“Please Bishop, I really think I have done all that I can do here. The parish is in default and I don’t seem to be able to help the downward spiral!” There was a tinge of frustration and sadness in his voice. “Please let me transfer! Get someone in here that knows what to do!”
“Fr. Andrews, you far undervalue your services at the parish. You know as well as I do that we cannot close the it. It is far too historic and important to the diocese. I also believe that if it wasn’t for you, the situation would be far, far worse. I can’t imagine another priest in this diocese that would be as good a priest for this parish as you are. I know it’s difficult. Nobody saw all of the factories in town closing and so quickly. I need you there! You are a great pastor of the people who are left.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. The conversation is coming to an end. I told you my decision Fr. Andrews. Be the great pastor to this parish that I know you are. Remember: it is not about numbers. God bless you.”
With a click the line went dead. Placing the receiver back onto its cradle Father Andrews rubbed his eyes and sighed heavily.
“What is it boss?” Mrs. Bailey came into the office carrying a tray of coffee.
“Oh? Nothing. Nothing.”
“What did His Excellency have to say?”
“What? Nothing. I mean, what excellency?”
“Oh come on. I know it was the Bishop on the line.”
He held her gaze for a moment and then relented. “There isn’t going to be any help coming from downtown to save us and I was told to buck up and keep the place going.”
“Ah,” she said, sitting across from his desk and stirring her own coffee. As the milk turned the coffee caramel she asked, “What do we need to make a real go of it Father?”
The priest snorted. “People and money.”
Mrs. Bailey clicked her spoon down on her saucer. “Well there's a revelation. I meant, what do you suppose we need to get more of both over in the church?”
“What kind of miracle Father. Dream big. What would do the trick?”
“More jobs in town.”
“Yes, that would be nice,” she took a sip of her coffee while resting both elbows on the edge of his desk. “But what is something more realistic? If you could wish something what would it be?”
The priest guffawed. “Wish?”
“Yes, what would you wish?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that we had some sort of vision or something. Maybe if the Blessed Virgin Mary showed herself and we started getting bus loads of people in here to help pay for all of the repairs these old historic buildings need. That would be great. I wish something like that would happen.”
As Mrs. Bailey sipped her coffee she let slip a "Humph!"
Just then there was a frantic and persistent knocking at the door. Mrs. Bailey and the priest looked at each other. "What could that be about?” Mrs. Bailey asked. More with his eyes than with his voice he conveyed that he hadn’t the slightest idea.
“FATHER!” The pounding continued.
“For the love of Pete come in.” The door flew open and a young altar server stumbled in, his face red, his eyes wild, arms flying.
“Father, get over to the church right now! On the wall over the organ! There is an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary!”
Father Andrews slammed his fist down on his desk. “This is ridiculous!”
“That may be,” said the inspector, “but it is the law.”
“Look, I think that we have been more than accommodating. We built two new parking garages, purchased the surrounding houses of upset neighbors, updated everything to be in line with codes, built the reception halls; the new church alone built to hold all of the extra people cost millions and now you want us to help pay for road improvements? Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”
“That is uncalled for Father.” The inspector adjusted the briefcase in his lap. “This was a quiet neighborhood.”
“WHAT NEIGHBORHOOD? There was no neighborhood. The neighborhood was DEAD!”
“Be that as it may, the area was not designed for the high level of traffic that your church is attracting not to mention the busses and . . . “
The intercom buzzed. “Fr. Andrews?”
“There is another unscheduled bus that just showed up, the Society of the End of the World is holding a rally outside again, there is a news crew in the lobby wanting just a quick word with you, and Mrs. Lanning has chained herself to the altar rail again. Do you want me to call the police?”
The inspector stood. “Here is your warning letter Father. Fines will start if don’t start taking care of this project.”
“Oh, you’ve got to be . . .”
Just then the door burst open. “Father Andrews! Come quickly.” It was the neighboring pastor and he had a rather desperate look on his face.
“What is it Jack?” His level of disinterest matched Fr. Jack’s level of excitement.
“There’s no time to explain. Just take my word for it that you need to follow me and NOW!”
Fr. Andrews lumbered to the door and Fr. Jack grabbed his arm and forcibly picked up his pace.
“Wait. Where are we going? Are you taking me to my suite?”
“But there is a bus and . . .”
“It’s not your parish Father and you are not the savior of the world. Let the bus take care of the bus. This is ridiculous.”
“You can say that again. This place has become a zoo that happens to have Mass and confession. Wow, does that taste good. Thank you. I just might make it to dinner aline now.”
“I don’t know how you think you are going to continue this way. It isn’t particularly good for you and your parish is practically nonexistent. All your people have fled to surrounding parishes. This is nothing but a religious tourist trap. Nice new bookstore by the way.”
“Thanks. Here’s a discount card for clergy.”
After a sip Fr. Andrews told his friend,“This place is going to be the death of me.”
“I can see that.”
“Sometimes I wish . . .” with that, Fr. Andrews slapped a hand against his lips.
“What? Wish what? What were you going to say?”
“I - I’m afraid to say it.”
“It’s just me. You can say anything in front of me. It goes no further.”
“You’d be surprised how far it might go.”
“What? Are afraid that your room is bugged?” He took a quick look under the lamp shade.
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
Fr. Jack took a sip of his drink. “You worry me Father.”
“Wow,” he said as the realization of how stressed he must seem hit him. “Maybe I should say it.”
“I wish all this craziness would end.”