by Fr. Jim Tucker
The cuffs chafed his wrists as Jude sat peering out the back window of the squad car, a scowl creasing his face.
He peered out at the sullen rain, crying over the pavement. People crowded around the massive doors of the church, pulling their garments close against the cold and clammy dampness. They had been waiting for what seem to be hours. An hour ago, police cars had pulled into the lot with their red and blue lights flashing, one officer pulling some yellow tape across the entrance: Police Line. Do not cross.
Yeah, he thought. “Do not cross me,” says the long arm of the law. Jude snorted, “Do not cross me,” says the God of the high mountain tops.
A burly detective hurried out the side door of the church holding a small plastic bag with what looked like a small glass vial nested inside. He yanked the front door of the squad car open and draped his arm across the front seat.
“You want to explain this to me?” he spat, holding up the plastic bag with the vial. “No color, no odor. I’ve seen a million of these things, but nothing like this.”
“But why me?” stammered the young man in cuffs in the back seat.
“Why you?” the detective growled, “Why you? I’ll tell you why you!” He adjusted his position in the seat. “You’re not as clever as you think, you little twerp. One. A vial like this belongs in a chemistry lab, not in a church sacristy. Two. Nobody else in that congregation is a chemist. You got lawyers, CEO’s, nurses, bankers, housewives, but no chemists. Three. From what I’ve been able to learn, you’d insisted on being the only sacristan and altar boy for all the early morning masses. That’s why you.”
“Circumstantial,” Jude hissed.
“Circumstantial? Circumstantial? Listen, you little punk, you put yourself in this position. You got nobody to blame but yourself. Ain’t no one gonna come out of the clouds to rescue you now, young man. You’re on your own!” Then the officer leaned in so close, the boy could measure the pock marks on his face and gave a low growl. “And you’re gonna fry, if I have anything to say about it.”
The burly detective darted away, slamming the car door as he went. An emptiness overwhelmed Jude as he watched the older man’s back stomping away.
Jude caught movement out the window, near the front doors of the church. The crowd stepped aside, letting the coroners lift the police tape and wheel a gurney through, its cargo: a body draped in a blue plastic tarp.
He drilled his eyes shut and flopped back against the seat.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
“And how long has it been since your last confession?”
Jude squirmed on the predieu. “Jeez, I don’t know. A month, maybe a year.”
A longer pause.
“Ah,” Jude stammered.
“Go ahead,” said the voice from beyond the grille.
Jude sniffed, rubbed his nose. “I, uh . . .” He broke off, squeezing his eyes shut, as if to picture what he’d done in his mind. “You know I work for Merchant Pharmaceuticals, and, uh . . .”
Another long pause.
“I don’t know anything of the kind,” came the reply.
“Well, I work for Merchant Pharmaceuticals. I – ah – I’m a chemist for them, and – um – I work at developing a lot of chemicals.”
“I imagine that’s what chemists do.”
“Well, I – um . . .”
“Just say it. No one is here to judge you. God is here to forgive you of whatever you’ve done.”
“Forgive me?” Jude stammered.
“No matter what I’ve done?”
“You know, Father,” Jude continued, “I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff. It’s almost like I’m pushing it. You know, pushing the envelope. Let’s see how much I can do. Maybe there’s a point where God’s gonna say, Forget about it, kid. Now you’ve gone too far.”
“Are you truly sorry for what you’ve done?”
The question came as a shock to Jude. He’d never thought of that.
“I – I guess so.”
“You’ve got to know so.”
Now that Jude had heard the soothing voice, how could he ever think of hurting or silencing that voice?
“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”
“OK, then,” continued the voice, “Just tell me what you’ve done.”
Jude let out a deep breath and dove in. “OK, it’s like this, Father. You know that fancy cup you use?”
“Yes, the chalice.”
“Yeah, that. Well . . .” Jude took another deep breath. “I took this chemical and . . . ”
The driver’s side door slammed on the car, and the engine sparked to life. Jude heard the sirens overhead, and the car moved forward.
Forgiveness. Is there such a thing?