Wednesday, April 8, 2009

(3) Spring

Shortly after my ordination I was assigned as a secular canon to
the Santa Sophia Church in Benevento, which was in the hill
country of Central Italy. A big church, it was thought that originally
the building--or at least parts of it--might have been a pagan temple.
The church was mostly a huge dome.

Being such a big church, a number of priests served there and shared
common housing--hence we were called canons, though not belonging
to any particular order or rule like "regular canons." Interestingly, near
the church there was also a Benedictine monastic house. I didn't know
the monks, but as an occasional observer of their ceremonies I felt a
certain draw.

After some time attending to my clerical duties, I began to relax. I
actually found that I could fit in some spare time for myself. So in the
late afternoons before evening prayer, I decided to take some walks
out into the nearby countryside. The walk and the fresh air refreshed
my spirit, and I always returned to the church energized.

Following a number of weeks, during one of my walks, I decided to
venture into a wooded area. Here I could sit next to a favorite stream,
listening to the wild sounds of birds and squirrels flying from tree-to-
tree as well unseen deer bounding through the forest. Then a very
special day arrived! I had a new forest visitor--a young maiden, quite
beautiful, probably no older than 18 or 19 years of age. She had
flaming red hair, and I instantly felt strong feelings for her.

We didn't even speak to one another, rather only walking towards
one another, falling into each other's arms, leaning down onto the
soft ground. I had never experienced such ecstasy! I held her so
tight that I thought she might break. After we were exhausted, I
stood up and walked away. Following the path back to the town,
breathing hard, I couldn't fathomwhat had happened. It was all so
sudden that I seemingly did not have time to think that what I
might be doing was sinful.

Safe in my room, I nearly collapsed on my bed. I fell into a
frightful turmoil. What to do, what to think? After vespers I returned,
still overcome with what I had done that afternoon. I decided I would
not venture back to those woods.

The next day I ignored the decision I had made the night before.
Walking briskly, I headed straight for those woods with the high
hope that I would see that lovely girl once again. Oh good fortune!
There she was, sitting on the embankment near my little stream.
Again no words, we took our pleasure. Our near daily love-making
lasted for many months.

Then one day this beautiful girl declared her love for me, hoping for
a greater commitment. I gasped, frustrated, not knowing what to do.
My words to her were terrible. I declared that both of us had sinned,
dreadfully sinned. And our meetings had to come to an end,
immediately, before both of us were irrevocably condemned to Hell.
The stern priest finally made his appearance! I turned foot and
walked away as fast as I could go.

I did not go back to those woods for several months. But during this
time I started to have second thoughts. I didn't even know the girl's
name. We never really talked until she declared her love for me.
I had spurned her cruelly, and I felt that I should go back and ask
her forgiveness for my actions. Alas, I never again could find her
in those woods.

Shortly thereafter our rector made mention at supper that he was
faced with a strange case. A beautiful young maiden, with gorgeous
red hair, had starved herself to death in spite of her family's
protestations. She had descended into a terrible sorrow, for
which no one could understand. Our rector was perplexed and did
not know whether this dead girl should be given a Christian burial.
My stomach turned and I had to leave the supper table. I knew, really
knew that this poor girl had been mine in the woods. She died of
a broken heart, and her broken heart was on my head.

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