applause). I want to say, though, before I make the presentation of the plaque, that I, myself, have a story to tell concerning our man of the hour.” The mayor paused. “You see, I was, not too long ago, afflicted with a tumor behind my knee. When Father Pinegully used to form the ‘fine lines’ at the end of mass, I stepped right up.” Creeping a smile, “and I’m proud to say–I am one of his successes!” (Applause).

“Anyway, without any further adieux as they say, Father Pinegully, I present to you on behalf of the city of Peoria, this plaque. It reads: ‘To Father Martin Pinegully: On behalf of your tireless dedication to the City of Peoria, on this the fifteenth day of September, 2005, the city hereby recognizes you as Man of the Year!’”

The ensuing applause was uproarious. When it was over, Pinegully seemed floored. So humbled was he that there was a brief but uncomfortable silence that filled the room. Finally, “Thank you. Thank you, Mayor Bell.  I’m truly very humbled, and a bit speechless. Let me just say that as much as I enjoyed Rome, it ain’t home!” The crowd was up applauding and whistling again, and when they finally died down, Father Pinegully had subsided to a more serious air.

“Just to remark on the matter that the mayor eluded to, I try to do my duty to God and country, and I take no credit for my gift–it is a unique one bestowed upon me by God. Please understand that it is His power and not mine, I am merely His vehicle for its use,” and he was patting the wheelchair armrest. “No pun intended. But, seriously, we will continue with the ‘fine lines,’ because it’s like I always said, ‘when you feel fine, God feels fine, and I feel fine.’ I think that’s a reason He gave me this…ability. So…I’ve had Deacon Ron quarter off a section,” Pinegully was pointing to the back corner of the hall. “It’s a ministry I’ll even resume tonight for anyone interested. But first,” he turned his head to the dessert table. “That cake…”

A combination of excitement and restlessness ensued. The ‘fine lines’ formed a half-hour later, and Father Pinegully laid hands on numerous people, bestowing his enlightened blessing. The ritual marched on until 11:45 p.m., when the final man in line stepped forward. It was Curate Father Long. “You just might cure my ills, father, by tending to this matter.” He handed Pinegully a folded slip of paper that when unfolded read simply and all in caps: THE BISHOP WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU. 20, SEPTEMBER AT 4:00 P.M.

The class visit, arranged by Mrs. Hassenstein, on Timmy Trenton’s enthusiastic recommendation, brightened an otherwise routine Thursday afternoon in Peoria High School’s Orthopedic Life-Skills class. They were huddled around the computer during third hour language class when he came tooling in. It was the expected time, 10:30, and Mrs. Hassenstein broke with her German lesson, enthusiastically. “Ahh, zer goot class, our visitor’s here.”

Timmy, especially, echoed that enthusiasm as he came in. “Father Pinegully!”

“We were just working on our German,” put in Mrs. H. “Class, how do we greet Father Pinegully?”

“Vegates Herr Pinegully!” the class boomed with scrambled difficulty.

He saw there were six students in the class, four in wheelchairs, and two ambulatory.“I’m afraid I know very little German, but part of my heritage is Lebanese, and I’ll just say ‘Shukran’. That means ‘thank you.’”

“He pulled me off a ramp at the airport with this rope thing that comes out of his chair!” Timmy rang out joyously.

The Father smiled. “Yes,” he said, and patted the mounted cylindrical apparatus that encased it. “You’d be surprised how many times that’s come in handy.”

Mrs. H proceeded to tell the class to gather around the table, and thanked the priest for coming. “Father, first we want to thank you for what you did for Timmy at the airport. He really could have been hurt.”

Pinegully assured the class it was perfectly all right, and caught the boy’s glance. “Aside from the dangerous incline of that ramp, Timmy, you want to watch surfaces like it that have both wet and dry patches. Our chairs can’t get good traction on them, and they’re even more dangerous than an all wet surface. Many inclines and ramps are good. They’re all supposed to be built in the name of accessibility, but that one, I’m afraid, falls in the category of what I’ve come to call a ‘ramp-o-death.’”

He nodded.

Mrs. H. laughed. “Yes, we’ve talked about accessibility in here. Many of the stores and public buildings even here in Peoria have a long way to go.” There was a pause and the teacher changed the subject.

“So what’s it like being a priest?” Mrs. H. said, taking the reigns of the interview.

“I’ll tell you, it’s not an easy life,” he began, turning his head to capture the eye of each member of his audience, “but a very worthwhile one. Of course we spend much of the day at the church in prayer and meditation, and carrying out the many functions at the church, but we also do a great deal of charitable work, community work–this is work for the church.”

“Oh, which do you like best?”

The priest seemed to ponder the question. “Well, it’s all God’s work. I’ve never left from a single mass at St. Jeromes’ feeling discontented or agitated. There’s a warm, closeness to the presence of God during mass that cannot be obtained anywhere else or in any other way. But some of my most memorable experiences have been out of the church.” He smiled. “I love doing things like this, for example.”

Mrs. H. asked if there was anything the kids would like to ask. When none raised their hands, Father Pinegully jumped in. “I’d like to just say to the students that, in many ways you get out of life what you make of it. We all have disabilities–we all know who the only perfect Man is–but happiness is not found in what you can or can’t do with your body, but in how you look at things with your mind. The Bible says: As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.  And guys, one thing I learned early on, is, it’s important to take a stand for your own life–and live it.”

“Yes,” Mrs. H. interjected. “Our buzz phrase is ‘advocate for yourself.’”

“Advocate for yourself.” Pinegully repeated.

“You are all God’s people, and have a right to be here, and are all here for important reasons,” The priest assured.

Mrs. H. asked him what he liked best about being a priest.

He thought for a moment about that. “Giving,” he finally said simply. “It’s like it says in the Book. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. You know, the priesthood is really synonymous with one word: Sacrifice. It’s what Christ did for all of us, so, in my own small way, with my time, with my life, it’s what I do for Him.”

The lunch bell rang but nobody heard it. He did not leave before shaking each student’s hand or gently patting them on the shoulder. “God bless you, God bless you, God bless you,” the words rang out for each one. For them, a friendly, if expected, holy parting from a priest.  In truth, something considerably more. For, through the Lord, they would later receive what this unsung healer had given so many times, quietly, before. Yet, few would have believed it possible that Timmy Trenton and all the students of Mrs. Hassenstein’s life-skills class, those forgotten few in the far corner of Peoria High School, would actually walk to receive their diploma’s courtesy of that healing touch.

 

Embarrassment was the farthest thing from his mind. Nerves, yes. Insecurity, yes; nothing could have prepared him for what was about to unfold on this, his first conducted mass back in Peoria in ages. Little seemed to have changed at St. Jerome, indeed, it was pretty much the way he had left it…except for one thing.

Traditionally, it was always during the final lines of the recitation of the ‘Apostles’ Creed’ that Father Pinegully’s hydraulic lift raised him above the pulpit to deliver the liturgy. Today was no different. He had himself situated on the carpeted, flat stage–wheels locked in their special grooves–and the humming mechanics did their thing. The process, although rigged for Pinegully, had long since been deemed dependable. In ten years there had never been any sort of malfunction. Until now.  The liturgy was well underway when it happened, and the first thing he thought, was that someone had perhaps breezed by the suspension lifts, causing the thing to sway. Such was not the case. As he continued with the liturgy, the unprecedented became reality. The stage began to shift, wobbling unsteadily, and presently something buckled beneath. Reflexively, Pinegully shot an arm out to steady himself. A silence fell, save the metallic groan of the supports as they gave way, and then something snapped. In an instant the raised platform plummeted to the ground like dynamite to a building, in a deafening, thunderous collapse. All was then quiet except for mumblings in the crowd, and the clergy raced to the father’s side. In a matter of moments they were nodding their heads and clearing the way. His prognosis was favorable. Shaken, not stirred; he was fine.

A long silence fell. “I need a cigarette,” he said.

 

Every man, some would say, needs a hobby. A kind of ‘guy’s night out.’ That escape, for Father Pinegully, was Tuesday night dartball. Played using the rules of baseball, each man, from two opposing teams of nine aligned on either side of a game board, stepped up to the line, fifteen feet away, and hurled their dart underhanded in hopes of ‘hitting’ the white for a hit, rather than the red for an ‘out.’ The wooden board, a five by five square encasing a diamond shape for the bases and defensive ‘put-out’ zones between, was colorful and almost quilt like in appearance. The game of dartball had been a little known favorite in Peoria’s church community for nearly a century, it’s players convening in church basements each week during the fall and winter months. It was ideal fellowship for the sportsman. And best of all, it did not discriminate by age, sex, physical ability or anything else. All one had to be able to do was toss a dart underhand fifteen feet to be able to play. Father Pinegully had been doing just that for thirty years now, occupying the fourth chair ‘clean up’ spot in the line-up. The sole player in the league confined to a wheelchair? Yes. The only player using adaptations? Yes. The only player to hold the single season offense record with a .731 batting average the previous year? Humbly, yes too. Tonight it was the St. Jerome Rockets (to which Pinegully was part) verses the St. Boniface Tigers. Flexing his arms, Father Pinegully was preparing for the event, joining a group of his teammates. This game was a ‘home game’ in the basement of their own church, and the Rocket’s overall record showed no losses…but the season was still young. When all the players arrived, and the practice darts were thrown, the two teams stood and Pinegully delivered the prayer for another week:

 

“Thank you Lord for this opportunity for fellowship. As we play this game of dartball, may everything we do and say be pleasing in Thy sight. Amen.”

 

Amen, brother. At night’s end, another team victory was recorded under the Rocket’s belts, and the two teams shook hands before parting. Congratulated on all sides, along with his darts, Pinegully took yet another perfect game home with him.

 

The Archbishop of the diocese was one Hardesty–Naismith Hardesty–and Father Pinegully had a mysterious appointment with him in less than a half an hour. As Deacon Ron drove him in the church van to arrive at the appointment downtown, he could think only of Curate Long’s mocking grin as he had handed him the notice–a sing-songey ‘you are in trouble’ grin–but now Pinegully just shook his head.  The curate had had it in for him for years (a hunger for position behind a veil of jealousy) yet, Pinegully was ready to acknowledge that in many ways he was right. There were fundamental limitations of the priesthood that were out of the reach, so to speak, of this lame guy in a chair, but this was an issue he was not going to confront just yet. Not with Curate Long, anyway. No, for now he’d just send another prayer God’s way.

They arrived at the Cathedral of St. Mary’s downtown early, a quarter to four, and parked adjacent to its towering spires.  The home of the bishop was next door, in the cathedral rectory, and without trading a word, they made their way to a great mahogany door in front. It was the only wood in an otherwise brick laden exterior. Momentarily, they were let in.

The bishop was at his desk writing something, when Pinegully rolled in, alone, to his plush office.  After an uncomfortable wait, the Most Reverend Hardesty looked up. He was balding on the top, an old-looking 60. “Father Pinegully. I’ve been expecting you.”

“Thanks, I guess. Everything all right?”

Bishop Hardesty allowed a chuckle. “Well, yes…and no. And from your shoes, I’m afraid probably no again.”

Pinegully raised an eyebrow.

“How was Rome?” He was looking down, continuing to write as he spoke.

“Pretty much did as the Roman’s do.”

“Still dishing out the wit, I see. Anyway, the yes part is that you’re not in trouble–well, by the standards of a normal human being, anyway.”

“And the first no?”

The bishop sighed, took a drink from a small glass of Scotch on his desk, and now caught the others’ eye. “It seems there’s a problem with the pope. Stroke. Pretty serious one, too.”

“And the other no, I gather…”

The bishop was nodding his head. “Yeap. I’m afraid so. I hope you haven’t unpacked your bags yet.” Suddenly, two airline tickets presented themselves in the Bishop’s hand. “Your abilities have become pretty well known my friend. We’ve gotten a summons for you straight from the Vatican. The pope needs the healing. Rome needs you back.”

 

Deacon Ron was a fine steward of the Lord, and one could even say that his tireless commitment to assisting his boss rewarded him with perpetual good health. The task was no picnic, certainly, and he thought about this as he helped his dear friend in and out of the bathtub, into his robe, and back into his chair. “I went ahead and made the arrangements for Father Long to take over beginning tomorrow.  Your plane ticket’s on the dresser.” There was a silence.

“Sure a shocker about the pope,” Deacon Ron finally said. “You’ll be a blessed man indeed if…” and he knew he was traveling down the wrong path at the wrong time with his line of thought. Pinegully was in a serious mood. He seemed to wave off the comment. “Yeah, yeah. Ron, thanks.” And he asked for a moment alone, staring into the bathroom mirror. He heard the door close and watched the steam dissipate. At length, he raised his palm, looked at it, studied it. Slowly then, he lowered it, resting it gently upon his lap. “Go, go go. God bless you. God bless you…” Nothing.

“Dammit.” He knew the outcome. Always for others; never for him. Still, it seemed so damn unfair…and now, asked to heal the very leader of the catholic world, he had to look at himself in this mirror, square between the eyes, and admit that he couldn’t even cure himself. The hand that had rested on his lifeless leg, curled into a ball. Scowling at himself in the mirror, he gave it his best punch, shattering not only his pride.

Two days later, the airplane landed in Rome. Father Pinegully and Bishop Hardesty were no strangers to the Vatican, and found themselves ushered in speedily and without incident to the quarters where the pope was resting. Briefed by an aid on his condition as they walked, they learned that the stroke had been severe, and the prognosis made by doctors during his two-day hospital stay was bleak. The aid added that they had learned about Pinegully’s miraculous healings from top sources, but through inauspicious means.

“Cardinal Crandle read an article in an American tabloid,” the aid informed.

“Through a tabloid,” the bishop’s realization was more a statement than a question.

Pinegully shrugged his shoulders. “It got us here, I guess.”

Pope Arias I was unconscious in a sedated state when the trio opened the great oak door to his resting quarters. There they found him in bed facing a large, open window overlooking Vatican City. On either side of the bed two cardinals stood, both seemed to be expecting their arrival. Pinegully and the bishop stayed put, just inside the doors, a bit stunned, a bit overwhelmed of where they were, of what was about to be attempted.

“Welcome Bishop Hardesty,” said one of the cardinals.

“Welcome Father Pinegully,” said the other. But it was not warm, and a sense of doubt, even ridicule, hung heavily in the air. Finally, one of the cardinals allowed a wry smile.

“Thank you for coming. I’m Cardinal Crandle, and this is Cardinal Black,” he seemed to take a moment to size them up. Clearing his throat: “Now, with all due respect, father, I do hope you’re who you say you are. I took a chance on this…meeting on the pontiff’s behalf. I don’t want to be made a fool of,” again he cleared his throat. “After all, lets be honest. It’s hard to take too much stock in someone opposite a three-headed alien baby in the National Inquirer. But, since you’re here…” He raised the pope’s arm.

The bishop started to object, but Pinegully held him off with his own arm. The shaken priest seemed to feel himself sinking into the floor by negative forces that kept him still. This obviously was the cardinal’s cue, albeit a rude one, for him to proceed in the kissing of the pontiff’s ring. The belittling criticism was hardly a welcoming invitation.  Rage swept over the battered priest’s nerves in waves from the low accusations, but he closed his eyes and fought it off without rebuttal. He had been deemed a phony before…but now, here, this was not what he expected. Finally, still staying put, he exhaled deeply. During that moment, the Spirit came both to his nerves and to his mind. Let them think what they want to think. He was here for one purpose, and for one purpose only. Slowly, he came up to the pope’s bedside. The pontiff was smaller and more frail than he appeared on television, and now, his small, bald, and aged head looked wrinkled; his mouth reconfigured by the stroke.

He kissed the ring. Looking up, he made the sign of the cross. And finally–the words formed on his lips: “May God bless you.” The healing hand approached that small, aging head.

Then in a weak voice came the unexpected reply. “Bless you my child.”

There was nothing phony about it.


© Copyright 2019 CP Dawson. All rights reserved.

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