The next night, Cardinal Fratelli rested in his parlor sipping a cup of tea when Michele ran in and squealed:
“I thought Luigi was nice.”
“No- he is sloppy, ugly and has a terrible mustache!”
As she stormed into the other room, Fratelli shrugged. He sighed and went after her. At his approach, she turned around and hugged him starting to cry. He didn’t know how to react so he just stood there, letting her stream out these emotions. Finally, he stepped away and said:
“Michele, I’m sorry. I just wanted you to be happy.”
“I would be happy with someone like you…”
“I’m consecrated to God!”
At his raised voice, Michele eyed the floor but then continued, “Don’t you wish we still lived back in those days…when you played at my house? Oh, do you remember that one, summer afternoon when I kissed you on the cheek?”
She watched Fratelli blush, horribly embarrassed, face as red as his robes, and leave.
“We have got to find that woman a husband!” he stated seeing Arnold who drew back from the wall, pretended he wasn’t eavesdropping, “In fact henceforth, I’ll make it my first priority!”
“Well,” the priest said, “since she is being so fussy, maybe we can find her a man who looks just like you?”
“No one looks just like me, that is impossible.”
Arnold suppressed oncoming laughter.
“I suppose you are wishing you’d had that portrait done after all.”
During morning Mass, Fratelli couldn’t help but scan the congregation for eligible men who would fit nicely with Michele. The matter distracted him briefly before he set his mind to prayerfulness. It was the Mass after all, the most-holy and high worship rendered by a priest in the Church; a thanksgiving and a partaking of God’s gifts.
While he watched people mill out of the cathedral, Fratelli kept eyes open but discovered no one who really suited Michele’s high standards. They were either too old, too low-brow or too shy in demeanor. This was harder than he thought.
Evening shadows enveloped the land when a courier came running up to the villa. He pounded on the door and seeing Fratelli, said,
“Monsignor Barolo sent me yesterday, he is badly ill.”
His eyes wide with shock, Fratelli gathered the others and told them he needed to visit the elderly priest lest he’d possibly never see him again. They quickly sent for a stage-coach. Within an hour, it arrived in front of Fratelli’s villa and with Arnold trailing behind, the cardinal jumped inside. A whip’s loud crack rang out and the horses galloped off.
Fratelli anxiously looked out the window as buildings blurred by. Soon, they had departed from the city. However, his eyes kept glued to that window.
“Stop it,” Arnold said.
“You’re only going to make yourself more nervous.”
“Don’t order me around…” the cardinal began when all of sudden a jarring bump shook them. Arnold grabbed onto an armrest and caught Fratelli before he tumbled over onto the carpeted floor.
Everything halted. Arnold helped Fratelli back to his seat then opened the coach’s door peering out into night. After waiting a while, Fratelli himself went outside. Breathing in frigid air, he saw the driver and Arnold bent over examining a cracked wheel. Looking back, he saw a faint hole in the pavement and muttered.
“Your Eminence,” Arnold said now standing up, face scowling, “I thought you should stay inside…”
“Remember what I said about you not ordering me around?” Fratelli remarked then asked the coach-driver, “Can this be fixed immediately?”
“I don’t think so.”
Sighing impatiently, Fratelli began to pace. He came face to face with a man on horseback. He was the city’s constable, wearing a dark uniform with glittering, silver buttons. He hailed, “Hello there- is something the matter?”
“Yes…actually” the cardinal replied.
He dismounted, eyes twinkling in the moonlight and bowed respectfully.
“I am Ernesto.”
“Cardinal Fratelli…but obviously, you already know who I am.”
Ernesto nodded. He had curly, brown hair and amber eyes; features very similar to Fratelli’s own. Noticing the broken wheel, he nodded again showing concern on his face. He also noticed Fratelli’s anxiety, the way he paced, hands folded and toyed with his shiny ring.
“You must be on your way somewhere?”
“My old friend, the Monsignor is ill, maybe dying, I don’t know…”
Shaking his head, Ernesto replied, “You need to get there soon right?”
“Tell you what I’ll do… Why don’t I escort you into the next town?”
Fratelli hesitated but compelled by Arnold, he agreed. The stage coach’s driver untethered his lead horse lending it to Fratelli. Ernesto tied the horse’s bridle to his own. They both rode along the dark, lonesome road.
“By the way,” Cardinal Fratelli asked grabbing the reigns, trying to keep balance, “Are you married?”
Fratelli the Priest.
Late in the night, Fratelli arrived at Monsignor Barolo’s house. He thanked Ernesto for such kindly help and went inside. Tired, shoulders sagging, he came into the priest’s room and seeing him pale, sickly and torpid, grew more awakened from worry.
A nursemaid to the right of him whispered, “He’s sleeping…”
Quietly, Fratelli crossed himself, knelt beside Barolo and said, “May the Lord be with you.”
Upset that his friend couldn’t talk at the moment, not wanting to wake him, careful and silent as could be, he retrieved sacred oil from another priest in attendance and anointed Barolo’s forehead. He prayed the prayer of absolution somberly. Then mumbling something unintelligible, he slunk away.
Fratelli felt sad and uneasy so he did whatever he did when feeling this way and stopped into the monsignor’s private chapel to pray. The nursemaid spied on him, standing in the doorway for some time, then seeing he wasn’t going anywhere else, left. Barolo needed her more.
Still, before six, lit candles and the silent altar, Fratelli softly looked up and began, “Lord Christ Jesus, I know a lot of unexpected things happen in life, like mean aunts…and women doting on me…and stage-coach wheels breaking…and little boys throwing my hat in the water… but please give me strength.
And give my dear friend, Marco Barolo strength. Yes, he may be a bit arrogant and impious but he doesn’t deserve to die…not yet. Hear my prayer and look upon my virtue, if I can call it virtue, instead of his faults…in fact, ignore both of ours’ faults!
Give him your light; that it may lead to health and goodly repentance, not that I myself don’t need to repent- but we’ll talk about that another time. Good Lord, please do not be upset with us as we are weak men in your service. I trust you to make this all better. Come quickly to our aid and hear my prayer.”
There was a long pause. No sound or movement. Then Fratelli added:
“I’ll stay here all night if I have to…”
Several more minutes passed. Stirred within his heart, Fratelli bowed low towards the Eucharistic (1) presence in the altar, touching his face on the cold floor. He sat back up and stood, still eyeing the altar and concluded, “In thy most glorious name I pray: that of the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost. Saint Joseph, bring my petitions before the Lord~ amen.”
Strolling up and down a hallway beneath the smooth cover of night, he heard a clock solemnly ticking. Had the time of Barolo’s life reached its end? Eventually, growing more and more tired, Fratelli decided to stop worrying about his friend and sleep. God after all would take care of the matter.
Rising early, he rushed to check on Barolo who he found sitting up, still pale but slightly stronger in countenance. The nursemaid lingered nearby with a look of relief. The awful chills and fever that once gripped the monsignor finally had broken during the night.
“Fratelli…” he said.
Fratelli came to his side.
“I thought you were going to die”
The monsignor laughed weakly wearing a genuine smile.
“Praise God!” Fratelli shouted, throwing his hands in the air and ran out of the room, “Praise God!”
His prayer had been effective, his intercession heard! Fratelli ran back and told all of this to Barolo. Barolo seemed glad. He patted Fratelli’s arm saying, “I knew you would be a good friend. Thank you.”
“No, don’t thank me…” the cardinal responded, “Thank the Lord.”
“I shall,” Barolo said, “Let us walk to my chapel?”
Helped afoot by the nursemaid, Barolo treaded softly holding Fratelli’s steady hand. They reached the chapel and prayed together for a first time in many years. Truth be told, Barolo wasn’t a very prayerful priest, he always had something more important to do than sit quietly before God.
However, this morning something began anew in him. Joy erupted throughout Fratelli’s being. His heart stirred again. He felt urged to jump or maybe clap hands yet only smiled meekly staring into bright candlelight.
Father Arnold finally reached Barolo’s house the next morning. It was early before dawn. He joined them for lauds and Mass then they met together for a breakfast of baked apples, rolls and tea. The sun came out from its hiding place behind trees and shone peacefully on them as Barolo began, “This one prayed so fervently for me. God has removed my illness and given me a second chance. I can’t go to banquets and fancy parties anymore… I can’t deprive the faithful of the service they need. I will be available to them- I’ve changed!”
With a smile, Arnold nodded. He was too tired to really say anything.
Barolo then said, “Life is so full of changes…”
Suddenly, he nudged Fratelli.
“I’ve an idea…Haven’t you ever told Father Arnold about your first trip to Rome?”
“No, I don’t want to”
“Come on Your Eminence, it’s a great story!”
Fratelli grumbled knowing he wasn’t able to get out of this.
Placing his tea-cup down at the table’s center, he stood flattening his rather crinkled robes and began speaking boldly as he was accustomed to do:
“The year was 1829. Many people had come into my church, some from rather far away as word spread that I preached exceedingly well. I didn’t care much whether my words were holy or my high-manners, long as my heart stayed holy. That morning I struggled with doubts despite my apparent “successfulness” and felt discouraged.
Then I found a letter from the pope on my desk. He wished for me to see him in Rome. I didn’t know whether to feel this was good or bad but obedience compelled me. That week’s end, I boarded a boat to Rome, anxious and eager to see the Pastor of Pastors.
I was so very anxious- a little afraid! When I arrived in Rome, tired and weather-beaten, I saw the Apostolic City for the first time and nearly wept. Beautiful was the tomb of Holy Peter and the feet which brought Good News to others, being sent out from those eternal streets.
The Holy Father wanted to see me at noon the next day, giving me time to settle and eat. I could hardly sleep wondering what might be expected of me. Why had I been summoned there?”
He stopped taking a deep breath. Arnold hung on his words while Barolo grinned. Fratelli began nervously playing with his ring but seeing a look from them, he put his hands behind his back. Another deep breath then he continued:
“Early in the morning I ate breakfast watching birds fly past. It seemed time slowed down in this ancient place. I roused myself from stupor and laziness, said my morning praise and prepared to meet the pontiff.
At noon, I walked gingerly into the pope’s audience hall seeing him sitting there in pristine, white robes and a red cappa (2)…well you know what a pope looks like… He said my name and I approached, did appropriate homage and knelt there looking up, listening. He spoke:
“Father Fratelli, I’ve been hearing a lot about you.”
Silly me, I blurted out, “What did I do?”
He laughed saying, “Are we guilty?”
“No, Your Holiness” I said.
He went on, “I thought not. Fratelli, I have heard you are a poignant and gracious preacher, on fire with the Holy Spirit of God...is this true?”
Of course, I didn’t like to brag so I said, “All I know is that I do what should be expected of any priest.”
The pope gazed right into my eyes and I froze like a rabbit that is sighted on the morning hunt. He slowly stated- and I remember every word:
“I like you, Father Fratelli, you are a good man, of good heart…which is why I summoned you here to Rome. We need younger men who have fire in their veins, within the higher ranks of the Church- if the Church is to experience revival and an outpouring of grace. You younger clergy shall be the front against modern ideals that some older men have dreamt up. It is the duty of bishops to preserve the ancient tradition entrusted to them. Yes, we need someone like you…”
For some reason, I didn’t like the sound of that. I really didn’t want to be a bishop, I just wanted to go home but thus, was the office put upon me and I did not-could not, well didn’t really feel fit to refuse. But I was only made a bishop to be made a cardinal. After the grand ceremony, I got out of Rome, quickly as I could and hid my face the whole way home.”
~ ~ ~
Barolo’s expressionless lips became a gaping smile.
“He is too humble- I told you!”
Arnold suppressed his own smile and Fratelli appeared serious as if still trapped in those bygone memories. The clock’s chime roused him back to the present. Seeing that the two were delighted by his story, he grinned.
“That’s how we got to where we are today…”
Beneath the anxiousness of his memories, Fratelli also felt joy. He got up from the chair, stretched and yawned reading the clock nearby.
“Monsignor, we should be going. I am so glad to have seen you and that God has healed your sickness. Praise be to Him.”
Barolo nodded in agreement then kissed the cardinal’s ring before he parted.