Church bells toll above my head, announcing the 6pm call to prayer. A sound that once brought memories of peace and purpose to mind.
Now it’s nothing more than a source of torment.
A cruel mockery.
The most condescending reminder of my place in this world.
At thirty-five-years-old, I’ve managed to achieve what most priests take decades to do in this world: I was appointed as rector of one of the largest cathedrals in this part of New York.
The neighborhood struggles, which makes the size and beauty of the cathedral stand out all the more, but that was part of my calling to this place.
Why I worked so hard to get here.
I wanted to help guide the people of my old neighborhood, where I grew up before signing up to fight in the Iraq War.
Although the truth is much more complex than that. It was originally my little brother’s calling. He’s the one who grew up wanting to serve the church.
But he signed up to fight in the war, too.
Only one of us made it back.
His death plays out in my nightmares most nights. That mortar ripped him right open.
I wish it had killed him on impact.
The memory of his guts hanging out while he pleaded with me to deliver his last message to our mother . . .
He didn’t ask me to take his place in the church; I decided that on my own.
Charlie’s memory deserves no less.
Besides, it’s a good calling. An honorable one. Perhaps more honorable than my decision to enlist in the war and fight on behalf of this country.
A life of purpose—that’s what I built.
It’s disappearing nowadays.
No, it’s being destroyed. Ruined by the very temptation we preach against. The temptation I swore to turn my back on when I became a man of the cloth.
You’ve failed, ricochets through my mind for the millionth time. Maybe I haven’t given in to the physical urges, but mentally I’m deep within hell.
I stare ahead at the massive Christ on the cross that hangs on the stained glass window in front of the altar.
That means something to me. It always did. Yet, lately, I’m having a harder and harder time remembering that.
Brown eyes . . . or are they hazel? Sometimes it seems like they flashed between either shade.
Which just proves how crazy I am. No one’s eyes change colors like that.
I turn and see Ms. Cortez smiling up at me. She’s a regular at the church.
In the confessional, too. It’s why I know almost everything about her life. Her history. Never met her around the neighborhood until I became a priest, but she’s a welcome fixture in my life at present.
Flawed, like all God’s children, yet her soul is pure. Grateful. Happy.
Considering where my thoughts just started to drift to, again, I feel unworthy of her caring presence.
“Ms. Cortez.” I dip my head in greeting. “How are you this evening?”
“Disappointed. If you’re standing out here, that means it’s Father Raul in the confessional tonight.”
As it is every Thursday night, which she well knows.
And as with every Thursday—or any day that I’m not the one taking confessions—she never misses her opportunity to chide me about it.
I take in the large confessional booth on the right side of the church. We’re one of the few remaining churches to still have one. Most use reconciliation rooms nowadays.
Soon, both versions might be gone. Catholics are confessing less and less. Ms. Cortez is one of maybe five parishioners that remains devout enough to practice the Sacrament of Penance.