Wednesday. Even in early morning, the villa buzzed with people. Fratelli entered the parlor to find Lucca’s main florist arranging lilies in a vase. Francine watched from a distance, frowning whenever he put one flower in the wrong place. Finally, she interfered and began arranging them to her “better” judgment. Sighing, the grey-haired florist walked away and grabbed a bouquet of small, pink blossoms. He saw Fratelli and greeted him:
“Your Eminence, I wanted to show you my idea for Easter…”
He leaned over and produced a huge, pure white lily, dripping with dew, bright green leaves arrayed like outstretched arms.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” asked the florist.
“Very much so,” Fratelli answered taking the lily and sniffing its delicate fragrance.
He closed his eyes feeling a moment of peace.
“I grew these myself, gave them the best water and nourishment,” the florist began, “I call her: “Candida Magnifica”.”
Fratelli nodded. He approached the vase where Francine was tirelessly working and then inserted the large white lily at its center.
“Angelo, you can’t just put that anywhere…” his aunt remarked.
“Leave it alone Francine.”
When all activity seemed to die down, Fratelli snuck into his private chapel. He methodically lit the six candles sitting upon the altar, bowed before the golden tabernacle which contained the holy body of Christ, and knelt down. Breathing cool air, he savored silence, hearing no sound or bustling beyond the door. Slowly opening his lips, he spoke:
“Lord God, you are almighty over the heavens and the earth. You watch us at our daily lays, our work and worries. I have many worries, this you know… My thoughts, you can count them and yes, they are like a bunch of coins that have fallen on the floor. Please still my heart. St Joseph patron of workers and protector of the Church, pray for me. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost...”
He traced a delicate cross over himself. Reluctantly, he stood and walked to the office where the day’s paperwork, documents and mail awaited. Father Rodrigo sat at the desk and when Fratelli took his seat, he handed a broad envelope to him.
“What is this?” the cardinal asked.
“Read it…just read it!” Rodrigo exclaimed.
The envelope was made of fine parchment. It bore an ornate monogram and a red wax seal: the Seal of Tuscany. Apprehensively, Fratelli opened this letter. Taken aback, he arched his brows, held the paper high and read:
“To His Eminence, the Most Reverend, Angelo Cardinal Fratelli…”
In a dramatic huff, Fratelli caught his breath from having stuffed all those words in one sentence. Then he continued:
“My sincere condolences upon hearing of the death of your Great Uncle. Know that my prayers go out to you. I have also heard that your young cousin, the lady, Philomena Leona Fratelli, is staying at your residence. I desire to meet her and with your blessing, possibly seek her courtship. Therefore, for the Holy Easter feast, I invite you and your kin to my father’s palace for celebrations. Please come, minding my most-earnest intent, for I am deeply expecting you.
Signed, Lamberto D’Constanza II.”
Anxiously, Fratelli’s hands crinkled the letter’s edges. Rodrigo snatched it from him and re-read it diligently. Setting it down, he stared at the nerve-racked cardinal, saying:
“What is wrong, Your Eminence. A letter from the duke’s son- this sounds like a very good thing.”
“I don’t like this,” Fratelli blurted out, “I never cared much for the Lamberto II. He is dissolute and boorish, much into drinking and revelry. I do not want him courting my dear cousin.”
“But will you reject the invitation?”
Putting a hand on his chin, pondering, Fratelli replied, “I suppose I may not be able to. I’ve always had uneasy relations with the duke and his family…ever since excommunicating his son, Lambert II. Thank God he repented and came back into the Lord’s fold.
No, I don’t need to make matters worse. They already perceive me as a pompous buffoon of sorts- which I am not! We shall go to his celebration but perhaps, perhaps there is an easy way to get his eyes off of Philomena.”
His voice sounded both hopeful and unsure. Clasping his fingers, he played with his golden ring. Rodrigo stopped him.
“Quit being so tense. Everything will be fine.”
“Who are you to tell me if I should be tense or not? I’ll be tense as I please,” Fratelli retorted.
He stepped from the office and found Dina carrying a glass of water.
“Your Eminence, I brought this for you…” she said.
He took the glass and thirstily drank, quenching his parched mouth.
“Thank you, you are so kind,” he responded between sips.
Then, he paused, asking:
“Where is Philomena?”
“She’s getting some sun in the garden.”
Fratelli darted outside. He needed to speak with her.
Philomena rested on a bench, holding a parasol over her head as sun streamed down. Birds merrily sang of spring. Paolo, the gardener, wearing dirty slacks and a thin shirt, stood next to her, He had just handed Philomena a fresh-cut rose when Fratelli emerged. Seeing the cardinal and his serious expression, Paolo withdrew then left.
“Merciful goodness! Is every man in Lucca under your spell?” he pointedly asked.
She laughed at him.
“I don’t see any humor in this,” Fratelli asserted.
“And that’s why it’s humorous,” she answered, stifling more giggles.
He blushed somewhat, glanced away then returned his amber eyes to her onyx-colored stare. Their gazes locked briefly, engaged in some sort of contest of wills. Philomena won out. Her forthrightness was too strong. Carefully, she explained:
“Now, you realize that I have a mind of my own and that I intend to use it.”
Afternoon slowly went by. Nervously, Cardinal Fratelli paced in the parlor. Hot sun streaked through the windows. Wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, he smiled. This evening was the beginning of the Sacred Triduum: the three days before Easter Sunday. Such an exciting and busy time! Fratelli could hardly wait. In fact, he was growing so excited he couldn’t eat.
“Your Eminence,” Dina said coming into the room, “Please get something to eat.”
“Oh, yes, yes!” he replied.
Though his mind focused on other things than food, he hastily went to lunch, sat down before a bowl of grapes and picked at them. Rodrigo entered, Gianni trailed behind. The boy helped himself to bread and a heaping knife-full of butter.
“Don’t take so much!” Rodrigo rebuked.
Sheepishly, Gianni scooped some butter back as Philomena appeared. She sat across from the cardinal, her dainty fingers choosing a grape and popping it into her mouth. Anxiously, Fratelli realized he must tell her, sooner or later about Lamberto D’Costanza’s letter- and his intentions. He fidgeted, put both hands under the table and toyed with his ring. Rodrigo noticed but said nothing.
Very reluctant, Fratelli followed Philomena back in the parlor after they’d finished eating. She turned around immediately and asked:
“What is it?”
“You and I…need to talk.”
“If this is about me coming back to the church and going to Mass…”
“No,” Fratelli replied, resting in a chair by the window, “Though I would like to discuss that very much, I need to tell you about Easter. Our plans have changed. Instead of dining at Francine’s house, we have been invited to a rather large feast…at the palace of the duke.”
“Really?” she replied excitedly, putting her hands together, “I have never been there before. Oh, it will be so wonderful and luxurious!”
Quietly, wearing a nervous expression, the cardinal shut the door. Philomena eyed him strangely, dreading what he would say next.
He forced the words out:
“Philomena, you don’t have to go along with this but I must tell you that Lamberto II, the duke’s son…wishes to court you.”
Then he glanced away, slowly, slightly returning his gaze. Surprisingly, Philomena didn’t seemed shocked or upset. He shrugged. Smiling, she responded, “I was getting tired of Carlo anyway. He’s too quiet and it annoys me when you always have to guess what a man’s thinking- but Lamberto II, I feel so honored! They say he is outgoing and dashingly handsome!”
Fratelli groaned. He had been expecting a different reaction.
Evening shadows finally fell. Townspeople bustled through the square and crowded into the cathedral. Bell loudly rang in the air. The Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper had begun. Fratelli, donned in rich white vestments and a plain miter, processed across the long aisle. The beautiful, violet vestments were retired. Lent had ended anticipant of glorious Eastertide. When time came for Fratelli to give his homily, he momentarily grew silent, his thoughts dizzily circling. At once, he collected the thoughts and stuffed them elsewhere in his mind. He preached smoothly, concluding in proud voice:
“Seek Christ in the bread of life. He says “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I shall give you rest.” In his offering to mankind, he gives life, by his death, life. At the supper before his death, he verily did tell the disciples: “This is my body- this is my life. I give myself to each of you.”.”
Rather than displaying gladness over his finished sermon, Fratelli expressed anxiety. Once a year came a ritual he didn’t savor much: the one night when Lucca’s bishop would wash the feet of twelve townsmen in imitation of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. Of course, he reminded himself, he was Lucca’s bishop. He ignored creeping dread as he removed his beautiful vestments and walked, clad in a bare, white robe, towards the altar where twelve men stood. They waited- and so did their dirty feet. Oh, how ugly and calloused those feet were!
Rodrigo, standing to the right, handed him a soaking wet rag. Gulping back pride, he knelt as the first man lifted his foot, placing it in his hand. Fratelli washed methodically one pair of feet after another, soon forgetting his humiliation and instead pondering what it felt like for the Lord of all creation to be there in his place. Jesus surely was far greater than he, a perfect being, and yet subjected himself to most harrowing debasement. Sighing, standing back up, he whispered a thanksgiving to God for putting up with him.Did Fratelli truly realize how much of his life
drew from God? Could he perceive just how God lowered himself? For them? For him? The thought of it made him tremble throughout the solemn prayers, tremble before the sacred host as he lifted it high. This was his body given up for all men- his life