The Plenary Indulgence

The Plenary Indulgence

A Story by Debbie Barry
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A young girl's prayer and it's consequences. Some of this is based on real events, but most is fiction. I attended the Beatification of Solanus Casey in November.

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The Plenary Indulgence

 

            Rain poured down on the car, swishing across the outside of the window.  Daddy was driving very carefully, because the rain-slick highway was very busy, and the Saturday drivers didn’t always drive well or politely.  Susie heard Daddy say several very nasty words when a big, black SUV cut right across in front of them to one of the many exits leading to communities along the way.

            “Language, Dear,” Mommy said gently, but Susie noticed that Mommy had braced both hands against the dark blue dashboard for a moment or two.

            “Sorry,” Daddy muttered, carefully changing lanes, as their exit came up.

            Susie watched the cars zipping by in the pouring rain.  She frowned, wondering about the drivers who made Daddy say naughty words.

            “Why’re they all goin’ so fast?” Susie asked.

            Mommy glanced back at Susie, who was snuggly settled in a high-backed booster seat, strapped in behind Daddy.

            “They’re all in a hurry,” Mommy said.

            “T’ get t’ th’ be’f’cation?” Susie asked, cocking her curly, blonde head to one side, her large, blue eyes wide with curiosity.

            “No, prob’ly not,” Mommy said.  “They’re not takin’ th’ exit for Ford Field, so prob’ly not.”

            “Oh,” Susie said.  She pondered for a minute.  “Are we goin’ t’ Ford Field?”

            “Yes, Punkin,” Mommy said, smiling warmly. “We’re goin’ t’ Ford Field.”

            “We’re here,” Daddy announced just then, as he pulled into a line of cars that was barely moving.

            The car moved up a few feet at a time.  Finally, Daddy rolled down his window, and handed some money to a smiling man with an orange vest on over his wet, yellow raincoat.

            “Parkin’s right in there,” the man said, pointing to a big, gray building just ahead.

            “Thanks,” Daddy replied, and rolled up his window, blocking the cold rain that was blowing into the car.

            Daddy drove into a big building that seemed to be a parking lot.  Susie had never seen a parking structure before, and the spirally ramp, the low ceilings, the dim lighting, and the rows of parked cars were bewildering for her.  She stared all around, taking in the sights.  Before long, Daddy eased their car into a parking space between a red Jeep and a silver mini-van.  Susie could see outside, through a big opening in front of the car.  The gray clouds and driving rain filled her view, almost obscuring the outlines of city buildings; they seemed to be high up.

            Daddy climbed out of the car, and turned to get Susie out.  Mommy climbed out on the other side.  In a few moments, all three doors were closed against the rain, and Daddy pushed a button on his keys to lock the doors.

            Bang, bang, bang! Click-click, beep!

            The noises were loud and echoing in the strangely confining space.  Susie didn’t like the parking structure.  She frowned and wrinkled her nose, and she gladly caught hold of Mommy’s hand on her right, and Daddy’s hand on her left.

            The rain muffled the sounds of voices, as Susie walked between her parents, but the sounds were still loud.  Car engines, slamming doors, beeping locks, and talking people echoed raucously around Susie.  She was grateful to step into the relative quiet of the creaky elevator.

            “One,” Mommy said.  Susie cheerfully pushed the round, shiny button marked, “1.”  One was the easiest number, even though Susie could count to more than 300 without a mistake now.

            The elevator went down.  Before the door opened, Mommy checked to be sure Susie’s puppy, bubble-gum pink, quilted coat was zipped all the way up, and she tucked Susie’s golden curls inside the hood, which had an edging of fluffy, white fur, to match the hem and the cuffs.  Then the door slid open, and the cold, rain, and noise resumed.

            Susie hurried between Mommy and Daddy.  Her short legs had to move extra fast to keep up with the long, hurried strides of the grown-ups.  As they turned a corner, Susie saw lines of people, waiting in the rain.  She saw men, women, and even children in wheelchairs, and many older people leaning on metal walkers.  They were all waiting in the cold rain, but they looked excited and happy, just as Susie felt.  They were talking, and Susie heard an angry or frustrated voice here and there, but the hundreds of people mostly sounded as excited as they looked.

            Across the courtyard from the great lines of people, contemporary Christmas music was coming from another building.  The air was filled with the smells of wet people, car exhaust, and the rain itself, but over those odors was the enticing aroma of Italian sausage being cooked with onions and green peppers.  Susie knew that scent, and her mouth watered.  She ate lunch before leaving home, and Mommy said they couldn’t eat again until after the “be’f’cation.”

            Susie and her parents stood in the line for a long time, and her legs got tired.  Her hands, clasped in Mommy and Daddy’s hands, were warm, and she was grateful for the warm, pink coat, with its fuzzy hood.  Daddy had put up the hood of his sheepskin-lined, denim jacket, and Mommy’s beautiful, long, burnt-orange hair was covered by the hood of her shiny, bright green raincoat, pattered all over with frogs.  Susie was about to complain about her tired legs, but then she saw a very old woman leaning on a walker.  She was talking to a younger, dark-haired woman in a wheelchair.  Susie realized that those people weren’t complaining, and one of them couldn’t even walk.  She thought about that for a few moments, and then she silently prayed, “Jesus, thank you for lettin’ me be able t’ walk.  Bless that lady that can’t.  Amen.”

“Here you go, Sweetheart.”

Susie looked up.  A smiling man in a long, brown dress was bending over, handing her a card with a brightly colored picture on it.

“It’s okay, Punkin,” Mommy said softly.

Susie took the card.  “Thanks,” she whispered.

“God bless you,” the man said, and then he stepped away.

Susie turned the card over.  One the back was a prayer to St. Joseph, which called him the Step Father of Jesus.  She quickly tucked it into her pocket to keep it from being ruined by the rain.

“Who was he?” Susie asked, looking up at Daddy.  She blinked as the fat, cold raindrops splashed on her upturned face.

“He was a Capuchin priest,” Daddy replied.

“Oh,” Susie said, not sure what a Capuchin was, but hearing respect and approval in Daddy’s voice.

They moved forward in the line.  Finally, they reached a small desk, like the ones Susie saw in restaurants, and a tall, dark-skinned man wearing an orange vest over a transparent rain poncho, took the three large, white tickets from Daddy.  The man tore off part of the tickets, and gave the bigger parts back to Daddy.

“Have a great day,” the man said.  He grinned and winked at Susie.

They walked down a long, concrete corridor.  At least it was out of the rain.  People were talking in lower voices, but the sounds still echoed off the high, concrete walls.  The air tingled with the excitement of the crowd.  Susie stared all around her.  There were lots of people in regular clothes, but also a lot of men and women in long, black or brown dresses, like the one the Capuchin wore.

“Are those Cap’chins?” Susie asked, dropping Mommy’s hand to point at a group of the brown men.

One of them turned at Susie’s question.  He saw her, smiled, and crouched down to look her in the face.  “Yes, we are,” he said, offering her his hand.  “I’m Father Timothy.  Who are you?” 

Susie looked up at Mommy, who nodded permission, and then Susie placed her small hand in Father Timothy’s large, warm hand.  She was surprised at how soft, smooth and gentle his hand was, but it felt comforting.  She smiled shyly into his light, hazel eyes.

“Susie,” she said, just above a whisper.

“Hello, Susie,” Father Timothy said.  “How old are you?”

“I’m eight now,” she replied.

“Eight!” he exclaimed, clearly pleased.  “Did you have First Communion yet?”

“Uh huh,” Susie said proudly.  “I got a fluffy, white dress, and a veil!” she announced.

“Wonderful!” he exclaimed softly.  “Are you gonna’ receive Communion today?”

Susie’s eyes clouded with confusion, and she looked inquiringly up at Daddy.

Daddy smiled and nodded.  “Yes, Father, we’ll all receive Communion today.  I don’ think Susie knew that.”

Father Timothy gently squeezed Susie’s hand, and then stood up.  He placed a hand on top of Susie’s hair, gently nudging her hood out of the way.  Susie noticed that Mommy and Daddy were suddenly very still, as though they were listening carefully.

“May almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you, Susie, for time and eternity, and may this blessing remain forever with you.”  Father Timothy lifted his hand from her head, and the traced the Sign of the Cross in front of her forehead.  “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

“Amen,” Daddy and Mommy said together. 

Susie saw Mommy and Daddy making the Sign of the Cross over their chests, and hastily did the same.  “Amen.”

“Thank you, Father,” Daddy said, shaking Father Timothy’s hand.

The Capuchin priest smiled, and then returned to his group of friends.

“Why’s he got a dress, Daddy?” Susie asked, staring at Father Timothy’s back.  He had a rope wrapped around his waist, and the ends of his sleeves were loose, hanging down from his wrists.

“It’s not a dress,” Daddy replied with a warm chuckle.  It’s called a habit.  Monks, nuns, and some priests wear them.

“Like th’ white dress Father Paul wears on Sunday?” she asked.

“Uh, sort of,” Daddy said doubtfully.  Father Paul only wears that for Mass and stuff, but Father Timothy and them wear ‘em ev’ry day.”

“Oh,” Susie said thoughtfully.  She considered the encounter as Mommy and Daddy led her through a crowd of people, all moving more or less the same way.  In the back of her mind, she noticed that no one was pushing or jostling; the crowd was noisy, with hundreds of voices close together, but there was no yelling or shouting, and there was a distinct absence of obscenities.

Mommy bent to unzip Susie’s coat, and brushed several loose curls off her forehead, tucking them behind Susie’s ears.

“Better?” she asked.

Susie nodded.  She hadn’t realized how warm it was in the crowd, after the cold of waiting in the rain.

“Goin’ t’ Confession?”

Susie looked up, and saw a young man with thick, straight, black hair, and melted-chocolate eyes.  White teeth grinned at her from his swarthy face.  He wore a bright orange t-shirt.

“Do y’ wanna go t’ Confession?” he asked, glancing at Mommy and Daddy.

“Oh, yes,” Mommy confirmed.

“Definitely!” Daddy agreed.

“Great!” he replied.  Just go down this line ‘til you see a free priest.  We got about 80 of ‘em doin’ Confession t’day.”

The walking space was narrow, so Daddy led the way, followed by Susie, with Mommy bringing up the rear.  On either side of her, Susie saw men and women sitting in chairs, face-to-face with priests, all leaning forward, almost cheek-to-cheek, each pair talking in hurried whispers.  The susurration of so many whispers made an almost tangible cloud above the priests and the penitents, resulting in a strangely insulating silence surrounding Susie.  As she walked, she caught hints of perfumes, aftershaves, and deodorants, mingled with the earthier odors of sweaty flesh, damp denim and wool, and the occasional sour or acrid stench of stale alcohol or tobacco.  No matter what, they whispered their confessions, and she saw the priests sit up and raise hands in blessing and absolution.  Several times, one or another of the newly-absolved edged past Susie’s family, returning to the noisy, excited crowd.

Susie stumbled to a sudden stop when Daddy stepped to the right and sat in one of the chairs.

“Go on, Punkin,” Mommy urged.  “Go t’ th’ next chair.”

Susie saw that the next two priests had empty chairs in front of them.  Shyly, hesitantly, she walked to the nearest chair.  She sat down on the edge of the seat, and then scooted back a bit.  Daddy was already cheek-to-cheek with a priest.  Beyond her, Mommy sat down across from another priest.  Nervously, Susie glanced up.  The gently smiling face, surrounded by tightly curling brown hair and a thick, neatly trimmed, curly, brown beard, had very kind, twinkling, grass-green eyes, which watched her patiently.  She shifted position again, looked at the floor, swallowed, and then met his eyes again.

“I’m Father Jonas,” he said, very softly.  “Do you want to make a Confession?”

Susie nodded.  She remembered what Sister Beatrice had taught her about going to Confession to tell Jesus what she’d done wrong, so He could forgive her.  She knew she couldn’t receive Communion, if she didn’t go to Confession.  She really wanted to receive Communion; it always made her feel so warm and light and free.  Hesitantly, she traced a small, clumsy Sign of the Cross over the chest of the sky blue sweater that was framed by the open zipper of her puffy, pink coat.

Father Jonas smiled encouragingly.  He repeated the gesture more confidently, and said, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

“Amen,” Susie whispered.

“What would’ja like t’ tell Jesus?”

“Um,” Susie began.  “I didn’ tell Mommy the’ truth th’other day, ‘bout doin’ my homework.”

“You told a lie?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Anything else?” Father Jonas asked.

“Yeah….”  Susie blushed.  “I hit Joey yes’day.”

“Is Joey your brother?”

“Uh uh,” she shook her head.  “My friend.”  She looked up, her cheeks blazed, and her eyes flashed ice.  “He tried t’ KISS ME!” she whispered in a voice of shocked outrage.

“I see,” the priest whispered, suppressing a chuckle.   “Anything else?” Father Jonas asked again.

Susie shook her head, but then she hesitated.  “I don’ think so.  Maybe.  Prob’ly, but I don’ ‘member.”

“Okay.  Do you know the “Our Father?”

Susie nodded.

“Then I want you to pray one “Our Father, and ask God to bless Joey.  Okay?”

Susie nodded again, looking hopeful.

“Do you know an Act of Contrition?”

“Uh huh,” Susie looked at her hands, clasped in her lap, and concentrated on remembering the words Sister Beatrice had taught her.  She began in a bare whisper: “Oh my God, I’m sorry for my sins with all my heart.  In choosin’ t’ do wrong, an’ failin’ t’ do good, I’ve sinned ‘gainst You that I should love most.  I firmly ‘tend, with your help, t’ do penance, t’ sin no more, an’ t’ ‘void whate’er leads me t’ sin.  Amen.”

When she glanced up, Father Jonas smiled at her, and nodded.  He raised his right hand over her forehead, and prayed, ending with the words, “may God give you pardon and peace,

and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

            “Amen,” Susie repeated, copying the Cross he made with the last words.

            Father Jonas sat up, and gestured at someone behind Susie.

            “Ready?” Daddy asked.

            Susie nodded, sliding off the chair.  When her sneakered feet hit the concrete floor, a line of red, blue, and green lights flashed around the tops of her soles, just below the hems of her dark blue, corduroy pants.  “I gotta do pence,” she said, sliding her little fingers into Daddy’s big, warm palm.

            “Okay, Honey, we’ll go do penance t’gether,” Daddy chuckled.  “Here comes Mommy.”

            Mommy’s fingers were cool, as they curled protectingly around Susie’s right hand.

            “Bye!” Susie called to Father Jonas, as Daddy edged a path for them against the flow in the narrow, crowded passage.

            “We got seats in the end zone,” Daddy announced, looking at the tickets.  He showed them to a round, rosy woman is an orange t-shirt, and she showed them to seats at the top of a tall bank of stadium seats.  They wriggled past a lot of strangers to reach their three blue folding seats.

            Just before the sat down, Susie noticed a heavy, dark-haired lady in a wheelchair, who was sitting behind a railing, directly behind her own seat.  It was the same lady she’d seen waiting in line in the rain, when her legs were tired.  She heard a very large, tall man, with a bushy, brown beard and mustache, tell another woman in an orange t-shirt, “Thank you.  My wife’s blind; she didn’t see it.”

            “Blind?” Susie thought.  She remembered some stories about Jesus and blind people.  Blind meant they couldn’t see.  She sat down behind Mommy and Daddy.  As she watched the choir move into its seats, and saw the video that was playing on three giant television screens at the same time, she thought about a blind lady in a wheelchair waiting in the rain to go to something she couldn’t see. 

            They sat silently for a few minutes.  Susie silently recited the prayer for her penance, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed by Thy Name….”  When she finished, she could tell Mommy and Daddy were still praying.  She thought the lady in the wheelchair was praying, too.  She settled down to finish her penance.  “Dear God, please bless Joey, e’en though ‘e tried t’ kiss me.  I’m sorry I hit ‘im, ‘cause hittin’s a sin.  Thank you.  Amen.”  She sat quietly, her eyes closed, for a couple more minutes.

Then she heard Daddy reading to Mommy from a magazine the round lady in the orange t-shirt had given them.  Mommy had one, too, and also one for Susie.  “The Beatification of Father Solanus Casey,” Daddy said. 

            “What’s a be’f’cation?” Susie asked.

            “It’s part of being made a Saint,” Mommy explained.  Father Solanus died a long time ago, in 1957.  He helped people who were poor an’ sick, an’ God let ‘in do miracles.  ‘Cause o’ that, the Church is tryin’ t’ make ‘im a Saint, but first he’s gotta be a Blessed.”  Mommy said the last word like it was two syllables.

            Susie nodded.  “S’ter Be’trice told me ‘bout helpin’ poor people an’ sick people.  She said Jesus healed ‘em.”

            “That’s right,” Daddy agreed.  “Father Solanus was a Capuchin, like th’ one who talked t’ you.  He still helps th’ poor an’ th’ sick wi’ miracles, so they made ‘im a Venerable, an’ now he’s a Blessed.  Hopefully, he’ll be a Saint, after a while.”

            Susie watched the video for a while, letting it all sink in.  It was a lot to think about.

“Anyone who goes t’ Confession at th’ Beatification, an’ does penance, an’ then received th’ Eucharist here’ll get a plenary indulgence, ‘ccordin’ to the Archdiocese.  S’posed to come right from Rome,” Daddy told Mommy over Susie’s head.

“Oh, cool,” Mommy replied.  “Wipes out all our sins b’fore t’day, so no Purgatory time for all that.  Start fresh after t’day.”

“Dunno,” Daddy said doubtfully.  “Still gotta do time for whatever’s after t’day.”

“Yeah, but it won’t be as much,” Mommy argued gently.

Susie thought about plenary indulgences and Purgatory.  Sister Beatrice had told her that Purgatory was like a special bathroom you went to before going to Heaven.  You took time there to scrub away any sins you still had when you died, and anything else that kept you tied to your earthly life.  When you were totally clean, then you left Purgatory, and went to Heaven, to be happy with God forever.  Susie thought it sounded like this plenary indulgence would be really important for a person who didn’t have to go to Hell, but still had a lot of sins to scrub off.  She thought a person like that needed to be as close to God as possible, as soon as possible, because Sister also said sin was like a sickness, and a person like that needed God to make him get well.

Suddenly, Mommy and Daddy were standing up.  Music was playing.  Susie stood up, too.  The stadium seats made it easier for the grown-ups to see what was happening down on the field, which had been turned into the sanctuary and choir of a cathedral, just for one day.  She saw the choir, all in black, and the cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons, all in white, with splashes of red, processing across the middle of the field to the snowy, white altar.  For a while, it was a little like being at Mass on a holiday, but then there was the Beatification itself.  Special things were read out loud.  Some people were given something Susie couldn’t quite see.  She peered around the head and shoulders of a graying, old man, with a scruffy fringe of candy floss hair around a mottled, freckled, bald dome.  His bulky, dark green, down-filled jacket made his shoulders very high and wide.  Behind her, the bearded man quietly told the blind lady what was going on, and Susie listened to him, unaware that she shouldn’t eavesdrop.

The prayers were confusing, because a lot of them weren’t in English, but most of the Mass was more or less familiar.  No one knelt, because they were in a football stadium, so everyone stood up, instead.  Susie couldn’t see a thing down on the floor then, but she could see parts of two giant television screens, and she did the best she could.  When it was time to shake hands for the Peace, she hugged and kissed Mommy and Daddy.  Then she reached up to the blind lady in the wheelchair. 

“Peace by with you,” Susie said as politely as possible.  The lady smiled, leaned forward, and shook Susie’s hand.

“Peace be with you, Sweetie,” she replied in a kind, gentle voice.  Susie felt something strange and good in her heart, just for a moment, and then she let go of the lady’s hand.  The moment passed, but Susie felt a sort of peace.

Finally, she was following Daddy out of the row of seats.  There were a lot of people serving the Eucharist.  When Susie’s turn came, she carefully placed her left hand on top of her right hand, as Sister had taught her.  She looked into the man’s kind, blue eyes, rimmed with tiny wrinkles, above a straight, thin nose, as he said, “The Body of Christ,” and laid the round, white wafer of Host, stamped with the Cross, on her open palm.

“Amen,” she replied.  She carefully used her right hand to pick up the Host, and put it into her mouth.  She made the Sign of the Cross, and followed Daddy around a long loop back to her seat.  As she walked, she let the wafer dissolve, until she had swallowed it all.  She swept her tongue around her teeth to make sure she didn’t miss even a tiny bit. 

As soon as she was sure, she whispered, “Thank you, Jesus, for dyin’ for me, an’ for lettin’ me have Communion with You.  Amen.”

Susie returned to her seat.  It was a time to be quiet, so Susie sat quietly.  She folded her hands in her lap.  “Tell me what t’ do, God,” she prayed in her heart, though she wasn’t sure why.  Then, on an impulse, she prayed, “Blessed Solanus, help me help people who’re poor an’ sick.  Show me what I can do.  Please help the blind lady in the wheelchair, an’ ask Jesus to let her see an’ walk, like y’ did in th’ Bible.  Thank you.  Amen.”

When the Mass was over, Susie and her parents were in an enormous crowd.  Everyone was going toward the exit at the same time.  Susie heard someone say there were more than 66,000 people at the Beatification.  She counted carefully, to see how many zeroes that was; it was more people than she could count!

Holding tightly to Daddy and Mommy’s hands, Susie finally made it out into the cold, dark, rainy night.  She was surprised when she saw a woman sitting on the ground.  She thought the woman had fallen, and Daddy was reaching to help her get up, but instead he put some money in the woman’s hand.  The woman stuffed it into her clothes with thin, shaking hands; she didn’t say “thank you,” and Daddy didn’t speak to her.

“Last 20 in my wallet, Daddy told Mommy, as they walked toward the parking structure.

“Good,” Mommy replied.  “Stop at th’ ATM an’ take out some ‘ore.”

“Right,” Daddy agreed, and they lifted Susie by her arms to swing her over a large puddle.

That night, after Mommy tucked her in, and turned out the lights, Susie lay in her bed, thinking.  Finally, she whispered a prayer: “God, Daddy said I got a plen’ry ‘dulgence t’day, ‘cause I went t’ Confession, did the pence, an’ got Communion at the beet’f’cation for Blessed Solanus.  I was gonna do all that anyway; I didn’ do it t’ get a plen’ry ‘dulgence.  I wanna give it t’ whatever soul You think needs it most of all in Purg’try, ‘cause I don’ mind havin’ to scrub off mu sins in Purg’try, but the one that needs it the most’d have to be there so long an’ long.  Please take it from me, an’ give it t’ whoever that is.  Thank you, Jesus.  Amen.”  Smiling peacefully, Susie dropped off to sleep.

 

The small, thin, wrinkled lady lay in a hospital bed.  Her wispy, white curls were spread across the snowy pillowcase.  Machines whirred and beeped, and tiny red, green, and amber lights blinked and flashed.  A display near the bed showed her heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and blood oxygen level.  A cannula delivered cool oxygen to her nose with a constant, low, sibilant hiss.  A tube ran into the vein in the crook of her left elbow, and three plastic bags of various fluids hung on a stands beside her bed; an electronic regulator made sure she was getting the right does of the fluids at the right speed.  Her thin, translucent, parchment skin was mottled with bruises and age spots. 

The blinds were drawn, blocking out the harsh parking lot lights that turned the darkness of night to a lurid parody of day.  A single pale, white, fluorescent light reflected off the white ceiling tiles above her bed.  The television was on, and an infomercial was a series of colored images in the periphery of the aged woman’s sight; she didn’t hear the mindless babble of the device, because she’d asked a nurse to turn off the sound.

The air was tainted by the acrid tang of disinfectant.  There was a sort of smothering miasma of sickness hanging invisible in the air, despite the staff’s diligence at scrubbing her room and her body.  The nurse had changed her sheets and gown again after she used the bedpan, right after the shift change.  The odor was persistent.

“Susan?” a gentle voice called from the open doorway.

“Who is it?” she asked in a pale, quavery voice.  She turned her face to the dim corridor light, which fell in a pool across the floor.  A dark figure blocked some of the light.  She tried to see who the visitor was, and her wide, sky-blue eyes, sunken in shadowy hollows in her ravaged face, flashed with intelligent curiosity and awareness.

The dark figure moved closer.  It was backlit, so she couldn’t see features, but the voice had sounded masculine.  The figure’s silhouette suggested the long, dark habit of a monk, but she hadn’t spoken to any monks in years.  She thought it might be a priest, but Father Joe had visited just yesterday, had heard her Confession, and had given her Communion.  He had done the same every Thursday for over five years, first at the nursing home, and, the last three months, in this bed.  Besides, it was after the nurses’ shift change, maybe after midnight; it was too late for a visitor.

“Hello, Susan,” the voice said, moving closer; the figure was still backlit from the hall, and not yet lit by her bed light.

“Who are you?” Susie asked again.

The figure stepped closer, and she saw a youngish man in a long, brown habit, tied about the waist with a length of white cord.  The man had thick, tightly curling, black hair, trimmed short, and a neatly trimmed beard of the same black curls, giving his round, mild face the look of a sheep.

“Baa, baa, black sheep,” Susie said in her thin, weak voice.

The visitor laughed.  “As long as I’m a sheep, an’ not a goat, on th’ Last Day, I can live with that.  I’m Father Thaddeus.”

Susie stared at the figure, her mind flitting back through the shadows of eighty years of memory, to the first time she had seen a habit of brown, belted by a cord.  It was the day that had changed her life.  “He was Father Timothy,” she said dreamily.

“Who was?” Father Thaddeus asked, stepping to the side of the bed, and gently taking her withered right hand in his.

“The first Capuchin I even met,” Susie replied, meeting his dark amber eyes with her piercing blue ones.  “I was eight.  It was the say Saint Solanus became a Blessed.”

“Were you at the Beatification?”

“Yes,” she replied.  “But why’re you here in th’ middle o’ th’ night?”

“I came to give Last Rites to a brother from my Order.  He was just down the hall, but he went home a few minutes ago.”

Susie understood that he meant the monk had gone to his Eternal Home.

“A nurse in the hall suggested I might stop in to see you.”

“I’m glad you could be with ‘im when ‘e died,” Susie said, her lips turning up in a gentle smile.

“Thank you, Susan,” Father Thaddeus beamed at her.

“Will you hear my Confession?” Susie asked, and then fell into a brief fit of wheezing.

“Of course,” he readily agreed.  He pulled a narrow, purple stole from a small case he had laid on the bedside table.  He kissed the stole, and hung it around his neck.

Susie whispered her confession into Father Thaddeus’s ear.  When she finished, he said, “Say one Hail Mary for your penance, Susan.  Can you say a prayer of contrition?”

Susie breathed the Act of Contrition, more than she said it.  Father Thaddeus repeated the prayer of Absolution, and then heard her recite the prayer for her penance.  As soon as she finished, he opened a tiny prayer book.  He read a short Gospel passage, rather more rapidly than usual. 

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”  Susie’s breath no longer carried the sound of a voice, as she repeated the prayer with Father Thaddeus.

He picked up the pix, glanced at Susie, and drew out a small vial and eye dropper, instead.

“The Blood of Christ,” he said.  He saw her “Amen in her eyes, fixed weakly on his, and carefully placed a drop of wine on her tongue.  He put the kit away, and turned back to Susie.  Placing his left hand on her shrunken forehead, he made the Sign of the Cross with his right hand,

“In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

He continued to pray after she breathed the final word with him, and didn’t take in another breath in this world.

 

Susie stood on a road.  To either side of her, there was nothing but light, except for the road beneath her feet.  The light was bright, but not blinding.  It was both soft and dazzling, but she could see clearly.  There were no forms or shadows in the light, no sky, no ground, no horizon.  The light was the same from every angle, not coming from a single point.  The air was clear and clean, like the air after a country rain in summer, but there were no odors of earth or trees.  The scent of antiseptic was gone.  The air was neither warm nor cool, but was perfectly comfortable.  Susie drew in a breath of it, and then noticed that she was breathing.  The cool stream of bottled oxygen, with its tang of ozone, was gone.  The air was still, but not with the oppressive weight of silence.  There was an almost inaudible hum of joyous anticipation, which she heard more with her heart than with her ears.  Susie looked at her feet, and saw that the road was wide enough for one person to walk safely, but not for two to pass, or to walk abreast.  It looked like a ribbon of the same light all around her had been hardened to form a path that was entirely part of the light.  It was firm to walk on, smooth without being slippery, but not hard enough to tire her back and legs. 

Then she noticed the nondescript woman in front of her.  From the back, the woman was neither beautiful nor ugly.  She was slightly taller that Susie, but everyone was taller than Susie.  She was more thick than thin, but not fat.  Her mousy brown hair was cut in a straight bob, just above her shoulders.  She wore jeans and a dark blue hoodie, with the hood down her back.  If she’d passed her on the street, Susie wouldn’t have noticed her.  In front of the woman, who neither turned nor spoke, there were many more people of every size, shape, age, and color: men, women, and children.  Only very small children and babies seemed to be missing.  They all moved slowly, quietly along the road, but with a patient acceptance, not tired trudging, or any hurry.  A very few seemed anxious or confused.  Susie glanced behind her.  Right behind her was a young boy, probably not quite in his teens.  His dark face looked a little bit scared, but he walked patiently behind her.  His large, dark eyes seemed too large for his thin, pinched face; they seemed to see, but nothing betrayed any awareness of her looking at him.  His curly, black hair was too long, and was matted and snarled.  He wore stained, faded jeans, with tears and worn holes; and a filthy, sleeveless undershirt, a size or two too small for him, which had probably once been white.  There were several inexpertly draw, black tattoos on his skinny upper arms, and several paler scars striped his arms and shoulders; there was a jagged scar on his left cheek, from the outer corner of his eye to the corner of his mouth.  Around his neck, on a fraying, knotted shoelace, he wore a small, Crucifix, the features worn smooth, as though they were often rubbed by those thin, sad fingers.  Susie’s heart overflowed with joy at seeing the boy, but she wasn’t sure why.  Behind him, the line of people continued, until it was lost in the distant light.

Susie walked forward in the line, but she felt no passage of time.  After taking a great many steps forward, Susie looked up.  The mousy-haired woman was still in front of her, but the line was almost gone.  Before her, a large sign read “Purgatory: Enter Here.”  Susie’s heart skipped a beat.  Purgatory?  Was she dead?  Susie didn’t think about that for more than a moment, because the reality of death didn’t scare her.  She’d been patiently waiting for death for a very long time. 

“That nice Father Thaddeus came at just the right time.”  The thought flitted through her mind, and then it was gone.

Susie was filled with gratitude.  She was only too happy to enter Purgatory.  At least Purgatory meant she’d go to Heaven one day, and never to Hell.  Patiently, she waited her turn.  Then the line was gone, and she reached a door, in front of which a man sat at a desk.  He might have been a school teacher, or a corporate drone, to judge by the simple desk, except that his pristine suit was perfectly white, and a golden nimbus hovered around the top of his head.

“Next,” the man said, as the mousy woman in front of Susie stepped through the door.

Susie stepped forward.  The man looked up.

“You’re in the wrong line, Susan,” he said kindly, but with a trace of confusion.

“Whadda y’ mean?” Susie asked, suddenly worried.

“You’re s’posed t’ be in th’ short line,” the man said, anxiously checking his books.  “Here it is.  Yeah, the short line.  Order came through ‘bout a second before your departure.”

He pointed to an entry in the large ledger book on the desk in front of him.  Susie saw her own name in the long list of names, but it had been crossed out in red.  Beside it was written, “Short line.  P.I..”

“See?  Short line,” he said.  “Weren’t s’posed t' have t’ wait.”

“Oh,” Susie said, confused.  “Short line to where?”

“There you are!” a deep, warm, voice boomed jovially from the side.

Susie and the man at the desk turned.  From the corner of her eye, Susie saw the skinny kid, still quietly behind her.  Approaching them was a tall man, dressed in long, flowing robes, which seemed to be woven from the same white light that surrounded them.  His face was olivy-brown, with wide, friendly features, punctuated by a very large, very hooked nose.  A nimbus of golden light, larger and brighter than the one on the man at the desk, surrounded the top of his head, shimmering on his wavy, black hair.  He extended his right hand to Susie, as he drew up to them.  Instinctively, rather than putting out her right hand to shake his, she extended her left hand, and he enveloped it with strong, gentle, brown fingers.

“I’m Uriel.  You slipped past us between your departure and arrival.  Had to make sure you didn’t go to the other place first, but you weren’t there, so I came right over here.

“Uriel?”  Susie breathed.  Long, long ago, Sister Beatrice had taught little Susie about angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim.  Susie remembered Archangel Uriel.  He was the one who made sure souls went to Heaven or Hell, after their bodies died.

“Come to take you home, Susie.  We’ve been waiting for you.”

“But, what about Purgatory?” she asked, amazed and confused.

“Nope.  Plenary indulgence,” Uriel replied, smiling broadly.

“I … I gave that away,” Susie stammered.  “w-when I was eight.”

“No, not that one.  The one you were granted just a second before your departure.  You were absolved from your sins, you did your penance with a pure heart, and you received the Eucharist in a state of Grace.”

“Father Thaddeus,” Susie breathed.

“He got there just in time,” Uriel confirmed.  “You wouldn’t have been in Purgatory too long, anyway, but you don’t need to go at all.”

“Not long?” Susie asked.

“No, you received the Sacrament of Healing just yesterday, if we can use human time for a moment.  Your sins since that were very few, and your heart was ready to release your ties to the world.”

“Since I didn’t go straight to Heaven yet, is it too late to give the plenary indulgence away?” Susie asked.

“Don’t’cha wanna go t’ Heaven, the man at the desk exclaimed.

“’Course I do,” Susie said, smiling at him.  “I want it more than anything, except this boy,” she looked at the skinny kid, and both Uriel and the man looked with her.  “He’s had a really hard life, but look at his Crucifix.  He’s been holdin’ on t’ his faith " literally.  He needs t’ be with God, t’ be tot’lly healed an’ comforted.  I give my plenary indulgence to this boy.”

“Oh!” the man at the desk exclaimed.  Susie looked at him, and followed his eyes to the page.  The red ink had moved, notation and all, to the name below hers on the list: “Essa Abdullah.”

Suddenly, the boy raised his head, and his large, dark eyes sparkled with life.  He looked around, awe flooding his half-starved features.

“Come, Essa,” Uriel said, releasing Susie’s hand, and taking the boys skinny fingers in his large, strong ones.

Uriel and Essa walked away, disappearing into the light after only a few steps.  Smiling contentedly, Susie turned, and walked through the door behind the desk.

Purgatory was all that Susie had expected it to be.  All around her, the souls of men, women, and children were being scrubbed with clouds of light, and rinsed with clear water.  Some seemed to struggle with the process, while others looked serene.  The air was softly warm, but not hot, and was scented with spring water, meadow breezes, and the faint aroma of warm sugar cookies.  It was surprisingly quiet.

A tiny cloud of sparkling lights floated over to Susie.  It flicked a few specks from her shoulders, and she realized they were the prayers of the faithful, back in the mortal world.

Susie took several steps forward, and passed through a barely visible curtain that suddenly manifested in front of her.  On the other side, there was nothing but light, and the light radiated peace, love, and joy such as Susie had hardly dreamed of.

“Hello, Susan,” said a warm, welcoming voice.

“Oh, my God!” Susie breathed; for the first time in her life, it was neither a blasphemy nor a prayer, but a greeting.

Susie saw a multitude of men, women, children, and infants, all joyfully adoring and praising the Source of the voice.  Nearby, Essa Abdulla was in a rapture of peace and love, and all trace of suffering was gone.  Susie felt a surge of gratitude and love at the sight of him.  She realized that she, too, was free from all mortal suffering and hurt.  She felt only peace, hope, joy, and love.

“Yes, my Child.  Welcome home.”

 


© 2017 Debbie Barry



Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Please let me know if you find typos; it helps me. Initial reaction and constructive criticism welcome.

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Featured Review

I love experiencing this from a child's view. Some mush better then an adults.

“Uh uh,” she shook her head. “My friend.” She looked up, her cheeks blazed, and her eyes flashed ice. “He tried t’ KISS ME!” she whispered in a voice of shocked outrage.
“I see,” the priest whispered, suppressing a chuckle.
Susie shook her head, but then she hesitated. “I don’ think so. Maybe. Prob’ly, but I don’ ‘member.” (I think maybe you left out something. What doesn't she remember? Or was she saying, she didn't think he tried to kiss her?

Purgatory was like a special bathroom you went to before going to Heaven. You took time there to scrub away any sins you still had when you died, and anything else that kept you tied to your earthly life.
(I loved the way purgatory is described here. This is what they should tell everyone.)

Coming from a child and ending with and senior. I like how it has the story from start to finish, then from the start again. (home)

Posted 6 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

6 Days Ago

Wow! Thanks for such a great review! I'm really glad you liked the story!

I really .. read more
Diane

6 Days Ago

You're welcome. Surprisingly I caught it I can barely catch a cook chicken with a fork
Debbie Barry

5 Days Ago

You'r5e funny! You catch more than you think you do. It's a lot easier when it's not your own writ.. read more



Reviews

Oh, Debbie, what an epic story.

Every step of Susan's journey I felt like I was walking along with her. The rich and vivid imagery you write into this story made that possible.

What a gentle and pure soul Susan was. Even after her death she gave away The Plenary Indulgence which proves she wasn't doing it to earn any so called "brownie points" but out of pure love and compassion.

Thank you for sharing this piece, it will stay with me throughout the day and perhaps create just a little more love and peace in this world.

Cheers!



Posted 6 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

5 Days Ago

Thank you so much, Karen! I'm really pleased that you enjoyed it. I deeply appreciate your kind an.. read more
Karen Redburn

5 Days Ago

Sorry "Susie" not "Susan". Just know, regardless of my careless error the character had a positive i.. read more
Debbie Barry

5 Days Ago

You weren't wrong; Father Thaddeus called her "Susan" in the hospital Susie or Susan, either way.read more
I love experiencing this from a child's view. Some mush better then an adults.

“Uh uh,” she shook her head. “My friend.” She looked up, her cheeks blazed, and her eyes flashed ice. “He tried t’ KISS ME!” she whispered in a voice of shocked outrage.
“I see,” the priest whispered, suppressing a chuckle.
Susie shook her head, but then she hesitated. “I don’ think so. Maybe. Prob’ly, but I don’ ‘member.” (I think maybe you left out something. What doesn't she remember? Or was she saying, she didn't think he tried to kiss her?

Purgatory was like a special bathroom you went to before going to Heaven. You took time there to scrub away any sins you still had when you died, and anything else that kept you tied to your earthly life.
(I loved the way purgatory is described here. This is what they should tell everyone.)

Coming from a child and ending with and senior. I like how it has the story from start to finish, then from the start again. (home)

Posted 6 Days Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

6 Days Ago

Wow! Thanks for such a great review! I'm really glad you liked the story!

I really .. read more
Diane

6 Days Ago

You're welcome. Surprisingly I caught it I can barely catch a cook chicken with a fork
Debbie Barry

5 Days Ago

You'r5e funny! You catch more than you think you do. It's a lot easier when it's not your own writ.. read more

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Added on December 5, 2017
Last Updated on December 6, 2017
Tags: story, beatification, solanus casey, religion, catholic church, ford field, capuchin, plenary indulgence, prayer, confession, penance, communnion, purgatory, heaven, religious fantasy, christian

Author

Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



About
I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

Writing