By Jay - Ottawa
The following chapter is from a story (fiction) with 9/11 as its backdrop. A group of priests from the New York City diocese is holding its monthly breakfast meeting at "Ribbons," a fancy restaurant located on the top two floors of the North Tower.
BLESS ME, FATHER
A few dozen priests from the archdiocese had reserved a windowless private dining room on the lower level for a prayer breakfast. They were the canon lawyers of the diocese who had assembled to learn more about the sins of liberation theology. By now the Eggs Benedict had been disappeared, the whiskey sours drained away, and the speaker’s talk run out of words. The priests in their dark suits and Roman collars pushed back their chairs to stand mess hall style on both sides of the long linen-covered table. With heads bowed, they waited for the most senior among them to trigger the recitation of ‘Grace after Meals.’
That would have been Monsignor Reilly: “We give Thee thanks––”
Everybody chimed in “––for all Thy benefits, O Lord, and may the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, amen.”
That was the moment the plane struck. Smoke began to filter into their little dining room. They waited for a waiter to return to show them the way to safety, but no one came. The men of God were on their own. As the smoke thickened, quick thinkers got busy placing wet tablecloths over vents and at the base of doors. Smoke filtered in less rapidly, and that was good.
“Down on the floor; the air is better,” said one, and these mostly middle-aged and out-of-shape men went down clumsily on their knees and then down on their bellies. The smoke grew thicker and more poisonous. Mother of God, it stings! The floor became uncomfortably warm. Lord in heaven, this heat! A few priests pushed themselves back up on their knees but found the smoke worse than the heat. God help us! Dry hacking coughs multiplied and grew louder. O Christ! The coughing and choking reached a crescendo. This was the end and they knew it. As if it were written in the program they began to pair off for last confessions. Jesu! The smoke did not hold back until everyone had finished with his last confession. Several penitents lost consciousness before they came to the end of their declarations. The loud coughing began to taper off as, one by one, priests lay their heads down on the carpet and quietly expired.
As luck would have it, Monsignor Reilly’s most likely confessor, who had sat at his right hand through the breakfast, happened to be the oldest man in the room. Father Eusebius Weber’s tired heart gave out before Reilly even finished reciting the sacrament’s opening formula. Reilly, alas, was very much not in the state of grace. He had to get clean of something before he stumbled into eternity. A great fear took hold of him; adrenalin flooded his veins and kept him going. He began to crawl around on his elbows looking for another priest who was still conscious. “Hey, Hey! … C’mon!” He poked one still form after another without success and kept moving. How many seconds were left to him before he was in eternity looking at the whole of it forever? And with his record, still unconfessed and unforgiven.
Providentially, he bumped into Father DiSimone. Anthony DeSimone was the captain of the diocesan golf team and a natural athlete. That summer, through a careful selection of opponents in the rich suburbs, the diocesan team had won thousands of dollars for the chancery, which was the bishop’s headquarters where Reilly served as chancellor. DiSimone was now holding a wet napkin over his nose and mouth, but Reilly recognized those eyes, such remarkable pale blue eyes, from the time Reilly had been director of the diocesan seminary and DiSimone a young seminarian.
“Tony, good lad, thank God you’re here,” Reilly rasped in a high-pitched chipmunk voice. “Quick, hear my confession.” He put his face down to cough into the carpet only to suck in more smoke.
Father DiSimone’s pale blue eyes looked back over the napkin. He lowered the napkin when Monsignor Reilly raised his head. “I can imagine what you want to confess, Monsignor. I was one of your toy boys at the seminary, remember? Every day now I wipe the muck off my soul.”
Reilly’s throat burned, his lungs begged for oxygen. “For the love of Christ, Tony, forgive!” DiSimone stared back with the flat affect of an athlete, loose and relaxed before the next play. Reilly, on the other hand, grew more frantic. “Absolution, Tony, please. Sign of the cross. Just say the words.”
Father DiSimone took a breath to say something but was interrupted by his own fit of coughing. When it stopped he looked back at the monsignor to whisper in a hoarse but unhurried voice, “Fuck you, Reilly. And I’m sure I speak for others."