© 1993, 1998, 2000 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy†††††††††††††† †††††††††††
2110 E. Crosby
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Approximate Word Count: 5,700
THINGS NOT SEEN
Now faith is the substance
of things hoped for,
The evidence for things not seen (HEB. 11:1).
Father Vincent Terracci placed his napkin on the tableóhis fingers rubbed it gently for a moment before he slid his hand off the table into his lap. He twisted his neck about as he straightened in his chair; he leaned forward, looked directly at his dinner companion, and noticed how the fork shook in the white, wrinkled hand. The food on the plate had been shoved about but not eaten. Terracci saw how his long-time friendís hooded eyes stared over the edge of the table to the floor.
"Is there something wrong, Michael?"
Father Michael Spellman looked toward his uneaten dinner, set his fork down, and then wearily raised his eyes to look back at Terracci. "No," he whispered. "Nothing is wrong."
"Come on, Michael. Weíve known each other for ten years." Terracci searched into the unfocused, gray eyes of his elderly friend. "This is as quiet as you have ever been," he continued. "You havenít said five words during dinner."
"I donít want to talk about it, Vince."
"All right," Terracci sighed. "But you really seem to be keeping something inside. Maybe. Maybe you should try praying."
Terracci ran a hand through his thick, black hair. His eyes narrowed as he studied the frown on Spellman's face. "Canít?"
"No."† The old priest shook his head. "I canít pray about it."
"Michael," Terracci said reaching across the table, Spellmanís hand just beyond his reach. "Nothing is so bad that God canít help you with it."
"I canít pray to God," came Spellmanís slow reply. "Donít you see?"
"Donít I see?" Terracci shook his head. "Donít I seeóyouíre telling me you donít believe in God?"
"Heís my problemÖ."
"I," Terracci stammered. "I donít know what to say.† Where can you turn, if not to God?† It's what we do.† It's what we help others to do."† Terracci wiped his mouth with his napkin, keeping his eyes on Spellman.† I'll pray for you, old friend, he promised.
"Is that all there is, Vince?"
"What?" Terracci asked.
"A priest prays. Thatís all heís supposed to do?"
"Is that all there is for him, Vince?" Spellman asked in a tired whisper. "What is a priest really supposed to do, anyway?"
Terracci stared back at Spellman, saying nothing to his dear, old friendóthis man who had been his teacher in so many ways.
But Spellman did not notice his friendís hesitation.† As he remembered Gregory Morrisonís funeral, his chest heaved. Morrison was a thirty-one-year-old schoolteacher at Carrollton High School.†
The priest's hand slid from the table sending a fork onto the carpeted floor. He never saw it fall.† Spellman first met Morrison when he was assigned to St. Anne's as an assistant pastor. One of his first duties in that new parish twenty years ago was a funeralóTodd Morrisonís funeral. Todd Morrison, Gregís eight-year-old brother, had been killed in a traffic accident right in front of the church. Greg, playing with some friends nearby, felt responsible for his brotherís death. Spellman had spent hours talking to the boy, trying to get him to understand that Toddís death wasnít his fault. "It was all part of Godís plan," Spellman had told the youngster. "Part of Godís plan."
Twenty years later, Gregory and his fiancťe were to have been married by Father Spellman just before Thanksgiving. But, two weeks ago, after sitting through the last of the marriage classes, Gregory was dead. Gregory and Linda left class on their way to a late dinnerótwo people deeply in love. A half-hour later, Gregory was shot as he stepped out of his car in the restaurant parking lot.
When Gregoryís fiancťe, Linda, first called, Spellman was too shocked to think about the meaning of the young manís death. But as he offered the funeral mass, he began to question his Godís planóhis Godís very existence.
When Spellman returned to the rectory after dinner with Terracci, he found Jimmy Wilson just finishing with his cleaning of the kitchen floor. Jimmyís mother was the caretaker of the church and rectory, and she brought Jimmy along on weekends to help with the heavier cleaning.
"How are you this evening, Jimmy?"
"Fine, Father," the seventeen-year-old said, beaming at the old priest.
"The kitchen looks great. Tell your mother I said so."
"Mom just went to get the last load of laundry. She should be right back. Wonít you wait a minute and talk to her? I know she wants to see you."
"I have to make some phone calls, Jimmy. So, if your mother needs to see me, she can find me in the study."
"No problem, Father. Iím going to be moving those shelves," Jimmy said, pointing to white, metal shelves piled with stainless pots and pans. "It might get a little noisy. If you want, I can wait until you finish making your calls."
"Iíll just close the study door," Spellman said.
After Spellman left, Jimmy worked undisturbed in the kitchen, pulling the heavy shelves out from the wall. He was sweeping the floor where the shelves had stood when he heard a horrible cough rumble deep through the old priestís chest. Jimmy rubbed his own chest, remembering how the coughs nearly doubled the elderly man over in the past. He could see the flesh grow taut across the priestís cheekbones, the skeletal hand grow white as it grabbed a piece of furniture to support his sagging body during the heaving attack.
Jimmy ran to the study, stopped just inside the door, unseen. He listened as the last of the fit shook through Spellmanís body. The teenager watched the priest ease his grip on the arm of the chair. The boy gasped along with the old man for breath.
At last, Father Spellman leaned back in the chair, wiggled the pillow behind him into place, and pulled the old Afghan up from the floor and laid it across his legs. Jimmy watched, waited.
When the priest regained his composure, he noticed the teenager standing in the doorway.
"Can I get you anything?"
"No, Jimmy," Father Spellman said. "Iím fine now. Iím just getting old and decrepit." But the priest read the concern in the younger manís eyes, "I guess a cup of tea would be what I need. Thanks."
"Tea," the boy replied. "Coming right up. But isnít there anything else I can do for you?"
"I know my cough sounds like itís rattling every bone in my body," the priest said. "But itís done no real damage." Spellman didnít wait for Jimmy to leave. He reached down beside his chair and retrieved the newspaper from the floor.
The teenager watched the priest a moment longer before returning to the kitchen to heat water for tea.
After the boy disappeared, Spellman struggled out of the large chair. He grabbed tightly to the front edge of the clawed armrests to pull himself forward in the chair. Then, he heaved his shoulders upward, rising to his feet, his arms locking straight for support. Once stable, his fingers loosened on the armrests. He straightened up before gulping a breath of air.
Spellman crossed to his desk in a slow, slippered scuffle. A heavily shaded lamp illuminated the one place where Mrs. Wilsonís impeccable touch did not reach. Spellmanís desk was a collage of bits of paper, opened books, and uncapped pens.
He shook his head at the unfinished sermonóa weekís waste.
He fell into his desk chair. He picked at the odd bits of paper strewn across the deskóall notes to himself. He glanced at the arthritic lines without reading the scrawl. He had been playing the same game since Gregory Morrison died, spouting words of Godly comfort he no longer believed. He would sit at the desk to work on the sermon, argue with himself to get started, counter-argue about how pointless it was, and end up doing nothing for long stretches of time. Waste, he chided himself. Waste. Waste. Waste.
A flash of anger snapped his eyes wide as he swiveled toward the golden cross on the opposite wall. "You," he shouted at the pain-contorted Christ, "made me waste my life."
The jiggle of a china cup and saucer and rapid, heavy footsteps warned the priest of the teenage boyís return.
"Is something the matter, Father?" Jimmy asked as he came into the study. Tea slopped out of the cup as the boy continued forward. "Whatís the matter?" Jimmy asked again.
"Nothing, Jimmy," Spellman replied.
"But I heard shouting?"
"It was nothing. I was just practicing my sermon for this weekend."
Jimmy Wilson looked hard at the priest. He doubted what the old man told him, but he was afraid to call the priest a liar. The young man started to turn to leave, remembering in mid-pivot that he was holding the fatherís tea. As he stopped and turned back, more liquid splashed out of the cup. "Iím sorry," Jimmy said, handing the teacup to the old priest. "I think I spilled half of your tea. I can make some more, it you want me to."
"No," Spellman replied. "I just need a little to wet my whistle."
"Are you sure?"
The priest smiled, nodded and dismissed the boy. He sipped the tea before turning back to face the crucifix across the room. "Weíve deceived him," Spellman said. "The poor boy believes in Christly goodnessómy Christly goodness." A smile crossed the priestís pained lips. As he refocused on the cross, the smile faded into a thin, tight line. "I seem to deceive everyone. And Iíve wasted my whole life telling people about You." Spellmanís voice cracked as he continued, "And now that Iíve convinced them that Youíre real, telling them the truth would be a greater crime."
Spellman turned back to his desk, setting his teacup down, and straightened out the sheet of paper he had been holding before he yelled at the cross.† As he read the note, his body shivered.
The next Wednesday, Father Spellman was called to the hospital. He pulled out of the rectory garage into heavy rain. Traffic snailed along the Carrollton thoroughfares. The constant rain of the spring cracked and potted most roads. After crossing a particularly rough set of railroad tracks, the right rear tire blew out on the old priestís car. Spellman managed to pull the car into a nearby parking lot. He decided it was too wet to try and change the tire. Since he was only a few blocks from the hospital, the aging father decided to walk there.
Spellman pulled on his hat, tugged his collar up tight around his neck, and stepped into the downpour. He trudged through the water, perspiration soaking him from within almost as quickly as the rain did from without. He was totally saturated by the time he reached the emergency entrance.
When he got inside the hospital, Father Spellman stopped only long enough to make sure he had the right room number for Mrs. Frieda Ruhemann, an eighty-two-year-old widow who had been in and out of the hospital as she fought the onslaught of cancer. The old priest had made this trek to the hospital many times during the last six months.
Water dripped from his hat, his coat. It ran down his back, his legs. It collected in little pools wherever he stoppedóat the receiving desk, at the elevator and, now, inside the elevator as he rode to the sixth floor.
"Thanks for coming, Father," said Peggy Anderson, Mrs. Ruhemannís daughter, as he stepped off the elevator. "Sheís been asking for you since we brought her in. Sheís sure sheís going to die. But sheís afraid to die without receiving the Last Rites."
"I understand," Spellman answered quietly. He noted the agitation in the young womanís voice, her jerky walk as she led him to her motherís room.
Peggy Anderson continued to prattle on, "So I called you the second we got here. I didnít want to drag you out in this weather. But what could I do? I hope you donít mind?" She stopped to catch her breath. "Then I had to get out of the roomóI couldnít listen to her talk of dying anymore. You can understand that, canít you? I just needed some space. A minuteís peace."
Father Spellman laid his hand on Mrs. Andersonís shoulder. "Peggy, itís all right. Iíll see what I can do. Iíll stay with her. Why donít you go get some coffee or something? Itíll be all right."
Peggy Anderson turned and faced the priest. She looked deep into his eyes.
Spellman could tell the middle-aged woman was about to cry. He smiled a weak smile before pushing past her into her motherís room. As the door closed behind him, the priest heard Mrs. Andersonís muffled thanks.
A nurse attended Mrs. Ruhemann. When Spellman crossed over to the bed, the nurse told him that the patient was lightly sedated.
When the nurse adjusted the sheet, Mrs. Ruhemann gave the young womanís hand a light squeeze. It was only after the nurse left that Mrs. Ruhemann noticed Father Spellman.
The old priest was looking at the elderly womanóher matted, thinning hair lay in clumps on the pillow. Mrs. Ruhemannís large eyes sunk deeply into her colorless face. They haunted him. Spellman took a step closer to the bed.
Mrs. Ruhemann smiled at the priest.
Spellman struggled out of his wet coat. He began to prepare for the ceremony. He reached down into the pocket of his dripping coat and pulled out an oilcloth-covered box. After placing it on the bedside table, he tossed his coat over a nearby chair. He unwrapped the box, taking small candles and a crucifix out to set up on the table. He lit the candles on his makeshift altar. Then he took two small vials from the boxóone containing Holy Water, the other Christened Oil.
Spellman turned toward Mrs. Ruhemann and began the familiar ritual. "I am the resurrection and the life," he intoned. "He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he liveÖ."
Gently, the old priest took one of Mrs. Ruhemannís wrinkled hands into his own, age-scarred ones. It felt cold. He looked down at her as he prayed. Even in her sedated condition, the ravages of pain etched across her faceóthe corners of her mouth flexed in spasm. He could hear her shallow breath rattle through her throat. "0 most merciful Jesus, I beseech You, by the agony of Your Most Sacred Heart and by the sorrow of Your Immaculate Mother, wash clean in Your Blood this sinner who is in her agony and who is to die this day."
"Amen." A whisperóif said at all.
"Heart of Jesus, who did suffer deathís agony."
"Have mercy on us."
Spellman reached for the Holy Oil, made the Sign of the Cross, and gave a barely audible absolution for the sins of the eyes, the ears, mouth, and hands. "Through the Holy Anointing, may the Lord forgive you whatever sins you have committed."
The priest leaned over to replace the oil on the table. When he turned back, he saw the lifeless body of Gregory Morrisonóthe same colorless skin, sunken eyes, and pain-curled mouth. "Why do I see you now, Gregory?" he asked the frail body before him. "Why do I think about your death so often."
Mrs. Ruhemann groaned. Her breath caught in her throat. As a tic shivered down the old womanís right arm, the last of Gregory Morrisonís image melted away.
Spellman continued with the ritual, his oiled thumb making the Sign of the Cross on the tight, translucent skin of the widow's forehead. He rubbed his thumb on a small, consecrated cloth to remove the oil. He dipped the tips of his fingers into a small bowl of water and dried them on the same cloth.
"Lord have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us. Lord have mercy on us," he intoned dispassionately. "Our Father who are in HeavenÖ."
Completing the ceremony, the old priest asked the tiny woman if she felt strong enough to take Communion.
"Yes. Please," she whispered.
"Lamb of GodÖ. The Body of Christ." He bent over, set the Host on Mrs. Ruhemannís tongue, made the sign of the cross over her, hesitating between the name of the Holy Spirit and the final Amen. Again, he saw Gregory Morrisonís image replace the body of Mrs. Ruhemann. "It does not seem fair. Why did you have to die, Gregory?"
"Is everything all right?"
Spellman jerked around. The nurse stood in the doorway.
"Fine. Fine," he replied with a dismissing wave. He turned back toward the table and began to repack the religious objects he had been using. He wanted to leave, but when he looked at Mrs. Ruhemann, her facial features tightened, her eyes narrowed and her breath caught again. Spellman was surprised to feel Mrs. Ruhemannís feeble grip strengthen on his suit coat.
Reluctantly, the old priest took Mrs. Ruhemannís hand. He patted it and laid it on the bed. He pulled the chair closer to the woman, and sat down in it, reaching out to hold her hand.
The next thing Spellman knew, doctors and nurses were preparing to remove the lifeless body from the room. The priest rose stiffly from the chair and moved to the corner of the room where he was out of the way. Peggy Anderson joined him. Together, they stood vigil. The sheet was pulled over the old womanís face. When the orderlies lifted the body onto a gurney, the two looked away.
"Thank you for coming, Father," Mrs. Anderson said.
"It was nothing," Spellman replied. Even he felt his words heartless and tried to amend them. "She died peacefully," he said, looking straight at the middle-aged woman.
She nodded, turning away to speak with one of the doctors.
Spellman left the room.
A nurse stopped him in the hallway. "Father," she asked, "donít you think you should lie down? You look completely worn out."
"Oh, I canít," Spellman laughed tiredly. "I must be on my way."
As he turned, the old priest collapsed.
*†††† *†††† *
When Father Spellman awoke, he did not open his eyes immediately. He took stock of his surroundings by what he could sense of the place. He knew he was in bed but not in his bed. The mattress was hard, unyielding. The pillow beneath his head was too soft, too thin. As he moved his hand back and forth, he could feel the coarse wool blanket that covered him. He moved his legs a fraction of an inch as he rolled to lie flatter on his back. His movements also made him aware of the hospital gown, which seemed bunched about his mid-section. As he inhaled, the smell of disinfectants tickled his nose.
The old priest brought his shoulders forward, stretching the muscles along his back and neck. He groaned with the movement.
Someone nearby cleared his throat.
Spellman half-opened one eye. A young Gregory Morrison was seated next to the bed. The teenager was studying him.
"They said I could wait for you," Gregory said, bending forward and looking into Spellmanís still half-opened eye. "It was all right, wasnít it?"
Spellman struggled to sit up. "Yes, Gregory. Of course itís all right. I just didnít expect to see you here."
"My nameís Jimmy, Father. Itís me, Jimmy Wilson." He half stood and reached out for the priest. "Donít you recognize me?"
"Oh, Jimmy. Of course, itís you. Iím glad youíre here."
The young man smiled, helping the priest sit up in the bed. "Everyone has been worried about you. Everyone has been calling mom to find out how you are today."
"Oh?" Spellman replied, still not comfortable with his position in bed. "Everyone worries too much about their decrepit old priest." He sighed, falling back on the bed, exhausted.
"And you donít worry enough," Jimmy said, trying to fluff the pillow for the priest before retaking his seat.
An awkward moment of silence followed as Spellman studied the ceiling.
"Iím sorry, Father," Jimmy said. "I have no right to talk to you that way." Of course, mom says the same thing all the time, the young man thought to himself. "Who were you talking to?"
"When you called me GregoryÖwho were you talking to."
"Oh, a former parishioner. He died a few weeks back. And Iíve been thinking about him a lot."
"Oh," Jimmy replied.
"I knew him from St. Anneís. Thatís where I was before I became the pastor at St. Judeís. Gregory was one of the first altar boys I ever trained. And one of the best. He was supposed to get married. But he was shot--killed."
"Morrison. I remember that now. I didnít know you knew him from before. I helped set up the hall for the lunch after the funeral. He taught math at my school. Never had him, though."
"Gregory was a special person," Spellman said. "His funeral mass was one of the hardest I ever had to say." The old priest closed his eyes.
Jimmy thought he was asleep. But a few minutes later, Spellman turned toward him, the muscles tightening across his thin face as he fumbled along the edge of the bed. "Can I get you anything, Father?" Jimmy asked, getting out of the chair.
"I canít find the nurseís call button," Spellman rasped.
The teenager reached for the button that was tied to the metal rail. As he pulled it back up for the priest, Jimmy said, "Here it is, Father. It just fell off the mattress."
"I need the nurse," Spellman said.
"Iíll go get Father Terracci," the young man replied. "He went to get some coffee."
As Jimmy started to go, Spellman began to cough that rumbling, deep cough. The teenager turned to see if he needed to stay. But Spellman waved him out of the room.
Jimmy found Father Terracci in the cafeteria. When the two returned to Spellman's room, they were asked to wait while the staff finished changing the old priestís sheets.
Standing in the hallway, Terracci asked Jimmy, "Whoís on duty next?"
The young man looked at his watch before answering. "Mr. Harper should be here in about ten minutes."
"Why donít you run along?" the middle-aged priest told the teenager. "Iíll stay until Mr. Harper gets here. You can tell your mother that Father Spellman is awake. I know that will make her happy."
"Are you sure?" Jimmy asked. "I can stay if you need to go somewhere. Mr. Harper might be a little late."
"I can stay," Terracci replied.
As Terracci sent Jimmy on his way, the nurse told him he could go in and see Spellman. The middle-aged priest made the Sign of the Cross before entering the patientís room. Just inside the door, he stopped and studied his friend. He could see the aging fatherís hand flinch spasmodically. The skin across his cheeks and face seemed flaccid. Even at this distance, Spellmanís eyes, closed now, seemed to fall deep into his head.
After crossing to the bed and taking the old priestís hand, Terracci said, "I can take your masses on Sunday."
Spellman barely turned his head. When he spoke, his voice was but a ragged whisper. "No. No. I will be home Saturday. All I need is a little rest."
Terracci made no reply. He set his friendís hand back on the mattress.† "Are you sure, Michael?† It won't be a problem for me."
"Iíll be fine," the aging father replied.
Terracci sighed, falling back into the chair beside the bed.
Spellman saw his middle-aged friend close his eyes and make the Sign of the Cross.† He heard the rosary beads slip across the plastic cushion as Terracci pulled them out of his pants pocket.† The old priest sighed and looked away.
"A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John," Spellman intoned the following Sunday.
"Glory to you, 0 Lord."
The congregationís reply brought the old priest back to the presentóa rainy, mid-October morning. Spellman scuffled to the pulpit to read the gospel. The heavy, red book was already opened to John 20:24-31óthe story of Thomas. He suppressed a cough, tried to focus on the words and begin to read.
His voice caught in his throat. He tried clearing it several times, with little luck. Beads of sweat glistened along his upper lip.
Spellman swallowed and tried again. "But Thomas was not with them," he began in a weak voice. As he continued, his voice strengthened but a little. The old priest worried more about another coughing attack than he did about his reading of the gospel. And his mind kept drifting back to Gregory Morrison.
Standing in the pulpit silent, lost in thought, the quiet of the congregation, broken only by an occasional, echoed cough, caught Spellman's attention. As he looked out at his seated congregation, eyes returned his gaze. He cleared his throat once more, smoothed the yellowing pages of an old sermon. He had been unable to write anything new.
As the priest read of the need for faith, he thought about Jesusí condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees. Did he resemble one of them? Was he outwardly righteous but full of hypocrisy? His voice cracked as he continued with the sermon.
On his return to the altar after the homily, Spellman was distracted by the glitter of gold suspended above the tabernacle.
"I donít believe in you," the old priest told the figure on the cross.
The dying Christ continued to stare heavenward.
"You can quit staring. There is no God there," the old priest said.
A flash of blue-white light arced through the stained glass windows of the church, sending a slight crackle through the sound system.
"And some would say that was a sign that You exist," he sighed. "But You donít."
The cough began to rumble up through his chest. His flesh stretched taut across his skeletal back. His right hand reached out and caught the altar for support. It was only a mild attack. Spellman almost laughed when he realized he had no one to thank for his luck.
By the time he began the second mass of the morning, the rain had stopped. The sky remained dark with heavy clouds. When he read his old sermon for a second time, the aging father chided himself for his waste.
As the congregation settled back into the pews, two verses of a psalm came to mind and out of his mouth. "Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
Everyone in the church stirred at the forcefulness of the old priestís voice. He seemed so in command.
For his part, Spellman was confused. He had been unable to stop the words once they began to tumble from his mouth. Once spoken, the words led him nowhere. Certainly, they had nothing to do with faith. Bewildered, he scuffled back to the altar and continued the mass.
After the service, Spellman retreated to the sacristy rather than face the congregation as it exited the church. He sat near a window, staring at the gray clouds. He didnít even remove his vestments. Around him, the altar boys readied the church for the next mass. They left without getting their usual blessing.
That night, Father Michael Spellman lay in a coma.
*†††† *†††† *
The following Sunday, Father Vincent Terracci said all the masses at St. Judeís for his long-time friend. The church quieted as Terracci climbed into the carved pulpit. "Iíve been asked," the middle-aged priest said before he began his homily, "to report on Father Spellman."
An uneasy stirring in the pews stopped Terracci for a moment. Although he assumed most parishioners knew of their pastorís condition, most of the people seated in front of him seemed anxious. "As you may know, Father Spellman has lapsed into a comaÖ."
A soft murmuring echoed toward the altar.
Terracci continued. "Normally, I would talk about the Gospel at this time. But today, I think we should spend the next few moments in prayer for Father Spellman." The middle-aged priest hesitated, shook his head slightly, deciding to say no more, and quickly made the Sign of the Cross.
Terracci crossed to the rectory for breakfast after the first mass Sunday morning. Both Mrs. Wilson and her son, Jimmy, were there. Terracci mentioned stopping at the hospital before coming to St. Judeís to say mass. Jimmy bombarded the middle-aged priest with questions concerning Spellmanís condition.
Terracci had just been asked another when Mrs. Wilson, standing by the stove, still preparing breakfast, said, "Jimmy, donít bother the father with so many questions.Ē
"What?" Terracci asked. "I didnít hear your question."
"I didnít ask one," Mrs. Wilson replied. "I told Jimmy to quit asking so many."
"All I wanted to know," Jimmy said, "was whether Father Spellman wanted us to pray for him."
"Iím sure he does," Mrs. Wilson said, dishing up a plate of scrambled eggs and sausage for the priest.
"But I heard himó" Jimmy started to say.
"Now thatís enough of that." Mrs. Wilson gave her son a hard look as she set the food in front of Terracci. "You know Father Spellman is the finest priest there ever was. No offense," she patted the younger priestís arm and smiled. "He always takes care of everyone else and what they need before he worries about himself."
"I know that, Mom. But I heard him yelling. And I know what he said," Jimmy protested.
"I wonít hear any more about thatÖthatÖ." Mrs. Wilson walked back to the stove leaving her thought unfinished.
"What are you talking about," Terracci asked.
"It was a few weekís ago. Before Father Spellman got sick. He was in his study. And he started yelling. He didnít know I heard him. But I did. He said, ĎI donít believe in you.í He tried to tell me he was working on his sermon. But he wasnít. He never yells in his sermons. He was talking to God."
"How do you know that," Mrs. Wilson asked.
"I just do," Jimmy replied.
Terracci nodded before picking up his coffee and sipping it. Michael? He thought. God have mercy.
Early Tuesday morning, Spellman regained consciousness. By Thursday, a constant stream of visitors threatened to wear out the recovering patient, so visitations were limited. But cards and flowers continued to pour into the hospital.
"Vince." It was more a sigh than a name.
"I came to sit with you a while. You donít need to talk."
The old priestís smile was weak.
Terracci took a seat in the chair near the bed, resting his hand on his friendís shoulder. Spellman lay quietly. Terracci thought the aging father was asleep.
When Spellman said, "Itís so strange," a moment later, Terracci was startled. He looked at his long-time friend, whose eyes remained closed. "Hmm?"
"All those cards and letters," Spellman said, giving a weak wave to the far side of the room where every inch of counter space was covered with a vase or planter.
"Everyone worries about you," Terracci said.
"Because they owe you so much."
"Iíve done nothing," Spellman sighed.
"Michael," Terracci snapped. "Sometimes you can be so blind." He almost launched into a lecture but thought better of it.
Spellman fell back asleep.
The next day, Jimmy Wilson was allowed in to see the old priest. The nurse warned him to stay for only a minute.
"I hadnít planned on coming back, you know," Spellman told Jimmy.
The teenager did not know what to say. "Excuse me?" he finally asked.
"I said I didn't plan to come back. I had a feeling of such peace, Jimólike nothing could hurt me there."
The boy thought for a moment. "I havenít felt that way in a long time," the teenager replied. "When I was little, before my dad died, he could make me feel that way."
"But I kept hearing voices calling meó"
I prayed for you, Jimmy thought.
"óand I knew I couldnít stay there any longer."
"Iím glad you came back, Father," Jimmy said. "Iíve missed having you around to talk to these past few weeks. Mom says my questions tire her out." He laughed. "She means well, I guess. But she doesnít want to hear about most of what I worry about."
"Sheís a good woman, Jim. But you ask questions that test her faith. No one likes to have his beliefs challenged. Even when youíre just looking for answers."
A week after he got out of the hospital, Father Spellman returned to his regular routine, which included Saturday evening's meal with his long-time friend.
"Itíll take some time to fatten you up again," Terracci said, smiling. "But your color is good. How do you feel?"
"Fine. Fine," Spellman answered. "Iíve missed our dinners together." He smiled sadly at the younger priest, reached across the table and patted his companionís hand. "Iíve needed so much to talk to you."
Terracci withdrew his hand and studied his long-time friend. "So, MichaelÖdid you see God?"
"I thought--," Terracci started to say, but the words caught in his throat.†
"I saw peace, Vince," Spellman said, trying to comfort the younger man. "I saw peace."
"What does that mean? Does that mean you still donít believe in God? Why else would you say you didnít see Him? What about your faith?"
"Does it matter?" Spellman asked.
"Yes. It matters. You're a priest!"
"And I believe in peace, Vince," Spellman replied. "I'm a priest who believes in peace."
"And what else?" Terracci asked.
"I'm not sure I know what you're asking me," the old priest replied.
I'm asking about peace," Terracci said. "Is that all there is?"
"I asked you that very question about prayer a while back, Vince," Spellman said. "Remember? You never answered me." He was quiet for a moment. "Now Iíve found an answer to that question in that peace I saw."
"Oh? And what was the answer?"
"I donít know whether I can explain it. Itís a personal answer. It may not make sense to you."
Terracci sighed. "Please, tell me what your answer is."
"All right," Spellman replied. "A priest is someone who offers comfort and love to those he serves. He provides them with peace."
Terracci stared at the old priest for a moment. "Thatís it? Thatís all there is?" The middle-aged priest shook his head, sighing again.
"But what of faith?"††