The warning of another church burning came in the confessional. Cleansed by Fire. Chapter 11
April 22, 2013
A VG Serial: Cleansed by Fire
Once again, Father Frank sat in the dark quiet of the confessional, waiting to help people make peace with the Lord. While he waited, he thought about his own life, and ways he could improve in God’s view.
Was he spending too much of his efforts with the youth programs? No. They were the future. And they faced so many pitfalls during their teenage years. He needed to find more ways to help the youth avoid falling into those dangers, and to help them build a closer relationship with Jesus. Still, he needed to work in more time for the older parishioners. They had less time left to do God’s work.
Were his sermons reaching anybody? He tried to make them relevant and interesting. He hoped each Sunday he could embed one morsel that would stick in the minds of his parishioners, and be a good influence. But did he ever succeed? It was hard to tell. He wished more people came to tell him a particular sermon had spoken to them, helped them with a problem, or encouraged them to spend more time in private conversation with the Lord.
Of course, a few always told him they appreciated his words. How about some new people? Just one new person a week. Or two. That would make a hundred additional souls he had reached during a year. Was that just pride wanting praise?
Let my words convey Your message, Lord. I don’t need to be complimented; just let the parishioners grow closer to You.
The door opened, and he heard the wooden kneeler scrape on the floor as someone bowed before God.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
Father Frank caught his breath. It was Sammie. The priest felt a chill run down his back. What would Sammie have to say today? Maybe just that he had been uncharitable to someone. For the first time in his priesthood, he feared what he might hear. Father Frank felt an urge to cover his ears and just give absolution. But he knew he could not do that. He had to fulfill his part of the sacrament.
“Yes, my son.”
“Father, there’s gonna be another fire.” Sammie’s soft voice carried heavy emotions – guilt, regret, fear.
The words physically shook the priest, his stomach cramped as he tried to breathe. At the same time, the despair in Sammie’s voice made Father Frank want to cry.
Somehow, though he wouldn’t acknowledge it, he had expected this. The moment he recognized the penitent was Sammie, the question crept into the back of his mind. Will another church be torched?
Please, God, let me help this troubled soul.
“Have you told the police?”
He heard the boy let out a sigh. “I can’t.”
“You must, S—.” He caught himself just before he said Sammie’s name. It was difficult enough for the boy to come into the confessional and tell what he knew. He had to have at least the illusion of anonymity.
“At this point, you’ve done nothing wrong. If you don’t tell the proper authorities, then you will have committed a sin of omission.”
Quiet. And then, “I know it’s a sin. I’m asking God to forgive me.”
“He will. But He would like to know you are sorry for what you did. The best way to show that is to correct your wrong, to change the way you act. In this case, that means to tell the police. Then, maybe they can prevent the tragedy of another fire.”
The priest paused a moment, afraid to ask, desperately wanting to know, but fearful of the answer.
“Will it be another church? Another house of the Lord?”
A chill settled over the priest. Part of him didn’t want an answer. Maybe if he didn’t hear, it wouldn’t happen.
“Yes.” Sammie spoke so softly Father Frank almost missed it.
“I’m guessing it’s the same person who’s burning all the churches.” Father Frank waited, but Sammie said nothing. “Do you know why he’s burning churches? Does he have some grievance with the churches he burns? Or with all churches?”
Still the boy remained silent. Father Frank wanted to yell at him, tell him this kind of loyalty was a mistake. Maybe it was fear. Maybe Sammie was afraid of the person setting the fires. Father Frank remembered the fear that appeared so strong within B.D.
“Please tell the police.”
“I can’t, Father. You understand that. You can’t tell what you hear in confession.”
Father Frank started to say that was different. But he didn’t. Everyone thought his situation was unique.
“Will you meet me outside of the confessional? Tell me what you know, whatever you can, but outside the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then, I can go to the police. You won’t have to. No one needs to know anything came from you. I won’t mention your name to them, or tell them how I know anything. I promise you that.”
The priest heard the door open. “I can’t.”
Again, so soft it might have been a far-off whisper, carried in by the wind. The door closed. Sammie was gone.
Father Frank scooted his chair back and started to rise. He could go out, accidentally run into Sammie. Talk to him. See what he might pry out of the boy.
He sank back down. He couldn’t do that. He could not give any indication he knew who was on the other side of the screen, not to the person there, not to the police, not to anyone.
And yet, Father Frank now knew another church would be burned. Another house of the Lord would be reduced to a pile of smoldering ashes. He found it physically difficult to sit still, not to take any action. But what action could he take? The laws of the Church were very clear and very strict. The seal of confession was sacred.
It had been many years since Frank Deluca had been on the verge of tears. Right now, with his hands—worse yet, his tongue—tied, he felt very much like crying.
Chapters of the serial are published on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday.
You can learn more about Cleansed by Fire and other James H. Callan novels on his Amazon Author Page.