The following morning, bright and early, Fratelli’s breakfast got interrupted by none other than Pisa’s archbishop. Lifting his dark purple garb off the carpeted floor, Rodolfo entered the large dining room, and stridently announced:
“Why, Cardinal Fratelli, you’re going to spend today with me!”
Fratelli couldn’t really refuse as Rodolfo laid a hefty arm on his shoulder and escorted him into the neighboring hallway. Seeing Fratelli’s plainly irritated expression, he closed the door behind them. Now ensured of privacy, he began,
“I’m deeply sorry if this is inconvenient for you… but I need your great wisdom.”
Stunned, feeling a lump in his throat and swallowing it, Fratelli answered:
“And what makes you believe I have great wisdom?”
“Oh, come on,” Rodolfo said, “Everyone knows you’re the best preacher in Italy!”
Cheeks flushing red, Fratelli glanced aside sheepishly.
“Well, I don’t know what you have heard, but I suppose I’ll try to help you,” he answered.
“Great!” cried Rodolfo.
With one hand excitedly grabbing Fratelli’s arm, he gladly led their way downstairs and outside.
Halfway to the cathedral, the two clergymen stopped into a small cafe for biscotti and coffee. Anticipation urged Rodolfo on and he suggested they finish this food while resuming their way. Not used to coffee’s strong taste, Fratelli drank slowly. Balancing a muffin in his other hand, he scrambled unsuccessfully and dropped the fine pastry.
“What was that?” Rodolfo asked.
He didn’t yet discover the fallen muffin on the ground in front of them. Before taking another step, he finally looked down, saw it and frowned.
“Here, Your Eminence, take mine” he offered.
Fratelli waved his hands in a gesture of refusal then continued walking forlornly.
After about a half hour, they reached the huge cathedral. Fratelli hesitated, peering briefly at the leaning bell tower before he stepped indoors. The faint odor of incense greeted them. Wax clumped around cold candle-stands and faceless marble laid silently underfoot. It was altogether beautiful and struck oncemore by that beauty, Fratelli folded his hands and whispered thanksgiving to God.
“What did you say?” Rodolfo then asked.
Fratelli replied flatly, “I was simply praying.”
Several loudly advancing figures suddenly shattered the cathedral’s quiet grandeur. Four boys, ages between 12 and 14, wearing dusty red choir robes, came forth.
“Bon Giorno, Sua Eccellenza!” they chanted, their voices melting in a discordant tone.
Rodolfo smiled and responded:
“Dio ti benedica. God bless you!”
Fratelli paused, thinking. He then eyed the small choir. These boys struggled to remain still. The youngest wandered towards the central altar steps while the eldest crossed his arms and raptly ordered them back into formation. Pulling Fratelli aside, Rodolfo explained:
“As you can obviously see, my choir is badly disorganized and can’t hold a melody any better than a fish can breathe in a flowerpot…Please help me with them.”
“I’m not a musician,” Fratelli softly retorted.
“Please, Your Eminence?”
Rodolfo eyed him beggingly, like a puppy. His deep-set brown eyes seemed helpless.
Shifting his weight impatiently, the cardinal huffed, “Fine. I shall try.”
An hour was spent explaining psalm tones, perfect pitch and basic polyphony. At last, the inattentive boys mustered a chant which showed something of what they learned. Fratelli, though no choral expert himself, started teaching them an ancient introit. The song they repeated definitely sounded ancient- and definitely awful. Fratelli couldn’t make them stop. He eventually cringed, clasping both hands over his ears. Exasperated, Rodolfo blessed and dismissed them. Feeling lifted from a great burden, Fratelli strode away, eager to depart. However, the archbishop called him back.
“What now?” he mumbled sharply, pausing in his tracks.
“Please, help me with one more thing? It’s extremely important,” Rodolfo pleaded.
Gazing at the side altar, where St. Joseph stood encased in white stone, Fratelli silently prayed, “Lord, grant me patience!”
Rodolfo’s next request surprised him:
“Please, good Cardinal Fratelli, teach me to preach.”
“How is it that you cannot preach?”
“Well, of course, I can say a sermon,” Rodolfo stammered, a bit shameful, “…but I don’t do very well. My flock, they get bored with my words. I know they aren’t really listening. And I also know you are famous for your preaching. So, while you’re here, I figured you can give me some pointers?”
“Yes, tell me what I can do better!”
Fratelli touched his chin, pondering. Then he asked:
“Well then, I’ll need an example of yours. Tell me a homily… perhaps preach upon Mark’s Gospel…let’s see- oh yes, chapter 6 verse 7?”
Rodolfo settled his thoughts for a few minutes. He at last, approached the altar, descended the steps, turned and spoke:
“Mark 6, verse 7… The calling of the Twelve Disciples: “And he called the twelve; and began to send them two and two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.” Here Jesus calls his disciples…”
A long pause ensued. Fratelli gestured, as if saying: “go on.”
“And these disciples were important because it’s important for a teacher…um… a teacher needs to have students. Good students and not bad ones. Why? Because God loves good disciples…”
Frustrated, Fratelli waved for Rodolfo to stop. Silently, the cardinal wondered what thing he had done to deserve such insufferable annoyance. Standing beside the profoundly embarrassed Rodolfo, Fratelli grabbed his hand, touched the ring, which adorned his thick knuckles and said:
“I wasn’t going to suggest anything at first- but after hearing such words, I feel much obliged. By God’s grace, I simply cannot allow you to preach this badly!”
Releasing his hand, Fratelli then pointed back towards the high altar, at the golden tabernacle which housed the Body of Christ. Raptly, he fetched the book of Gospels that lay nearby, opened it to Mark, chapter 6 and read aloud their chosen verse. He bade the archbishop read it. When Rodolfo finished, Fratelli could barely contain his unrest as he lectured the poor man:
“Keep away from redundancy- unless you are posing a question and never answer a question that’s never been asked…and for goodness sake, never say “um…”!”
Rodolfo launched his sermon anew. It began nicely then faded into a sea of scattered “um’s” and aimless expressions. At this point, Fratelli paced below the pulpit, groaning and seriously considering if he should hit him with the Gospel book.
Fratelli arrived back at the hotel, tiredly slumping. Mario faced him, widely smiling, holding his scarlet cloak and hat. Several servants flocked around.
“What now?” Fratelli asked.
“Your Eminence, it’s going to be wonderful” Mario replied, “We’re having dinner on the ocean. The Primate lent us his sailboat!”
A man in a blue coat with shiny, golden buttons stepped forth. He had blue pants and a white hat, obviously a seaman of some sort. He bowed, kissing Fratelli’s ring.
“Your Eminence, let us take you for a boat ride,” he said.
Before the word “okay” fell out of Fratelli’s mouth, they were leading him outside. He wrapped the cloak around his shoulders then stopped as Gianni caught up to him. The boy was grinning from ear to ear, absolutely delighted. He had never been on a boat before and Fratelli had only been in one once.
Soft wind blew over them, sending salty warmth as they reached the wide harbor. The whitewashed docks creaked underfoot and various boats bobbed up and down as waves slapped them. They stopped before a tall sailboat, its deep walnut wood sides gleamed in sunlight and white, canvas sails flapped idly in the wind. Fratelli paused and cautiously blessed the vessel before he’d dare step foot on it. The seaman graciously thanked him, bowed again then led them aboard. In an odd sort of procession, cooks and servers poured onto the boat. Gianni hungrily eyed their covered dishes. Mario and Jan came last. Sitting down, Fratelli could see the waves scattering sunlight into hues of green, pale blue and silvery-grey. He also felt them rocking the boat as it sailed from the harbor. He watched the land grow distant and shrink in his sight. However, he did not betray his stiffness, nor did he frown at the unnecessary attention he was receiving.
Jan got him a parasol and a pillow for his feet. Gianni himself enjoyed the attention. He smiled as Mario handed him a bright red ball. The servers set stuffed clams, chicken and grapes before him. Fratelli stood and spoke:
“Thank you, O Lord, for this day and for these gifts of food and friendship. In your glorious name we pray for joy and length of life...”
Swept up in his emotions, he began praying in Latin: “Gloria Patri, et Fillio et Spiritui Sancto…”
He suddenly grew frightened by the boat’s swaying, hurriedly waved in benediction then sat down. Clear skies eased his apprehension and chilled white wine. Resting his feet, he closed his eyes. Gianni watched the constantly shifting ocean. The humming sound of the waves crashing against the boat’s bow bored him. He stood up and bounced his ball. Finding it difficult to run on the moving vessel, he laughed. It was simply more entertainment. Coming to the back of the boat where Fratelli lounged, Gianni tossed the ball in his hand then threw it at the unwary cardinal.
The ball whizzed past Fratelli’s head as his eyes fluttered open. It loudly smacked the back of his chair.
“Gianni, watch what you are doing!” he scolded.
The boy smirked and mischievously laughed. Upset, Cardinal Fratelli scowled, stood up and started chasing him. As Gianni rounded the deck of the boat, Fratelli pursued, hot on his heels. Then the boy swerved. Unable to slow down fast enough, Fratelli stumbled at the deck’s edge; wildly spread his arms and fell overboard! There was some shouting. Mario dashed out of the cabin at once and heroically dove after him. Pulling himself back onto the boat, Fratelli shook Mario away.
“I will be alright…” he grumbled.
Gianni had stopped laughing. He eyed Fratelli with an ashamed expression. Jan laid a blanket around the soaked cardinal, removed his drenched cloak and tried to soothe him.
“I am fine already,” Fratelli said again, hugging the blanket tight.
There was silence.
“I’m so sorry…Your Eminence” Gianni finally stuttered, “I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s okay,” Fratelli said, looking away towards the setting sun, feeling somewhat ashamed that his own temper had gotten the best of him. They were heading back to land. He would be dry soon and all would be forgotten.