Of all of the events involving the girl, the Bishop mainly regretted the last thing he did before leaving the Cathedral on the Sunday that she had challenged him at Mass. He had looked to the north transept window, the window portraying St. Helena discovering the True Cross in Jerusalem. When he glanced at the window, it seemed that St. Helena wasn’t looking at the True Cross but had turned around to look at him. She didn’t seem happy.
In the weeks that followed, he couldn’t get that image out of his mind. He certainly had enough distraction. The CNN coverage of the “The Great Amen” debacle had set off a whirlwind of activity. Calls, message, faxes from friends, from enemies, from the press, from supporters and from disgruntled people all over the country. Another round of television comedians portraying his as the ecclesiastical bumpkin had escalated the events. The most offensive ongoing sketch on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” involved a little girl wrestling to the ground a Bishop dressed as a Sumo wrestler wearing a mitre.
Even when he locked himself into his house turning off the phone and not answering the door, he felt the activity whirling around him and the image of the Empress Helena staring at him.
When he was appointed Bishop of Helena, he had felt very nervous because of the Diocese’s patron. He had found her a disturbing figure. Why couldn’t it have been some other diocese rather than hers? The fact that she had challenged the great Constantine seemed to set a precedent for a role for women that the Bishop didn’t want to encounter in the present. At the age of 80, she had walked hundred’s of miles in mourning and protest for Constantine’s murder of his son, her grandson. The Emperor capitulated to his mother’s actions and accepted a public penance unprecedented in Roman history.
When he tried to sleep, in his dreams, he could hear the murmur of conversations across the country, across the ocean, and he could see always the image of Helena turning toward him, demanding from him something he could not give. He could not admit that he was wrong. His patron in the Church would stand by him through all of this humiliation as long as he didn’t falter in his portrayal of being the Bishop, absolute in his Roman authority, unbending before the challenge of others.
Yet part of him knew that the Empress was on the move. Some how it was the clearest spiritual experience he had ever had. She was unrelenting in her journey, coming closer, ready to look him in the eyes, challenging him to a perspective he could not embrace. Since the little girl had made him the center of controversy, it was even more important that he not show any sign of wavering from his position. It was his role to play. He owed it to the Church to resist, but he feared that he might fail whenever he imagined the relentless glare of the Empress.
The Bishop knew he had made himself unpopular in the West. Several powerful American Western bishops saw him as a lackey to Rome. They would never voice those concerns publicly, but privately they derided his ignorance and his obstinacy that had made him a public ridicule. He knew other Bishop’s in the Midwest supported him, especially those who were struggling with liberal challenges in their own dioceses. These back and forth conversations he felt he could hear in his dreams.
Finally, his patron, the Cardinal, called him from Rome. He was not critical. He saw the Bishop’s actions as heroic challenging the American culture that threatened to undermine the authority of the Church. The Cardinal had grown used to the ignorance of the American media. The Cardinal told him that he would help the Bishop. He would get him out of this diocese, which was primarily a seat of dissension. The Cardinal was very angry that such a small, inconsequential diocese could continue to produce people who openly challenged the Church’s authority. He would yet find a way to put this backwoods church into its place.
The Bishop was relieved to hear this news, but he knew that the Cardinal was covering his failure. He had caused more problems for the right-thinking faithful who wanted to restore the true decorum of the Church. Because of this even the Cardinal could not prevent him from the consequences.
That night after he spoke to the Cardinal, his dreams were vivid. With a rapid and loud clamor, the Empress arrived at the door of his bedroom. She had crossed a wide barrier to stand before him. Her gaze was absolute. Her mouth opened and an imperial voice filled his bedroom.
“Change your heart,” she said. “Change your mind,” she said.
“He couldn’t,” he cried out. He saw himself as the weak point in a dam. He couldn’t break. What if he allowed the waters of change to sweep through and over the dam? He saw the Vatican before him. He had to hold back the flood that threatened to engulf the great basilica. If he failed, his brethren who placed their trust in him would condemn him.
“Taste the waters,” said the compelling voice of the Empress “They are sweet,” she said. “They are the living waters reading to wash the Church clean. Finally they will cleanse the Church ofConstantine’s sins. It is offered to you as destiny, as grace.”
“The cost is too great,” he cried. “It would not be my Church.” He had to hide. He tried in his dream to climb under the bed. Part of him was embarrassed to realize that his pajamas revealed his backside to the empress as he tried to push himself under the bed. He waited and heard nothing. Then a hand wearing a ring in the form of a cross reached under the bed pushing a paper towards him.
At that moment, the phone rang. Awaking from his restless sleep, he answered the phone. It was his patron calling to tell him the news. He had been appointed the new Bishop of Peoria, Illinois. He was to come to Rome immediately.