Web Site: The Final Phase
Father Craig fervently believed in the love of God and life after death. For anyone he cared about, he could think of no greater gift.
----- He was sure of it even before the phone rang. After all, the day practically gave it away. It was one filled with bright cool skies, a sweet Autumn breeze and children laughing with life outside his window in a playground adjacent to the cathedral.
----- "I have some bad news for you, Father," the man - Brother Paul, someone he did not know well - choked out over the receiver. His face on the small screen of the cell phone darkened. "I'm afraid there's been a terrible accident."
----- "With Sister Linda," Craig said, knowing he could mean no one else. "Please see to it that her family is notified."
----- The other man stared back in disbelief though did not ask the obvious.
----- "May God and Jesus be with her, brother," Father Craig said as his face reflected off the blank blue screen like some inner spirit before he set the phone back down through the sun-freckled air.
----- "I think I love you, Father, almost as much as The Lord!" he heard the nun cry out inside his mind as he did, her irrepressibly-joyous hazel eyes as polished as clean drops of fresh rain, her lips trying to unsuccessfully conceal the contagious happiness she always brought with her wherever she went.
----- A few moments later - as usual - he could not recall the sound of her voice no matter how hard he tried.
----- This made about one every year since he was twelve years old. Another he speculated had to be coming soon because it was nearing winter.
----- The first was that of his father, an incautious man who decided after work one evening to take in a ballgame by himself at old Comiskey Park.
----- That was when the projects were still up and gangs peppered the loud littered streets off the Dan Ryan Expressway. No one heard the single shot that killed him atop the overpass over the roar of the unending traffic below - or at least no one wanted to be a witness.
----- He had never forgotten the look on his mother's face when a policeman and priest appeared at the front door. For weeks, her expression remained the same like someone who had been overly sedated.
----- She was gone now, too, blessed to be with The Lord and his angels after having been raped and strangled when he was off studying at the seminary years later.
----- As for himself, he was confident where they both were now which gave him great comfort although sometimes he swore he could feel those bushy Irish eyes of his father on him or smell his mother's primrose perfume. He could not recall the sound of either of their voices, however.
----- Another he knew was his best friend, George. He had a deep froggy tone whenever he spoke. That much Father Craig remembered. He also remembered how George would get very tired all of a sudden and often have to lie down. He used to wonder about that and why, though only eleven, the boy had grayish silver hair.
----- George was always smiling, regardless, probably because he knew he would soon be with The Lord, he had long since reconciled.
----- For a second, he had to laugh to himself thinking that - how happy George must have been to finally have died.
----- With that in mind, he took out the scented candle he had been saving for Sister Linda these past few weeks from its red-stained cardboard box, being careful not to damage its rose-colored glass container as he did. Then, after whispering a 'Hail Mary', he struck a blue-tipped wooden match against the gritty black surface of the matchbox and lit the end of the wick.
----- There were fifteen of them now. Each represented someone who had found blissful paradise after suffering either from a dreadful disease or horrifying death. For all of them he had once had a deep affection and so prayed that each would enter Heaven sooner than expected.
----- The third candle, in fact, was in remembrance of his favorite ballplayer on the Cubs, killed in a plane crash one windy January day outside Los Angeles not long after George had succumbed. As for the fourth the following year? Why, that passing was very special for it was his only surviving grandmother - the other having died along with his grandfather due to carbon monoxide fumes inside their enclosed garage the very night he was born. His remaining 'nanna', as he used to call her, would watch cartoons with him when she would baby-sit and made homemade iced tea especially for him. She died the next year at the end of the snowy season after she had slipped down the back stairs of her sturdy brownstone home and broken her neck.
----- Looking down at her powdered and stiff face as he prayed at her wake three days later, he felt pleased with the knowledge that she was now enjoying eternal happiness.
----- At Navy Pier off Lake Michigan some months later, a well-known college basketball coach had wished both he and his mother well, even remarking at one point that he knew Craig's father and grandmother were now both smiling down at them from above.
----- Craig really liked that because it also made his mother smile. Subsequently, when he was up on the huge Ferris wheel that overlooked the shops, walkways and waterfront below - where all The Lord's creatures looked like little more than bugs you could squash with a wish - he prayed the coach would soon be with his father and grandmother in Heaven.
----- Less than three weeks after that, it happened. The coach became upset over an official's call during a close game, collapsed and died of a heart attack right there on the court.
----- He was number six, so important to Craig at the time that he selected a candle casing that was colored royal blue in his honor.
----- As he grew into late adolescence, though, his faith began to waver but then his closest cousin, Corinne, was struck and killed by a Chicago and Northwestern commuter train near Bellwood.
----- She had waited for one set of the silvery interconnected cars to pass on the westbound tracks apparently, not realizing as she started to cross that there was another headed her way from the east.
----- While not yet a soul, she had been a beautiful teen-ager with hair she could fan out like fine silk and eyes so robust they seemed to have lives of their own.
----- Funny though was that he could remember her frenzied laughter yet not her manner of speech. He soon realized this was true in each case.
----- His uncle - her father - was so grief-stricken that he could not speak for a week afterward, however. That was why, after he was found dead one rainy and steamy morning in his car with his wrists slit open, Craig knew he was at peace at last even though he had committed suicide.
----- After all, everyone who had faith could readily descry the wisdom in The Lord's plan in his own particular instance.
----- Both his and Corinne's candle holders Craig made sure were colored green in honor of the Irish heritage they so loved and each were clover scented.
----- Only when his collie, Burly, died one summer was he the least bit saddened by physical death because he knew there was no place of unending delight for animals.
----- That happened right after he had moved out to a university west of Chicago where cornfields, cows and tractors were a common sight. He had planned to major in marketing there since he had often been told how charming and charismatic he was especially by young women. A few in fact said they believed it was a gift from God.
----- One instructor took a particular interest in his abilities, a Dr. Vance Kimmell. He was a young vital man, himself, who had a lovely wife and had once written a book on public speaking and promotion.
----- Craig used to spend time after class with him on many occasions, discussing better ways to generate support for one's product or service. Dr. Kimmell often used the word 'passionate' to describe how best to advance one's interests, the most important lesson being to convince complete strangers of both your credibility and honesty.
----- The professor taught the next year as well but - since he was also in demand for personal appearances outside school - he was confined to teaching only introductory 100-level courses.
----- As such, when he drowned that summer off a beach near Waukegan, Craig felt he had served his most important purpose in life and had been rewarded for his generous efforts.
----- That, naturally, led him to an even fuller understanding of what The Creator had in mind for him. He was skeptical for a while until one of his handicapped classmates was literally struck by lightning in her wheelchair two semesters later after being caught in an unusual early springtime thunderstorm. She had confided in fact that she wished she could feel whole again. He promised her he would pray for it to happen.
----- Which it did.
----- Clearly, this was another sign from The Lord for she used to be a proponent of the atheistic leanings of such early 20th Century writers as Gertrude Stein who - upon seemingly been revived from her own death - was said to have briefly remarked: "There is no there there."
----- Now she knew different, he was quite certain, as The Almighty had determined she should.
----- That was perhaps why, after his sophomore year, he had decided to apply to - and was eagerly accepted by - a renowned seminary north of the city.
----- There, he enjoyed its tranquil natural beauty with rows of elms and oaks as well as virtual blankets of dewy-smelling grass and beds of multi-colored flowers. The cold later killed them but, due to The Ever-Loving Father's foresight, would resurrect the subsequent spring.
----- Most of his teachers were very introspective about His message and teachings though one, a Fr. Allen Patrusyzck, confessed in class one morning that his own fear of dying had grown with each passing year.
----- Seeing no other choice, since the dear priest was such a good man, Craig went so far as to say an entire rosary for him that Easter.
----- Soon, an inoperable tumor was discovered in his brain. For him, as Craig had pleaded, God was compassionate. He saw to it that Fr. Patrusyzck was completely incomprehensible long before his body's inevitable end.
----- Craig's following year at the seminary was even more rewarding for it was then that he would catch the attention of the highly-revered Bishop Gregory. This was when his dear mother had been both violated and murdered, at long last rejoining his father.
----- At her funeral where the bishop said mass, Craig gave her a loving tribute, causing even normally-stoic men to whimper upon hearing his words. Afterward, the bishop and he continued to discuss Christ's loving message as well as the glory of the Mother Church into the early hours of the following morning.
----- Though not an ill man, His Holiness did have a decisive limp due to a hip he had fractured while playing soccer as a young seminarian. A blood clot formed in that same leg a few months later whereupon Craig was asked to speak during the funeral mass per one of the bishop's last requests.
----- An ordained priest soon thereafter, he set out to spread the good news of salvation. As it turned out, so compelling were his words that it was not long before he was giving talks on a weekly basis in front of groups in addition to delivering his regular Sunday sermons, those of which were listened to by droves of people who would cram into the pews at Holy Name Cathedral to hear him.
----- After one of his services, The Mayor, himself, came over and said how much he enjoyed his oratory.
----- Immediately, they took a fancy to one another, both being descendants of Irish families who had first settled in the city generations ago.
----- Not long after he had been appointed Police Chaplain by His Honor did The Lord again show his unending love. This occurred during a publicity session being held for a new tower under construction in The Loop. There, The Mayor somehow lost his footing on the fifth floor and plunged to his death before a crowd of stunned Christmas shoppers. Fortunately, Father Craig was there to give the dying man his Last Rites. Though in obvious pain, The Mayor managed to smile before his essence began to undergo its glorious transformation into that of a soul.
----- His wife asked him as they rode together in the ambulance afterward to deliver some final words on her husband's behalf.
----- Thousands poured into Grant Park that sunny St. Patrick's Day as they and millions across the country saw him give what was termed a spell-binding eulogy and later be accorded the honor of ordering the Chicago River be turned customarily green in honor of both the Irish saint and their late leader.
----- Nevertheless, he was taken by complete surprise when His Eminence, The Cardinal of the Greater Archdiocese of Chicago, decided to name him his personal assistant.
----- After all, he had just turned twenty-five.
----- Within weeks, though, The Cardinal and he became close friends. They spent a great deal of time together, too, when Craig wasn't out delivering wishes of either good will or expressions of sympathy on his behalf.
----- Consequently, when The Cardinal left for The Vatican to confer with The Holy Father, Craig thought it wise to pray he receive his immortal happiness while yet near the spot where Jesus had died for us all.
----- When news came that he had indeed suffered a sudden stroke, Craig broke into song, singing a tune he had learned while still a fifth grader at Our Lady of God's Love School on the near west side which went: "The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not want. He leads me by safe paths. Nothing shall I fear."
----- That was when it initially struck him. Something so suddenly obvious that he could only wonder why he had never thought of it in the past. Perhaps it was also part of The Lord's Grand Plan for him for all he knew.
----- And so, he prayed for the end of the world, for Armageddon, for the day when bodies would rise from graves and all worthy souls would join The Blessed Father in Heaven just as Christ had foretold.
----- Sitting back now with his hands folded, he watched the jerking and flickering tails of each candle. Unlike vigil lights, all their transparent holders were made of either lively or regal colors, and gave off aromas of honeysuckle, strawberry and jasmine.
----- He had selected either roseate or pink ones for most of the women whereas the men were signified in varying shades of green and blue. For his parents, he had taken great pains to locate casings made from real crystal.
----- Those two he made certain were always lit.
----- A knock on the door roused him from his reflections.
----- "Father Craig, The Lord be praised!" his startle-eyed secretary said as he peeked out at her through the slit along the frame. "We have just received a fax from Rome that you have been invited to have a private audience - with The Pope, himself!"
[Copyright 2003 William John Neven. All rights reserved.]
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|Reviewed by OnepoetGem *the Poetic Rapper
|Interesting religious story William. Gives the mind something to think about when it comes to life and loved ones. G|