Passions of a Padre

A short story drawn from R. M. Dolin’s novel, What Is To Be Done.

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Summary: Padre Paul is a Venezuelan priest assigned to the small rural parish between Santa Fe and Espanola. Several years ago when Emelia retired to the valley with her husband Jake, she and Padre started a friendship that lasted right up until her recent passing. As her health entered its final collapse she made Padre vow to look after Jake, which to Padre’s credit, he’s dutifully tried even though Jake is still inconsolably angry. This is why it’s such a shock that Jake unexpectantly showed up in the middle of mass last week with a young South American woman he attempted to abandon with Padre. Now Jake and his companion are back for a second Sunday but this time Padre’s better prepared to seize his opportunity. Passions of a Padre is short story about the many burdens each of us face along with a poignant lesson on perseverance.


In a passion unbroken for over four hundred years, the diminutive priest finishes his welcoming prayer with a bow to the beloved statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Sympatico, who watches stoically from her vantage point just left of the plain oak alter. Carved from a massive Jemez pinon harvested in 1657, by an artist on his way to Eldorado, Our Lady looks as fresh now as she did then. Long revered for her beauty, what elevated her to local sainthood was the miraculous way she survived the devastating fire of 1837, when everything combustible was consumed by hellish flames with a heat so intense, even Mexican silver adorning the alter melted. The Santuario was quickly rebuilt with an oak alter appropriately hewed from Sangre de Cristo timbers and tiles fabricated using red clay borrowed from the nearby Santuario de Chimayo. While the tile shows strains from daily communal processions, it’s holding up remarkably well. Today’s congregation is as small as it is old, but nonetheless proudly represents the lineage that built and then rebuilt their house of worship. Each family’s history of births, marriages, and tragedies are all chronicled in the church’s bible of life.


Per his plan, Jake arrives after mass is underway; if this pans out, and his guest allows, he’ll quietly unload his dolly along the side wall of the vestibule then make a quick getaway. Normally he delivers during the week, but Padre’s scheming left him no alternative. Not to be outplayed though, Jake slides the wine off his dolly without a sound and turns toward the door to perfect his plan. Just as freedom is within reach, a gentle tug reminds him a promise is a promise and to argue only draws attention, so Jake resolutely pushes past escalating trepidation and hurriedly escorts his guest to the back pew. While he wants nothing more than to avoid detected, she’s adamant about protocol and is just about to genuflect when-


“Brother Jake,” Padre announces in a booming voice bursting with ecumenical joy. “Two weeks in a row, somebody’s gotta give that an Amen.” Padre’s prompting grin bounces from parishioner to parishioner until a murmured chores resonates around the hard stucco walls before seeping into centuries old cracks and crevices. “This is why ya gotta come to worship, where else ya gonna witness God’s miraculous miracles?”


Jake smiles uncomfortably as the entire congregation turns to stare while purposefully pushing his guest deeper into the pew hoping it’s sufficient to escape their condemnation.


“Oh Senor, how can you settle for so far away when God has prepared a spot for you here?” With theatrical fanfare, Padre leaps to the front pew yanking a piece of paper taped to the well worn wood that reads “Reserved for Brother Jake and Guest”. Not wanting to feed Padre’s twisted amusement, Jake presses his guest into his preferred spot knowing nothing good can come from playing along with whatever he has planned. What Jake doesn’t account for though, is his uninitiated accomplice naively viewing Padre’s invitation as an honor. She stiffens against Jake’s petulant pushing. “Did you not hear, we are to sit in front.” Like a headstrong boy refusing to leave the dentist’s waiting area because he knows what happens next, Jake plops down with stubborn finality, “we’re good here.”


“That is a place of great honor.”


“Trust me, it’s not.”


“Brother Jake,” Padre mischievously smiles. “I am most pleased to inform you that I must insist.”


Jake glares at the grinning priest fully aware of the demented torture that awaits. He turns to reinstate his decision but finds this woman he barely knows beaming with unbendable pride. He casts back at the entrance, at escape so suddenly unobtainable just five quick strides away. A promise isn’t really a promise, and there’s no way Padre catches him before the truck. She’d slow him down, that’s the problem. After an agonizing moment of running, then re-running, possible scenarios, Jake understands why prisoners walk to the gallows rather than being dragged. He pulls himself up with deflated deliberateness smiling sardonically at his naive companion while considering once more the five short strides to the beckoning light of escape. Sympatico hops past him in the pew, landing seamlessly in the aisle.

“Thank you Senor Jake.” With all hope for a reasonable outcome dashed, Jake reluctantly steps into the aisle. “Be careful what you wish for.”


Begrudgingly Jake follows his enthusiastic guest who feels God’s forgiving grace grow each step of her reverent promenade. “He’d run me down,” Jake mumbles as he passes the Quintana brothers who clearly enjoy the way this story will be told and retold up and down the valley.


“Welcome,” Padre warmly sings, “welcome my sister and my brother.” Padre takes the woman’s arm guiding her into the front pew. “I welcome you, God welcomes you.” He grabs Jake’s reluctant hand beaming with triumph. “Your brothers and sisters welcome you.” Padre faces the congregation, “brother Jake just delivered a new batch of Angelica, Nuevo México’s true sacramental wine.” Padre notices the Quintana brothers sit a little straighter, slightly more proud. He knows the legend and suspects they’re linked to Jake’s Angelica even though they deny it. Padre doesn’t really care, his interest in Angelica lays in its rich Latino history and the pride he feels each time he blesses it. Padre’s suspicions comes mostly from rumors, but one advantage to performing in a Salsa band is you hear things. Wherever stories of the legendary New Mexico Mula are told, or whenever a bottle of Mula magically appears in the parking lot of a club where he’s performing, the Quintana name inevitably gets mentioned. Padre’s asked the bothers point blank numerous times and all they’ll confirm are parts of the story he already knows. They never connect themselves with the legend and smile mischievously if he pushes. Padre is all but certain Jake secretly makes Mula for them, and if so, his Angelica recipe, which Jake claims originated in 1568, is probably also from them. Everyone in the valley knows the Quintanas have been making and selling contraband liquor for hundreds of years.


“In addition to bringing Angelica, Jake’s brought a guest.” If Padre didn’t already have every congregant’s full and undivided attention, he does now. That Jake would attend church at all is going to melt gossip wires, that he shows up with a much younger woman two weeks in a row sashays into scandalous. Padre takes the young woman’s hand. “What’s your name my child?” His gentle manner that makes her feel like they’re the only two people in the room, like old friends having coffee at a sidewalk cafe on a calm spring day. But the feeling can’t be sustained as she quickly realizes a man like Padre would never be seen on a sidewalk with someone like her. She lowers her head in sudden shame, it’s one thing to be invited to the front pew, but being worthy to be talked to is altogether different. Making matters worse, she’s conflicted by the question; is her name the one given at birth, the one Miguel made her use, or is she the person Jake heroically allowed to be reborn? How does God know her?


“Sympatico,” she softly whispers.


“Que?” Padre loudly asks.


“Sympatico!” Jake blurts out rescuing her from Padre’s inquisition.


Padre walks to the center of the church to face his congregation. “It appears Brother Jake’s brought us both Angelica and Sympatico.” He opens his arms, “Let’s all welcome sister Sympatico to our family of faith.” When the applause ends Padre again stands in front of his guest. “Where you from?”


Now Sympatico understands why Jake resisted Padre’s invitation. “Bolivia,” she whispers keeping her head down.


“Que?” Padre prods.


“Bolivia!” Jake once more booms to her rescue.


“Bolivia!” Padre shouts. He dashes to the center of the church shouting with such ecumenical excitment Sympatico wonders what’s so wrong with her country. “Simon Bolivar, the only man in history to have a country named after him. My brothers and sisters, in my home country of Venezuela, Simon Bolivar is a saint. The George Washington of South American; only he didn’t own slaves. Simon believed in the same principles as Thomas Jefferson, only when he proclaimed all men are created equal, he included Latinos, Indians, Blacks, Asians, and anyone who didn’t look like him. When Senor Bolivar defeated the corrupt Spanish Army, he did not seize land from those with legal claims, that’s the purview of the American government. Such a great, great man was Simon Bolivar, they even have a statue honoring him in Washington.”


Emelia often spoke about Padre’s political activism but Jake never thought much of it, until now. While not surprised, he’s impressed Padre is so open with his radical views. For members of Padre’s congregation who regularly attend Mass though, nothing so far is unusual. “I once visited Bolivia, before seminary when I still had hair.” He laughs while running his hand over his bald head. “I went with my Dad to support the miners in their protests. As in my home country, the people of Bolivia were fighting against corrupt corporations who rob our resources and exploit our people. Such a beautiful place and Bolivians, so proud and determined.” Padre stands in front of Sympatico beaming with pride. “I was honored to stand beside my Bolivian brothers and sisters in their struggle for justice.”


Sympatico raises her head slightly, finding Padre’s face full of inviting warmth. She allows herself to hold eye contact long enough to acknowledge the things he said, then quickly returns to looking at her hands folded neatly in her lap. Padre has a history of making profound points in theatrically unconventional ways and today he’s working off a combination of prepared material and stuff being created on the fly. “Brothers and Sisters, I will dispense with the readings and go straight to the homily. But before we begin-” He walks to the alter and grabs a small wooden crucifix and takes it to Sympatico. “Please hold this for me.”


Gingerly accepting the cross, Sympatico places it in her lap where it can be more closely examined. It’s constructed from some kind of hard wood with three tiny holes that probably once secured a Jesus statue. The wood is faded, dented, and scratched in such a worn way it almost seems natural that the statue would be missing. It has a smooth oily sheen, probably from being held through countless vigils.


“The crucifix I gave Sympatico, is very old and missing its Christ statue. A Polish priest gave it to me during seminary. You probably never noticed it resting on the alter, but it’s always there each time I perform a mass. I’m going to share with you the lesson that came with this crucifix.” Padre looks at Jake, “Tell me if I get any of this wrong.”


Jake sneers, he knew sooner or later Padre would get around to him.


“You may not know this, but Brother Jake is Polish. His maternal great-grandmother grew up in the town where I attended Seminary. Jake doesn’t like to admit it because he thinks he has to be this high-brow scientist, but inside he has a profound Polish faith that rivals we Latinos.”


Sympatico glances at her scowling benefactor not sure what to think. One could easily say Jake is kind, a man of deep integrity and honor, but to say he’s a man of faith? The scowl on his face alone confirms she’s more right than Padre.
“Polish people are both proud and patriotic. One hundred and fifty years ago though, their country ceased to even exist when Russia and Germany carved out chucks. A huge purge ensued with thousands executed. Somehow though, the Polish people persevere, they struggle and eventually win back their country only to have it happen all over again in World War II. First the Germans purged millions through their evil, then the Russians forced them into the Soviet Union and an even more horrific purge of unspeakably sadistic evil covered their country in darkness. Again though, the Polish people struggle and eventually win their freedom thanks in part to great men like Lech Walesa and our beloved Pope John Paul.” Padre pauses to make the sign of the cross to honor his former Pope. He glances at Jake and as anticipated, finds him glaring back.


“The Polish people are not only proud and full of faith, they’re not afraid to force change. That is how you preserver my friends; working nonstop, often in stealth, to bring about change. We misguidedly admire loud agitators, the falsetto gibberish of politicians who demand change but never take a measure of risk. But my brothers and sisters, it is the stealth man and woman who toil in silence, like nurses in a crisis, who are the true catalysts.” Padre looks at Jake as he delivers his prognosis. “Someday, I believe brother Jake will be drawn into a situation causing his proud Polish instincts to rise up and preserver toward change.”


Jake does not appreciate being talked about in this context. In part because he’s modest, but also because of the super-secret subversion he and his cohort have engaged. He studies Padre for any indication he knows more than he lets on, but Padre just smiles back gregariously. In a hybrid combination of anger and frustration, Jake looks down to watch Sympatico fidget with her statueless cross.


“I told you that story, so I could tell you this one. There’s a painting in a small Polish monastery in a village called Czestochowa, known as the Black Madonna, that the faithful call Our Lady of Sorrows. Legend holds this icon was painted by the Apostle Luke on the cedar table Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had in their home. Since Joseph and Jesus were carpenters, it could easily be from a table they made. The icon came to Czestochowa in the thirteen hundreds by way of Ukraine. How it got there is a matter of disputed history, but regardless, the icon’s been in Poland for the last eight-hundred years.


“Originally, Our Lady of Sorrows, was painted in bright colors with both the virgin Mary and the blessed Christ child alive in olive hues. In the early fourteen hundreds though, during one of the many German invasions, the painting gets damaged by fire. While the monastery’s destroyed, miraculously the painting is not. The fire does however cause the faces of Mary and Jesus to turn black while all the other brilliant colors hold true. After the fire, the German’s did what German’s do and plundered the monastery. They load the icon in a wagon along with their other spoils and start home. That’s when the second miracle of Czestochowa occurs. As the barbarians pull away, the wagon containing the Black Madonna grows heavy. The further they move the heavier the wagon becomes until the wagon sinks into the dry dirt all the way to its axles and no matter how many oxen are attached, it will not budge.”


Padre’s face animates with his signature sign a good moral awaits attentive listeners. “A German officer gets so mad he throws the icon on the ground and suddenly, the wagon lunges forward freed from it’s burden. As German soldiers march past the damaged painting on the ground, another officer takes his sword and wickedly swipes at the icon inflicting two deep cuts on Mary’s cheek. That’s when the third miracle of Czestochowa happens. Witnesses told with horror how the wounds on Mary’s cheek start to bleed and how, when the German officer attempts to strike a third blow, he suddenly falls to the ground dying a deservedly bitter death.


“The Polish people return their icon to Czestochowa and in time repeal the barbarians. Slowly they rebuild, making the icon their symbol of perseverance; the scars on Mary’s cheek a measure of how God protects those who suffer. In the mid sixteen-hundreds, the Swedish army invades Poland and that’s when the fourth miracle of Czestochowa is revealed. For over a month the monastery Prior and a tiny group of locals hold the mighty Swedish army at bay. These brave men, protected by their Black Madonna, not only save the monastery, they turn the course of the war. During World War II the savage German and Russian armies are so afraid of the Black Madonna’s power, neither dares to enter Czestochowa.”


Padre returns to the alter where he picks up a horse farrier’s nail, which is flat and looks like a miniature dagger. He holds the nail between his thumb and finger with his arm raised so the congregation can see it. “I told you that story, so I can tell you why I have this horseshoe nail, and why I gave Sympatico my Holy Cross missing its Jesus statue.” Padre walks down the center isle of the church showing the congregation the nail before stopping in front of Sympatico. “Please accept this simple gift.”


Sympatico takes the nail without fully looking up. “This nail is similar to nails used by Roman’s. Remember brothers and sisters, Jesus willingly allowed himself to be crucified. Did he feel pain? Yes. Did he suffer? Absolutely. He willingly did so to remind us not only of our sins, but to demonstrate that he, like each and every one of you, must persevere. It’s as much a part of life as breathing or eating. Everyone suffers; some seemingly more than others, but I can assure you, no one escapes this burden. No one’s perseverance goes untested. But we as individuals, as members of our family of faith, as a New Mexico community, we survive. Like the Poles who persevered through so much, better days are ahead. We’re all on a journey to God’s house even if the paths we take are varied. The challenges I face are different from yours, but I assure you, they are challenges nonetheless.”


Padre narrows his sermon to Sympatico. “I had you hold my cross to symbolize that you, like each of us, has a cross to bear. Whatever God put on your cross in the past; whatever is placed on it in the future, is for a purpose. Just as Simon was there to help Jesus carry his cross when the burden got too heavy, there will be people along your journey who will help carry yours.” Padre looks at Jake, waiting until his friend makes eye contact. “I have no doubt some of you are right now being called upon.”


Jake looks away knowing Padre continues to stare. As soon as Jake appeared last week in church with a battered woman in tow, Padre’s known the invisible hand of God is working some sort of plan. There’s a reason Emelia brought Jake to him, a reason Sympatico is here now. Padre has hoped, even prayed, all his life that God would have a purpose for him. He has no way of knowing what, or how, or even why, but is certain his purpose is about to be revealed. Call it the intuition of a humble Parish Fryer.


“Pain and suffering is the part of faith that makes us strong. God never promised life would be easy, but he did promise to help us preserver. He gave the Black Madonna to the people of Poland as a symbol of his promise.” Padre moves in front of Sympatico. “Keep this nail as a symbol that no matter what path God has chosen for you, no matter how you have suffered, it is for a reason. He loves you as much as he loves each of us.” Padre pauses to let his guidance settle in on Sympatico’s unsettled soul. He then side steps to Jake. Taking his time for dramatic effect, Padre leans over the pew and whispers to his friend, “same goes for you, Cabron.”

Comments

  1. Just about all of the things you state happens to be supprisingly accurate and that makes me wonder the reason why I had not looked at this with this light previously. This particular piece truly did turn the light on for me as far as this specific subject matter goes. But at this time there is actually one particular position I am not really too cozy with and while I make an effort to reconcile that with the actual central theme of the position, let me observe just what the rest of the visitors have to point out.Very well done.

  2. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this outstanding blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  3. Hi there! This article could not be written any better! Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I will send this information to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!

Leave a Reply