Monday, January 14, 2013

The Cardinal's Family Matters, chapters 1-2

Chapter 1.
      Plenty to think about.

      The clustered city of Lucca bathed in spring sunlight, warmer than usual. People lazily milled about the streets and heat rose off the pavement. Beneath shade cast by the city’s towering cathedral, a man sat. He was about 34 years old.  His red finery draped over the stone steps. Tilting his broad-brimmed hat against invading sun, he continued to brush dust off a long strip of violet cloth.
      Seeing a dark smudge, he began scraping with his fingernail. When the fingernail broke, he groaned, biting it off, and spit it into the tall grass nearby. Then tirelessly, he resumed his task.
      Another man, clad in black, priestly robes, approached. He gazed forth then said:
      “Your Eminence, you are cleaning that stole again? How did it get dirty this time?”
      “Rodrigo, I don’t ask anymore,” the man replied, “I just clean things when they get dirty.”
      Rodrigo pulled a white envelope out from his pocket, handing it over.
      “This is addressed to the Most Reverend, Cardinal Fratelli…from your aunt, Francine Fratelli.”
      Rodrigo lingered, his black eyes peering curiously, as Fratelli took the letter. The cardinal anxiously moved aside and wedged his curly, brown hair beneath his hat then stared back, his own amber-colored eyes intent… waiting. Hesitantly, Rodrigo got the hint and left. Alone, Fratelli gently set his violet stole, a garment of sacred priesthood, over one knee and tore open the envelope. He smelled old paper while reading:
      Dear Angelo,

     It is with utmost sorrow, that I inform you of my father Burt’s death. I am very grateful to have been visiting with him when he passed. I was with him, holding his hand at the last moment. The next day, we held a funeral at the local, parish church and buried him next to your mother and father… and beside his wife, just as he desired... May God grant peace to his soul.
     I am sure you will hold a Mass for him as soon as possible. Angelo, you have always been a faithful priest even if you could never be a husband- like I so badly wanted.”

     Reading those words, Fratelli sighed and nervously scratched his chin. Wiping some sweat from his forehead, he removed his hat and stood. He kept reading:

      “Now I also wish to tell you Philomena is returning home with me. However, my house, for the time being, is ill-prepared to take her. I must ask you a favor… Angelo, please let her stay with you. This should not be a problem at all. We shall be returning in time for Easter Sunday. Please pray for our safe arrival!

Your Aunt,
 Francine Leona Fratelli.
      Fratelli thought for a moment, scratched his chin again and delicately folded the purple stole. Feeling warm from blazing sunlight, he moved inside the cool, dark cathedral. Soundless and careful, he walked down the central aisle and neared the small, side altar of St. Joseph to the right. Set in white stone, the kindly saint gazed, held a lily frond with one hand and blessed with the other. The cardinal knelt there several minutes, whispering a prayer. Silently, he wandered towards a row of flickering candles then lit another.
      “May his soul rest in peace O Lord, and may your perpetual light shine upon him,” Fratelli sighed.
       Actually, he felt glad that Burt now found himself in a better place. During these last years, the elderly man had gone blind and felt a lot of pain. At the end, heaven was the best thing… Within the candle-lit, sacred shadows, he delicately crossed himself and stepped back outside. Heat instantly greeted him. Trees rustled as the breeze increased, sending down a flutter of leaves. Fratelli batted one leaf away from his face and snorted, wrinkling his nose rabbit-like. No, he mused to himself, he didn’t worry about Burt- it was Francine he worried about.
      Arriving inside his small villa adjacent to the cathedral, Fratelli hung his hat, which had grown dusty by now. Dina, the housekeeper, stood in the hallway wearing a pastel-blue dress. She spotted him and immediately grabbed her feather-duster. Approaching Fratelli, she brushed the cardinal’s dirt-encrusted hat- and his face. He sneezed.
      “Stop that!” he said, swatting at ticklish feathers.
      “You are getting dust everywhere, Your Eminence!” she retorted.
      Fratelli moaned, kicked off his shoes and strolled past her. Sitting in his office, facing its one, westward window, Fratelli pondered Francine’s letter some more. He didn’t feel too anxious or excited. Rather, the next morning, which was Palm Sunday, occupied his mind. It was a holy day when Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and subsequent passion were recalled: a bittersweet day indeed.
      After resting, Cardinal Fratelli dashed upstairs. He fetched his scarlet red vestments for tomorrow’s Mass. He examined them, tracing one finger over the thin, gold lining in the shape of a cross. Once assured they were perfect, he hung them back up. He smiled excitedly. Everything about the Holy Mass and the Holy priesthood just excited him!
      Flooded with joyful thoughts, Fratelli walked downstairs. Amidst his rushing, he almost ran into Dina as she made way upstairs at the same time. She swerved, spilling the glass of cold water in her hand right onto him! Fratelli gasped and wiped his dripping, wet cassock while she scolded:
      “Your Eminence, watch where you’re going!”
      “My apologies…I am so sorry,” he stuttered, “Here, let me clean it up.”
      “No, don’t bother,” she sighed.

Chapter 2.
        Palm Sunday.

      After a quick, morning-prayer, Fratelli donned his scarlet vestments and walked to the cathedral just as sun rose above the hills. Approaching a huge crowd of people who gathered before the cathedral, bright, green palms in their hands, Fratelli donned his miter, making sure it wasn’t lopsided or too loose. Rodrigo said, also wearing red vestments next to Father Adreo, a younger priest who handed Fratelli a container of glistening holy-water. With this Fratelli sprinkled and blessed the entire crowd.
      Then they processed inside, mimicking the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, waving their palms in the air, chanting “Hosanna Filio David!”
      Hymns sounded beautifully, incense smoke rose in the air as Fratelli walked ahead sprinkling more water in front of him. Sunlight streamed through stained glass splashing the air blue, yellow and magenta. All sat meditatively and stood attentively as the Gospel account of Christ’s passion was read aloud, different readers assuming different parts, chanting fluidly. Three deacons, who had prepared for a very long time, delivered the message of suffering and love in melodic measure.
Now, the whole space fell silent. Some garments rustled and a child’s voice was hushed. Their eyes settled on Fratelli. Sitting, posture regal in his chair beside the altar, he began, his tone weak at first then gaining strength:
      “Tell ye the daughter of Sion: Behold thy king cometh to thee… (1) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation (2)Long have we awaited the day, verily have the prophets yearned: when we would hear these words- Your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation. This King is different from the rest, coming on a humble ass but bringing salvation! Salvation!
      Who brings salvation but God? Jesus the Son Of God- True God, comes himself to deliver his people, to fulfill the Scriptures. Yet, we know that also to fulfill the Word of God which the prophets spoke, he must suffer and die. Just as the Savior of mankind arrives humbly arrayed, he dies in abject humility. He rules from the throne of the cross, paying our ransom in his blood. His Kingdom is one in which glory is purchased by suffering. It is not easy…truly he said: If you do not take up your cross, you are not worthy to follow after me. He not only saves us but calls us to be more than passive spectators. We who are unworthy, we who are small, we all have place in his coming into kingship as did the lowly ass. How he beckons each one of us! Jesus speaks upon this day saying: Come forth and bear Zion’s King!”

      Following the Mass, Fratelli welcomed Ernesto, his brother and Michele, Ernesto’s wife, to his house for breakfast. Gianni, a neighborhood boy who Dina had taken in, followed after them, eagerly sitting at the table between Fratelli and Father Rodrigo. Though this wasn’t the boys place, Fratelli ignored him as he snatched an olive from a nearby, glass bowl. Father Adreo, a younger, black-haired priest also noticed and sat elsewhere, his face betraying slight frustration.
      Ernesto helped himself to a plate of roasted tomatoes, eggs, spinach pastry and figs. The meal was large, somewhere in between breakfast and lunch… Dina came, bringing tea.
      “I would like you to join us,” Fratelli told her, “Sunday should be a day of rest for you too.”
      “Your Eminence, I would rather work,” she protested.
      “Nonsense, sit down,” he replied, lightly laughing.
      She sat in the small seat beside Michele. Ernesto put an arm around Michele, whispering something in her ear. Then he addressed the gathering:
      “Michele wants you to know that her baby is coming along well…”
      “Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if the child was born on Easter Sunday?” Fratelli responded.
      “Well, it will be very soon,” Michele stated, gazing down at her swollen figure.
      Sensing her apprehension, Ernesto said, “My dearest, you still look beautiful as when I first met you.”
      While the others smiled and giggled with joy, Gianni fidgeted, not entirely understanding. He grew bored from their conversation and excused himself.
      “Gianni,” Fratelli suddenly said.
      The boy froze in place while the cardinal continued, “Remember to meet me early next morning. We aren’t finished preparing you for First Holy Communion.”
      “Yes-sir…” Gianni mumbled.
      “What was that?”
      “Yes, Your Eminence.”
      Fratelli leaned back appearing satisfied. Dina briefly frowned towards him for being so demanding. It was only proper, the cardinal mused, that he should learn these things and do them well. He also silently mused about Michele’s pregnancy. Anxiously, he waited to be an uncle. He liked the sound of that very much: “Uncle Angelo”. A sharp voice broke his thoughts:
      “Your Eminence!”
      “Yes what?”
      Father Adreo shouted from his distant place:
      “I’ve been asking you to pass the olives for a whole minute.”
      Reluctantly, he relinquished this favorite fare, passing it down towards the priest’s ready hands. When everyone had finished, Fratelli rose to embrace his brother. The others unseated and bustled about, urging Dina to escape into the kitchen with an empty teapot.
      Once they all exchanged farewells, Fratelli scurried away to the downstairs, private chapel, to be alone and to think. However, soon as he knelt before the small altar and it’s dancing, yellow candles, Rodrigo and Adreo entered and joined him.  While they recited prayers, their voices melding together, Fratelli stuffed his annoyance deep inside. After all, the Savor of mankind has come, why should he be downcast?
      After several minutes, Fratelli moved to stand but found himself oddly pinned in place. He stared at Adreo’s one knee planted firmly on the hem of his garb. He tried to gently pry the fine cloth loose. It didn’t budge. He attempted a second time then concluded the Lord required more prayer from him.

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