Home > The Good Luck of Right Now(11)

The Good Luck of Right Now(11)
Matthew Quick

Then, even though it was not a funeral or Easter or Christmas, Father McNamee insisted on lighting and swinging the incense censer, much to the chagrin of the other priests, who tried to stop him by putting their hands on his shoulder and whispering fiercely, but Father McNamee would not be persuaded otherwise. The other priests stopped whispering fiercely only when Father McNamee’s efforts to overcome them sent the incense ball swinging all the way around like a slingshot and flying across the sanctuary. There was a collective gasp as it rocketed toward the stained glass window, but luckily, gravity won out and the censer smashed against the stone wall. A small cloud plumed up before the altar boys were able to extinguish the incense and clean up the mess.

And yet Father McNamee didn’t even acknowledge the interruption.

Under normal circumstances, he would have made a joke, perhaps referencing David’s victory over Goliath. Father McNamee can be quite funny and is very popular—his spirited bingo calls bring out old women by the hundreds, and he’s often raised money for worthy causes by doing stand-up where he combines “homilies with comedy”—but after the incense incident, when he failed to put the congregation’s fears at ease, you could feel the tension thickening inside Saint Gabriel’s.

Something was wrong.

Everyone knew it.

The other priests kept exchanging glances.

But the Mass continued and the routine settled everyone into the ritual of Saturday-night service—that is, until it was time for Father McNamee to give the homily.

He took the pulpit, lowered his chin, grabbed two fistfuls of wood, leaned out, and glared at us without saying a word.

This went on for a good sixty seconds or so and created more of a stir than the incident with the incense.

“Mmmmmmmmm,” he finally said, or rather he moaned. The noise seemed to bubble up from deep within him like a monstrous belch that had been waiting a long time for the opportune moment to explode.

Then he began to laugh until tears streamed down his face.

When he was done laughing, he stripped off his robe—stood before us in an undershirt and slacks—and said, “I renounce my vows! I am now—at this very moment—officially defrocked!”

There was a great gasp from the congregation.

Then Father McNamee disappeared into the priests’ quarters.

Everyone began murmuring and looking at each other, until Father Hachette stood and said, “Let us sing hymn one-seventy-two, ‘I Am the Vine.’”

The organ started up, pews creaked as everyone stood in unison, and the congregation happily began to sing, relieved that we were once again on familiar ground.

Standing alone in the last pew, I hid my Interesting Things I Have Heard notebook inside the hymnal and scribbled away.

When we finished, Father Hachette said, “‘I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing,’ John 15:5. You may be seated.” (I also wrote that in my notebook. Accuracy confirmed.)

I don’t remember what Father Hachette spoke about during his impromptu homily, because I couldn’t stop thinking about Father McNamee. A few times I thought I might get up and go into the priests’ chambers to see if he was okay—to encourage him, to tell him he shouldn’t quit being a priest. There was a warm feeling in my chest. It made me feel like I should help in some way—but what could I do?

Father McNamee is an accomplished and trusted priest; he helps many people—like, for example, his famous program where he organizes troubled inner-city youths and “transforms” them into counselors at his summer program for handicapped kids, which makes the local news every July.

He came to visit Mom often when she was sick and arranged for a church member to do all of the legal work required for me to own the house after she died, since she didn’t have a very good will. Father McNamee arranged for Wendy to visit once a week at no charge to me, because Mom left me with very little money. He also spoke so beautifully at her funeral, calling her a “Woman of Christ” (I wrote that in my notebook), and—because I have no other living family members—he drove me to the shore afterward and we walked the beach together to “get my mind off” her passing.

“We’re just like Jesus and his disciples hanging out by the sea,” I said to him while we were strolling past cold whitecaps, and Father McNamee must have got some sand in his eyes because he started to rub them. I heard him whimper in pain as the seagulls screamed above. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” he answered and waved me off.

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