The New Bishop

Monday, January 16, 2012

On August 1, feast day of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the new bishop assumed his office, giving a most peculiar speech in which he noted that he was absolutely certain that he, like St. Alphonsus, would eventually be deserted by most of his companions, be excoriated for abandoning pomposity for simplicity, and have his neck bowed by the burdensome weight of circumstance. He added that he too had asked that the complex penance of the bishopric not be laid upon his shoulders, weak as his shoulders had thus far proven to be, but such deliverance was not his lot, for which he asked the prayers of the faithful.

Bishopric? said people in the pews. Is that a word?

Ten days later, on August 11, feast day of St. Clare of Assisi, patroness of laundry workers, the new bishop sold the phalanx of washing machines and dryers in the rectory basement. On October 28, feast day of St. Jude, patron of lost causes, he sold the rectory’s entire supply of bingo equipment, card tables, poker chips, and roulette wheels, some of the tables tracing back to the establishment of the parish itself just after the Civil War. On March 9, feast day of St. Frances of Rome, patroness of cars and drivers, he sold all four of the rectory’s cars, including the Buick on which Mr. Mooney had worked so long and assiduously, buffing and revving, polishing and priming, shining even the various small bobblehead statuettes on the back shelf that some bishops, as Mr. Mooney said, the ones with hints of senses of humor, had allowed him to install.

Those were the days, said people in the pews.

On March 8, feast day of St. John of God, patron of booksellers and heart patients, the new bishop had a quiet heart attack while reading John Steinbeck’s masterpiece Sweet Thursday. He joked to his doctors that he would have never had a heart attack, quiet or otherwise, if he had not been reading the greatest of Episcopalian writers, who famously while an altar server at St. Paul’s Church in Salinas, California, dropped a cross on a bishop’s head.

I should have anticipated a blow to the bishopric, said the new bishop.

On March 19, feast day of St. Joseph, patron of shelter and buildings, the new bishop sold the rectory itself, all ten adjacent acres including sheds and the former stable complex, and all attendant woodland except the dense grove of cedars at the very top of the hill behind the rectory. That parcel, approximately an acre of forest that had never been logged, was preserved by trust in perpetuity and granted public access by way of the footpath that was annually cleared by the Boy Scouts as a community service project.

Is he going to sell the church itself, then? said people in the pews.

The rectory staff, generally advanced in years but quietly provided with complete health care and healthy pensions by the bishop with part of the proceeds from the rash of recent sales, retired and mostly arranged to live with their children, although Mr. Mooney, disgruntled, to say the least, moved to another island and offered his services to an Episcopalian parish led by a man who sometimes wore a BOSTON COLLEGE POKER TEAM sweatshirt, which Mr. Mooney did his best to ignore, feeling that even the Jesuits had a place in the Church Eternal, as did, of course, the poor Episcopalians and their ilk, still smarting over the sins of the Church many centuries past, though those days were long ago and far away, and the whole idea of Protestantism being somewhat quaint, what’s to Protest against, with the Church being the poor shaggy thing it is today, exhibit A being this new fella selling off the place lock stock and barrel, I ask you that?

Mooney has a point there, said the people in the pews.

The new bishop himself took up residence in a sorry little lean-to of a beach cabin near the Rocks, close enough to the church that he could walk back and forth or even God help us all ride that little green wisp of a bicycle he found at the Goodwill, and it must be said he was indefatigable on that thing, rain or shine, visiting each and every one of his congregants during his first year as he said he was going to do, you have to pay the man his due for that, said people in the pews, and he did indubitably bring back many of the lapsed and fallen, and draw a startling number of new congregants, mostly the young couples and their first babies, who caused a racket and no mistake, and the bishop closing the crying room and welcoming the squirmers and toddlers up front to crawl around the altar like it was a beach and him the sea.

Is the Mass a kindergarten project or what? said the people in the pews.

On September 27, feast day of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, patrons of surgical procedures and organ transplants, the new bishop donated a kidney to a twelve-year-old female member of the parish and bone marrow to a nineteen-year-old football player at the local community college. The boy, who then recovered amazingly from his illness, was Episcopalian and joked to the local newspaper that he never expected Catholicism to save his life. The newspaper had a field day with this and the story was picked up nationally, with a photograph of the boy in his football jersey holding a rosary.

On October 8, feast day of St. Luke, patron of artists and painters, the new bishop sold all paintings, statues, carvings, sculptures, stained-glass windows, furniture, pews, rugs, candelabra, and fixtures in the church, and then the building itself, holding back from sale and auction only crucifixes, the tabernacle, and the altar itself, a beautifully worked slab of cedar. The crucifixes were distributed to various parish homes, the altar was trucked to a barn near the beach, and the tabernacle was carried in procession from the echoing church to the barn also.

Hardly a soul behind the new fella, said the people with no pews.

On January 31, feast day of St. John Bosco, patron of boys and children and juggling and humor, the new bishop gave a most peculiar speech, in the barn, to his much reduced flock, in which he noted that it had seemed to him that the whole point of living as the gaunt rabbi suggested long ago meant attentiveness each to each, and shucking gewgaws, and escaping the yoke of possessions, and fleeing the prisons that ritual and tradition can become, and serving each other in person, hand to hand, face to face, and stripping away glitter and acquisitiveness, both personal and communal, and this he had tried to do, with a minimum of bluster, and with full realization of the pain of loss, but he hoped with all his heart that his brothers and sisters would understand and forgive and even perhaps support him in this, for he had tried to live in love, as the gaunt rabbi suggested long ago, a suggestion he thought could, given the chance, given the wholehearted creative relentless support of simple souls like us, change the bone and sinew of the world, and make of this creation a song unlike any that had ever been sung, a world where no child wept in fear, where war was only faint memory, where imagination was food, where no one grappled for power but instead bent every shred of genius to seeing and celebrating the Christ plunged in every soul like a brilliant arrow.

Gone all artsy poetic on us now, the new fella has, said the people in the barn.

On March 19, feast day of St. Joseph, patron of the dying, the new bishop died, his heart failing utterly as he whipped along the beach road on that green wisp of a bicycle. By pure chance he was found by the young football player who carried the bishop’s marrow in his bones. The boy carried the bishop’s body to the barn. Two girls later brought the bicycle to the barn also. The bishop’s funeral was celebrated by his dear friend the Episcopalian priest, who wore, as instructed by the bishop’s last will and testament, his BOSTON COLLEGE POKER TEAM sweatshirt. The bishop’s body was then distributed, as also specified by his will, to various organ banks, hospitals, and clinics; one eye ended up in Canada and the other in Oregon, his liver stayed among the islands, and his remaining kidney electrified a carpenter in rural Idaho. What remained after distribution was cremated and scattered in the inlet, as requested by the final codicil in his will. By chance his ashes were flung on an incoming tide, which carried the first serious run of chinook salmon, who in their testy way slashed at everything in or on the water, so a good deal of the bishop ended up in and on the first salmon caught and ceremonially roasted on the beach.

Maybe the new fella was right about it all, after all, said the people, as they sat around the fires that night on the beach, gaping at the stars.

Sunday, January 1, 2012