Friday, February 13, 2015

Fr Delaney and the Man outside

It was 8.15. It was the only evening that week that Fr Delaney didn't have a meeting or some other parish business in his diary. He was looking forward to a quiet evening by the fire with his pipe, listening to the new CD he had picked up of Spanish Classical guitar music, with just a drop from the bottle of malt whiskey his brother had given him for Christmas to go along with it all. He had just lifted the bottle to start pouring when his mobile rang. With a groan he put down the bottle and answered it.

' Fr Delaney here.'
'Father. John Coyle. I thought you'd be here by now.'
'Be where?'
'St Nessan's College. The past-pupil's Mass. I wrote to you months ago.'
'Indeed you did. But that's tomorrow night.'
'No Father, it's tonight.'
'I have tomorrow in my diary. I'm sure that's what you put in your letter.'
'I'm afraid you're mistaken.'
'Hold on a minute.'
Fr Delaney walked to his study and pulled open his filing cabinet. He took out the letter he'd had sent him.
'Mr Coyle; I have the letter here in front of me. And the date you gave me is definitely tomorrow.'
'That's unfortunate. Because it is tonight and we're expecting a good crowd; at least, a good number have booked for the dinner after and most generally go to the Mass before. Can you make it?'
Fr Delaney sighed.
'You're very lucky Mr Coyle. Any other night this week – other than tomorrow night of course – my diary is full. But yes, I can make it. I'll be there in half an hour.'
'Good man. I appreciate it.'
He hung up. Fr Delaney grunted.
'Appreciate it? Expect it, more like.'

He shoved his pipe and phone into his pocket, picked up his car keys, gave one last longing look at his armchair by the fire and the CD player sitting ready with his new CD, and walked out the door.

St Nessan's was a small boarding school in a nearby town run by an order of religious brothers. It had a good reputation and many past-pupils had gone on to do quite well for themselves. A great many doctors and lawyers and other professionals attributed their success to the solid education and strong sense of values they had received from the brothers.

Fr Delaney drove up the long avenue to the school and parked under some trees not too far from the main door. Coyle had been right; judging by the number of cars there was going to be a good congregation. Halfway between his car and the door he paused; there was a man sitting on the steps, rough looking with a long beard and wild hair. Peering uncertainly at him, he realised he knew who it was: Muris O'Brien, a man known locally as a drinker and a fighter. He'd spent more than one spell in prison as a result. He walked closer.

'Muris? What are you up to?'
The man started and stared at him.
' Fr Delaney! You gave me a fright.'
His voice sounded horse, as if he might have a cold. As he drew nearer, Fr Delaney realised there were tears running down his face.
'Muris! What's wrong? Has something happened?'
'Ah, 'tis nothing.' He wiped his face. 'I just thought I'd go to the Mass tonight.'
'I didn't know you'd gone to St Nessan's.'
The man smiled.
'Not many do. They certainly don't talk about it; I suppose I'm not one of their success stories. But no, I went. Did the leaving cert, captained the football team, was even a prefect.'
'I had no idea.'
'Why would you? You're not a local man. Anyway, it all went wrong after that and I am what I am today. I had a good start, so I can't blame anyone but myself.'
'But why are you crying?'
'Ah, I just thought I'd go to the Mass tonight. I don't know, maybe look back at a time when my life wasn't such a mess, when it seemed like I had a future – a good future.'
'I still don't understand why you're crying?'
'Well, they're not letting me in. I don't blame them. Who'd want someone like me there? St Nessan's produces the great and the good; who needs a reminder that it sometimes produces drunks and criminals?'

Fr Delaney's face darkened.

'And who was it that said you couldn't go in?'
'Coyle, of course. He's the one in charge. I'm a disgrace to the school name, he told me, and said I should take myself off.'
Fr Delaney stared at the rather pathetic looking figure sitting on the steps. His phone rang. He looked at it. It was Coyle again. He ignored it.

'I take it this is the first time you've tried to come to one of these affairs?'
'That's right Father.'
'So why tonight? Don't take this the wrong way, but I know you're not a great man for going to Mass, so why is it so important to go here, tonight? Were you trying to make some kind of a point?'
Muris shook his head.
'It's not that. It's that … I don't know … my mother died recently, you know …'
'I didn't, Muris. I'm sorry to hear that.'
'Ah, she'd gone off to Dublin years ago. Probably felt I'd made a show of her around here. But she died, you know, and even if we didn't get on, she was still my mother … so I thought, maybe I should go to Mass and say a few prayers …'
'But you could do that in the town any day, Muris. Again, why here, why tonight?'

For a long while Muris said nothing.

'I don't know, really. It was just that here was the first place I thought of. I was an altar boy here, as well, you know. Maybe I wanted to come here because this was the only place I ever really felt close to God.'

Fr Delaney took out his pipe and sat down. Muris looked at him in surprise.

'Don't you have to go in Father? Mass is suppose to start soon.'
'I'm grand here.'

They sat there a while. Fr Delaney looked at the stars. A soft breeze stirred the trees in the avenues. In the pot next to him, geraniums were beginning to bloom. He could just smell their sharp aroma over that of the oil from the cars parked nearby. Behind them, the door slammed open.

'Fr Delaney!' It was Coyle. 'What do you think you're doing? Mass starts in five minutes!'
'Oh, we've plenty of time. I just thought I'd sit here a while and talk with Muris.'
'What are you talking about? How can you call five minutes plenty of time?'
'Ah, but according to the letter I got, I still have 24 hours before Mass starts. That's plenty of time to sit here and talk and look at the stars and think about how hard hearted some people can be, not wanting some people back at their old school because they didn't do so well as they were expected to do. Plenty of time to talk with Muris about all sorts of things while you go and explain to your friends why I won't be coming.'

There was a long silence. Fr Delaney could hear Coyle breathing heavily. He didn't look at him, but he imagined his face was probably quite red.

'And if I were to let O'Brien in?'
'I suppose I'd have no reason to sit here any more.'
'Fine. Let's just get on with it.'

Fr Delaney and Muris stood up.

'I thought you might invite him to the dinner after as well.'
'Whatever. But it's fifty euros.'
'I don't have fifty euros,' said Muris.
'That's all right,' said Fr Delaney. 'Mr Coyle is paying. You'll be his guest. Isn't that right, Mr Coyle.'

Coyle said 'yes' with a groan. Fr Delaney thought it was probably very wicked of him to smile. But he couldn't help himself.

(C) Fr Levi 2015

the story I told to the children of the Wandesforde National School today, inspired by the Gospel reading for last Sunday

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Mark 2. 15 - 17


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