Restoration of St Francis RC, Belmont begins in March
January 19, 2021
Education as a human right
January 19, 2021

The Redemption of Paul

By Alvin Peters (Fiction)

“Good morning Father Michael,” Paul said as they shook hands as he entered the office, “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

“Not at all,” Father said happily and squeezed the middle-aged man’s nervous hand while still holding his blue, white, and gold rosary.

Paul felt the beads as they gently pressed his skin.

“You were praying, Father? I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

He turned to walk away, “I can come back another time.”

“No apologies necessary,” the priest smiled at him, the wrinkles around his right eye and mouth softened the severity of the patch and scar over the left eye.

The smile was warm and friendly. “I will finish later.” As he stood, he said, “Mary is always ready to show us the way back to her Son. We just need the humility and courage to ask her.”

Paul nodded, not sure what to make of that statement.

“Shall we go look at your painting?” Father said and with a gentle hand, led him inside the small, stone church.

It was indeed a small church but that made it warm and inviting. The wooden pews had a slight smell of cedar and varnish. There were cushioned seats. The Stations of the Cross were featured prominently in ornate frames and bold, metal, roman numerals were below each one.

In the sanctuary was a simple, heavy, wooden altar inlaid with glass and gold trim. High above the altar hung the crucifix. It was so detailed that no matter where you sat, it seemed like Christ was looking right at you.

To the right of the sanctuary was a painting of Mary and to the left was the newly installed painting of St Stephen. It was so quiet that as they approached it, Paul could hear the beads of the rosary softly rattling in the priest’s hand.

The painter and the admirer stood silently for some time.

“I must thank you once again for this painting. It is beautiful. Like looking into a stained-glass window.”

“Thank you, Father. I’m glad you like it,” Paul said feeling undeserved of such praise.

“How long did it take you to make it?”

“Two years, Father.”

“That long huh. You worked very hard on it.”

“At times, it seemed like a penance.”

Fr Michael motioned for him to sit in the front pew. Father sat next to him still staring at the painting. He sighed and scratched the scar on his left eye. The rosary still in his hand.

After a while, Father said, “Usually, depictions of St Stephen have him kneeling with both arms raised to Heaven. In yours, he is almost supine with his right arm raised to God. That’s an interesting choice.”

“I wanted to show his vulnerability,” the painter said. “That there is cruelty in the world. The unfairness that good people at times suffer.”

“I see,” the priest said, “He did suffer at the hands of his attackers.”

After a short while, Father asked, “Did you know that Saul, who later became Paul, was one of them?”

“I did,” the painter replied.

Father continued, “And what about his face?”

“His face, Father?”

“In paintings of St Stephen, his face is beautiful. Looking towards Heaven with a smile.”

Father observed, “In your painting, there are wounds on his face. There is blood running down.” Paul looked at him.

Father continued slowly, “And Steven has a scar…over his left eye.”

He turned and looked at the painter. “You noticed, Father.”

“How could I not,” the priest said. He held the rosary tighter.

They looked at each other for a long while.

The troubled face looking at the contemplative one.

Paul tried to explain what happened. What went wrong that night.

“I was hungry, Father,” Paul said. “I see,” Fr Michael nodded.

“I thought you were not in the presbytery.”

“Hmmm…” Father nodded again.

“I was scared when I saw you. When you approached me, I knew what would happen. I panicked. I saw the bottle on the counter and…and…”

Father touched the scar.

Paul stood quickly, exasperated, “Forgive me, Father Michael. I am  so sorry. I have been living with what I did for such a long time. I ended up in prison. I thought it was the end. I prayed and prayed every night that God would forgive me. Then I found hope. I could paint. I can make beautiful things, but the emptiness wouldn’t go away. I prayed even more that you would somehow forgive me. I know what I did to you was terrible. I hurt you so much, Father. I did this, pointing at the painting, as my way of seeking forgiveness. I know I don’t deserve your mercy but…I wanted to make this right.”

He then sat down and sighed, “Don’t …don’t just sit there! Please, say something.”

Fr Michael looked at the painting and said, “Lord, lay not this sin to His charge. Here is a place for goodness, here is a time for mercy, here at least is an opportunity to show charity.”

Paul raised his head and looked at him confused. “It is from a prayer by St Ambrose,” Father said. “There was a time when I was hurt. I was angry that you treated me so terribly. I was bitter. It took me a long time to heal.”

Father sighed and continued, “Then a friend handed me this,” he opened his hand with the rosary. “He said that I should talk to her and she will show me the way back to her Son. It has been a long way back. I have been praying for you and it seems Mary and St Stephen have asked God to send you to me,” Father said smiling again.

Paul looked at Fr Michael. Was there any hope? Did he dare to ask?

“Will you forgive me Fr Stephen?” “I have forgiven you your sins, Paul.”

“Sounds like you’re listening to my confession,” Paul meekly said.

“I can do that,” Fr Stephen Michael said as he pulled out a purple stole from his shirt pocket, “Shall we begin?”

After some time, they walked out of the church. “Wait here,” Father said, “I have something for you.” He came back with a small box. In it was a blue, white, and gold rosary. He gently placed it in Paul’s hand. “May Mary, Our Mother, help you find your way to her Son.”

“Thank you, Father,” Paul said, his eyes lighting up, his face renewed. “Will I see you again?”

“I pray that one day we will,” Father Stephen replied and held out his hand. They looked at each other.

As Paul turned to walk away, Fr Stephen called out, “And remember,” as he wagged a finger, “we just need the humility and the courage to ask her.”

Father resumed his prayers as he walked back to the presbytery, the rosary once again held firmly in his right hand. He said, “Mary and St Stephen, thank you for this chance to find peace and please pray for him.” He looked towards Heaven, with a smile.


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