Silence12 mins 239 12 mins 239
Father Pius saw the woman the third time in the month. Standing still on the opposite curb of the road, her eyes, which seemed hollow on a pale face, were fixed on the statue of Christ on top of the porch.
After the mass, Father Pius decided to confront the lady but was uncertain as he stepped outside the gate of the church. He saw at a distance in the junction, some men grouping as they had been doing every day whenever the church opened for mass. They were staring at him with violence in their eyes. He said a silent prayer to the Sacred Heart of Christ, withdrawing into his haven, among the people he most cared for, inside the precincts of the church. Someone patted on his back and he turned, trying to forget the woman and the distant conspirators.
It was Joseph and his family, the ones whose smiles reminded him of the bright mornings of early August, the month of the Holy Mother.
“We invite you, Father, to visit our house today. My mother wants to receive her communion. Due to the protocols, we couldn’t bring her to church,” Joseph said.
Father Pius thought for a moment without taking his eyes off the woman across the street. She was in a dull saree, lean, seemed weak and to be in her fifties.
“Sure, I'll come. But please share your location on WhatsApp. I do not know the area well, as you know… I am new here,” Father Pius smiled broadly. Joseph shook his head.
“Father, I’d suggest you take our car. We will drop you back, no problems. It would be very inconvenient for you to ride the bike to our home. It’s a bumpy ride.” Joseph said.
Father Pius laughed at the man’s concern. “Then I’d love to ride my bike,” Father Pius said and walked inside the church.
He bowed in front of the altar and went beside his seat. From the tabernacle, he picked a holy Eucharist in his hand and placed it reverentially in a clean box. In a bottle, he took some consecrated wine also.
Inside the sacristy, the adjoining room behind the altar, he packed a chalice and his violet stole into a bag which he hung around his shoulder. For a moment he stood in front of the statue of the crucified Christ and felt like his health was waning. He had undertaken his responsibilities as the Vicar of the Sacred Heart Church a month ago. He had felt gratitude, beyond words could explain for this act of kindness God had shown towards him. From St Joseph’s Church, he was sent to the Sacred Heart, from his first appointment as a priest to his second, from the foster father of the Son of God to the Sacred Heart of the Lamb of God.
To his right, on the wall, in a portrait, the Sacred Heart throbbed with a crown of thrones piercing it in incessant diligence. The heart of Christ throbbed for everyone, for everyone who bears the burden of life, for every sinner. Father Pius knew he couldn’t move an inch without asking forgiveness then and right now. He had betrayed Christ. Every day, when he performed his church duties, it was his sincere wish to take the body and blood of Christ to every sinner and help the redeemer redeem his flock. It was his covenant with God to be an instrument of his Son. However, today, he had made a mistake. Father Pius sighed deeply as he realized more painfully that his act of withdrawing from the lady across the road was an act of cowardice. He was afraid of the gang that assembled in the junction. Talking to a person outside of the Catholic faith in this locality would be synonymous with inciting public rage. Religious conversions were viewed as an attack on other religions. Father Pius had no intention to convert anyone to the faith forcibly. All he wanted to do was to help people in distress in whatever way he could. He knew God was in constant search of His lost sheep. There was no need for a sinner to seek God. The Good Shepherd would find out the lost sheep.
“If you make me an instrument for your purpose to assemble your sheep in your care, so be it,” Father Pius said silently looking at the crucified Christ.
The lone woman across the road was looking at the statue of the resurrected Christ. Resurrection would proceed from crucifixion, agony, pain, and humiliation. But he was unable to tell this to the woman. Perhaps, she would need help but he was unable to ask her what she needed. Father Pius felt ashamed of his silence. How could he help her, when such an act would invite undue criticism from the society and cause humiliation to the whole parish? Would Christ let such humiliation upon his parish? He didn’t know the answer but he knew that he needed to approach the problem from a different perspective. It was his promise to God that he would help bring Christ to the sinners. It was that promise he needed to honour.
Joseph and family, ready with their car, were shocked to see Father Pius come out of the church shaken and battered. Father Pius hobbled to his bike, and the people watching thought that he looked like a warrior lost in battle. The transformation within such a short period was striking. Considering his reticent manner, no one asked him what had transpired with him. Soon, the vehicles moved in a convoy. The woman was still stationed across the road, giving no sign of being impacted by the people walking past her after the mass.
It was an act of running away, like a coward, instead of facing the challenge offered by Christ. Father Pius saw the men in the junction who could be passed as mere strangers standing in a group waiting for a bus, but he knew better. His predecessor at the parish, the previous vicar had warned him of the unfriendly lot that often troubled the church. In every society, there would some who would prefer to sow the seeds of disobedience to law and order. But what right did he have to condemn them? He was a condemned man, running away, instead of speaking with the woman who had shown up for the past three weeks in front of the church. Not once had she entered the church or taken part in the mass. At least, out of curiosity, he would have spoken to her, asked her what she wanted. He had even failed his humanity, Father Pius thought. What was humanity, when you had failed Christ? Humanity is embodied within Christ and if he had failed Christ, he had already failed his humanity.
With a sudden break, he stopped the bike, which skidded on the road at the unexpected manoeuvre of the rider. He was right in front of the group of strangers. He looked at them in the eyes. For a moment the hatred in their eyes gave way to confusion and fear. One by one, the group dispersed in a quick retreat.
For a moment, Father Pius couldn’t comprehend the meaning of their action. Then the realization dawned on him; by stopping his bike right in front of them, he had confronted their hatred with courage. Hatred had failed and gave way to fear as the next move of the unpredictable priest was unclear to them. Slowly, Father Pius turned his bike and rode back to the church, stopping his vehicle near the church gate. Leaving it there, he walked towards the lone woman, who was still in her trance-like state, staring at the statue of the risen Christ.
“Ma’am…,” he called her. “Ma’am….” But she remained transfixed at Christ. He looked around and saw that most of the parishioners had left the church premises.
“Ma’am…,” he called her again. She blinked and turned her eyes towards him. The eyes that had looked at the risen Christ now looked at him. He felt his heart painfully shrinking with shame and humiliation. ‘Don’t look at me with those eyes. I am not worthy. Oh Lord, save me,’ he growled in his thoughts.
“I have seen you here. What help shall I…?” he said.
“You don’t want to know if I am a Catholic?” the woman spoke, her voice husky with emotions packed intensely.
“I didn’t think I needed to know,” he said.
“I am a Catholic. Haha! Doesn’t matter any more. My daughter died in my arms in a hospital in Delhi. She was raped three times by five men. The doctors showed me her body. She looked worse than the… the…. Crucified Christ… haa…,” a feral cry emanated from her throat and tears broke out of her eyes.
“Come let me help you. Let me give you something to drink,” he said and carefully nudged her towards the church. Crossing the road they walked to the church. He asked her to sit on one of the pews.
“I haven't entered a church since that day,” she said. “I have confessed my sins a thousand times, yet… yet… He chooses to rip my heart off of my chest.” her eyes bulged and her nostrils flared. She spat like a mad dog, while Father Pius listened, his heart also bleeding.
“Her son is six years old now. And I am not sure if he should be sent to catechism like a normal kid.”
Father Pius was stunned by the revelation. “Your daughter…she... had a son?”
“Yes, he was just one year old when he lost his mother. His father still works in Delhi. Both my daughter and son-in-law were university professors. She was my only daughter and I see her every time I look at my grandson. And every time I see her, I see her battered body in my arms,” she said with a ripping glottal sound like that of an animal. Her pain was a living entity who sustained its life from her agonies, Father Pius realized.
“What did you see outside of the church that made you come back here for the past three weeks?” he asked.
“One thing…,” she said. By that time some nuns who were leaving saw the woman and the father speaking. They came closer hearing the cries of the woman.
“What is it?”
“I saw the statue of Christ, a beautiful figure that gave me a sense of consolation,” she said,
‘A panacea for the painful vision of the dying daughter in her arms,’ thought Father Pius.
“I wanted to see this statue and see the image of perfection in my heart instead of the vision of the wounded body of my daughter.”
“I still don't know your name. What’s your name?”
“My name is Theresa.”
“Okay Theresa, do you know that we have another statue right there?” Father Pius pointed at the altar. Just above the tabernacle, was a crucified Christ. Theresa covered her eyes with both hands and screamed. “No! Don’t show me the crucified Christ! I don’t want to see Him. All the blood... It’s a lot of blood. It’s a shame… oh! No!” her voice broke. One of the nuns, Sister Lidwina came rushing towards Theresa and put an arm around her. Theresa laid her head on sister Lidwina’s shoulder and growled in her agony.
“It’s not over, Theresa. See!” Father Pius raised his hand further up. There, on the summit of the altar was a statue of Christ, smiling although still with wounds on his palms, legs, and flank, as if those wounds were mere embellishments of an achievement. “Look at your favourite moment; the risen Christ!” Father Pius said.
Theresa removed her palms from her eyes and the sight dawned on her. A smile spread on a crying face incongruously. Tears still streaked down her face in full force.
“If the risen Christ is who you want to see, you have to go through the suffering Christ. Resurrection happens only after the suffering of our Lord,” Father Pius said.
“Trust in God. He will pacify you. You will receive His peace,” it was sister Lidwina, who spoke in soft tones to Theresa in an attempt to pacify her.
After several moments, it was time for Theresa to leave. She was able to hide her tears now. Her face seemed saner and peaceful. Father Pius was waiting for her to get back to her normal self and when he saw she did, he went to her again.
“Theresa, my sister, I have only this to tell you; before his glorious resurrection, Christ was crucified, made to suffer pain and humiliation, just like you and your daughter. But it was only after the suffering, he came back victorious even defeating death,” he said.
“Thank you, father. You are right. Without the courage to accept the suffering, I cannot see the true glory and mystery of the resurrection. Courage is what we need, and courage was what I lacked…,” she sighed as if venting out the last bits of her agony in front of the resurrected Christ. “Aren’t we both the same in this matter, father Pius?” she looked at him intently.
Father Pius stepped away and kept smiling at her while she moved slowly outside, her eyes still on the priest. Just as she was about to cross the threshold of the church, “You are right, I didn’t have the courage to confront you. So I waited.” He said.
“I had prayed for a sign to know that God was listening to my sorrows and for strength to take care of my grandson. In three days, Christ resurrected. So I had decided to wait for three weeks for a sign and today was the third week, as you already know,” she said standing where she was.
Father Pius knew what she was about to say even before she said it. “Through you, Father Pius, God gave me the sign,” Theresa’s smile transfigured into laughter and her eyes brimmed with tears again. Father Pius smiled too while struggling hard to keep his eyes from overflowing.
“I am afraid I have to reach somewhere now,” he said. “They might be waiting for my arrival.” He quickened his pace as he walked past Theresa and took his bike. He rode his bike with the wind on his face, trying not to think about himself and how he became part of God’s intricate plan of blessing for Theresa.
“Thank you for Theresa, Lord. And please give us the courage to face our sufferings,” Father Pius said a silent prayer.
The next week, in the catechism class a new boy appeared. His name was Alex and his grandmother waited on him until his classes finished. Father Pius had another member in his parish, Theresa. Her eyes had a new light as she was now able to see and venerate the crucified Christ. Father Pius was no longer silent in calling out to the lost sheep too. To make his point heard, he decided to hold a meeting with the nearby religious institutions to tell them that neither he nor his church exalted in celebrating opposition with them.