Archbishop Charles Chaput just knew the minute that Philadelphia was chosen to host The World Meeting of Families that his ship had sailed right up the Delaware River. When the pope decided to pay him a visit, his joy was complete. All those years of playing by the company rules, denying the little child of gay parents a place in a Catholic pre-school in Denver, Colorado, banning Fortunate Families from meeting at St. John the Evangelist Church in Philadelphia, and forcing the firing of a gay teacher, Margie Winters from a Catholic school, and calling it “common sense,” had finally paid off. The vision of a cardinal’s hat began to dance in his head. He could already see himself with a miter and a new title, Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia. He, Charles Chaput, had always played by the rules and he now expected a reward.
But alas, all the good bishop seemed to get was bad press. Most people in the United States, including most Catholics, did not share his ant-gay attitude, mostly because they knew gay people as human beings and not as pariahs who stalked the street like vampires or werewolves trying to feast upon the innocent.
In fact, many families have gay children or gay cousins or aunts or uncles or friends who come to dinner, use their napkins and wipe their mouths just like heterosexuals. The gay people we all know get up and go to work each day, mow their lawns, shovel their sidewalks, wash their clothes, care for their aged parents, and even wipe their behinds with toilet paper. We wouldn’t even know they were gay unless they told us. And telling the wrong person, like Charles Chaput, that you are gay can cost you your job. Quicker than a medieval monk can yell “Inquisition,” someone as good and holy as Margie Winters can be out of a job.
The only thing remotely different about gay people is that they prefer to love people of the same sex. Now, what in the name of God is so terrible about love? I thought that is what God is, didn’t you?
Well, anyway, the City of Philadelphia and Bishop Chaput were getting ready for the World Meeting of Families and the pope’s visit. The August weather in Philadelphia was at its worst, 90 degrees for five straight days. But people had more than the weather to make them hot under the collar. The pope’s visit was causing the citizens of Philadelphia a huge headache. Major roads and a bridge from New Jersey were going to be closed, as were schools. Public transportation was to be greatly curtailed and working people who needed their full complement of a pay check had no way of getting to work. There was even talk of building a fence!
But Charles, who sat in his air conditioned office down the street from the construction of a gigantic Mormon temple, thought it all, except for the adverse publicity, good. He was reading the pope’s itinerary when an elderly woman wearing a long dress with her hair done up in bun walked into his office.
“Are you lost, “ Charles asked, looking over his glasses at the strange old woman who settled her small self in the plump chair reserved for wealthy donors and visiting prelates without asking permission.
“Oh, no, my son, “she replied, looking over Her glasses and picking up some of the papers on his desk. “I AM exactly where I expect to be.”
Charles grabbed the papers out her hand. “And, who, I might ask, are you to touch things on my desk?”
“Don’t you know who I AM?” The ancient eyes which looked into his sparkled with what? Wisdom? Joy? Glee? Love? Charles leaned farther over his desk, drawn into the gleaming green depths of eyes that seemed to know him as no one else had ever known him before he snapped himself back to the reality that a crazy old woman was touching important documents on his desk, unusual eyes or not. He felt like smacking her hand.
She looked at him and smiled. “But you won’t, will you, Charles?”
Charles reached for the buzzer on his desk.
“It won’t work,” She said. “Even if it did, no one else will see Me.”
Charles, always a pragmatist, sat back in his chair and awaited Her next move. It was Satan for sure, come to tempt him into believing that God was a woman. He, Charles Chaput, Archbishop of the great Archdiocese of Philadelphia could handle Satan as well as he handled gay people. He was going to throw Her out of his office.
“ Are you really that blind, my son? You forget,” She said, “I shall be who I shall be. Neither you nor your brother bishops, not even Francis, can decide who I AM. And, in case you forgot, I AM on the side of marginalized, the suffering, the poor, those thrown out of your churches, and those who suffer from injustice. You do know the Beatitudes, Charles? Matthew, Chapter 5?”
Charles stared ahead stonily.
“You just celebrated a feast day of my daughter Mary who said in her great prayer, ‘The Magnificat’ that the powerful will be taken down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up. You read those words and you even call them gospel, the Good News. Do you think that Mary’s words really mean something different from what they say? There are to be no powerful sitting on thrones on My earth. That is not MY Way. Did you think that I would approve of you and your brothers continuing to lord yourselves over others in direct contradiction of My Good News? Did you ever think how your actions hurt my children?”And God began to sob great sobs that made Charles’ desk dance across the floor.
The tiny woman’s body continued to be wracked by sobs as rain drops pelted the bishop’s window. Charles grabbed his pectoral cross and tried to head for the door. This was far too weird for him.
The woman stopped sobbing. Charles looked out of the window. The streets below were bone dry, but the Persian rug under the woman’s chair was soaking wet. “Geez,” Charles thought, “The old girl wet her pants.”
Those green eyes sought out his own again. He shifted in his seat. “There are none so blind as those who will not see,” God said kindly as She took out a large, hardbound book She had kept in large canvas bag hung around Her shoulder and began paging through it. God didn’t seem wet at all.
“Do you have any idea who is prodding my son, Francis, to say things he is saying? While Francis still needs a little work, he has really listened to the Good News that you choose to ignore. It is amazing what can happen when those who hold the keys unlock the chains they have put on the Holy Spirit, don’t you think?”
Charles sat still. “Ah, you are not so sure of my son, Francis, yet you expect him to reward you with a red hat? That’s up to him. I don’t worry Myself about such nonsense. What I do worry about is My children. What really angers Me, if, indeed, I can be angered, is when people like you who should know better hurt them.” She handed Charles Her book.
From the look in Her eyes, Charles found that he had no choice but to take the book. The book was a living record of his latest acts. In it, he saw the little children at Waldron Academy crying because their teacher, Margie Winters, had been fired. The word, “Why” came from hundreds of little mouths. “We love Ms. Winters. She’s nice and kind. She’s a good teacher. Why would you fire her, Bishop Chaput?”
He saw the hardened faces of the seventh and eighth graders who were acutely aware of just what he had done. Like most kids in their generation and the generation that preceded them, most of these kids would repudiate everything the church stood for because that church labeled their friends and family members “Intrinsically disordered” without cause. The injustice and sheer ignorance just took both their breath and their beliefs away. God nodded at Charles. He was to be held accountable for their lack of faith.
He saw the faces of the Waldron teachers and their principal with yellow caution tape across their mouths reading, “Danger.”
He saw the hundreds and thousands of parishioners, priests and nuns who did not agree with his stance on gay people. They too were wrapped up in caution tape.
He saw the faces of the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters and friends who belong to Fortunate Families and who try to counteract the horror of discrimination perpetrated against their gay relatives or friends, the ones he had turned away from a house that belonged to the God of all and not to Archbishop Charles Chaput.
“Is there any reason why you refuse to listen to them, Charles, My son?” God asked gently, Her great green eyes brimming with tears. “You should understand that I, the Lord thy God, do not, as the saying goes, make junk. Each one of my children is my beloved. Look through My photo album and see that I am standing with them, forever, My hand upon their shoulders as My Hand rests upon yours.”
Charles tried to shrug away from the ancient warm Hand of God that came to rest upon his shoulder. God walked back to Her seat, head bowed in sadness, leaving footprints where Her holy Feet trod.
“You are not supposed to shut people away from Me. I am the one who decides and judges, not you. My son, Francis, hinted at just this last year. Your actions are very bad and need correction, soon, or else more people will be driven away from Me and My love. The World Meeting of Families is your big chance to set things right. Open your mind, my son. Remember Who and What I AM.”
Charles was not to be moved and stood up. “Is this meeting over? I’m tired of this liberal, socialist prattle and left wing plants. Get out of my office and let me finish my work. I am a busy man. I have to prepare for the pope.”
God collected her living book, picked up her canvas bag walked out of the archbishop’s office, sadly shaking her head and saying, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!”
Charles Chaput sat back down and continued to work on the pope’s itinerary. From that day forward, regardless of how many times he moved his desk back into position, each morning one leg or the other was a couple of inches off position. Charles spoke to the cleaning people, but they said that they only moved the desk once a year for spring cleaning. He even purchased a new desk, to no avail. Then there was the wet rug. Not only did he have to get rid of it, he had to have the floors re-sanded. God’s visit proved to be very expensive to Charles Chaput in several ways.
Charles never told Pope Francis about his visit from the old woman even though Francis was probably the only person in the hierarchy who would believe him.
And then there was the matter of the small red mark on his shoulder that felt warm to the touch in the place where Her hand had rested upon his shoulder…Must have been some scar he had forgotten about….
© Eileen McCafferty DiFranco, RCWP
August 18, 2015