Catholic Fiction, or, The Apocalypse of The Bride
The guests shivered as they waited for the Wedding Luncheon of the Lamb to begin. It was summer, but still they stirred. “Surely it had been at least fifty years?” one remarked to another. The long exile will soon be over the other thought. The Bridegroom had been invited, and his RSVP had been marked “Will attend.” While they waited, the hushed crowd of pundits, readers, and critics looked upon the marble statues of the greats that surrounded them and receded into the distance of the still, white hall. One empty pedestal, long reserved, was waiting near the front. It was sealed off behind a velvet rope that had kept everything out but the dust.
While the Bridegroom had been left to the imagination, the requirements for the Bride had been precise. A detailed application packet had been circulated in all the right periodicals. Specific measurements for her veil, gown, and shoes been listed. The minimally acceptable credentials had been carefully delineated. A certain style was suggested, but left open for interpretation.
Unfortunately, the Bride had not yet returned her RSVP.
In the parking lot outside, an attendant watched the partly cloudy blue sky. It was hot and humid, and he felt a tingle that usually foretold a coming storm. He was startled from a daydream by the sound of trumpets as a purple stretch limo stopped at the space reserved for the Bridegroom. The attendant moved down the steps to shoo away the interloper.
“Are you lost? The –“and he stopped, as none other than the Bridegroom emerged from the driver’s door. He tossed the keys to the attendant and went up the steps.
The attendant could not quite believe that this was the Bridegroom. The hand holding the keys would not answer the attendant’s command, and he pawed for his phone with his left as he tried to remember the number for 9-1-1. This proved difficult, as the phone was in his right rear pants pocket. A passerby would have noticed the curious sight of a man doing half-pirouettes to the sound of no music.
Up in the hall, the Bridegroom had entered to a moment of uncertainty, and then a slow and finally full standing ovation. This might just come off, the wedding planner thought while checking his watch. The new arrival didn’t quite match his expectations, but perhaps he was a fixer upper. With a few necessary adjustments, this Bridegroom just might just work out.
After the applause subsided, the Bridegroom looked at the empty space before the altar and exclaimed “Where is the Bride?” No one knew what to say at first. “Ah, I am confident she will be along in just a few minutes,” the wedding planner stood and said.
“Let’s go find her” the Bridegroom replied and strode from the building, and after a moment, the crowd followed. He took the keys back from the attendant and got in the limousine. “Wouldn’t you like a chauffeur?” the attendant asked, his gratitude temporarily mastering his rising anger.
“I always drive. But everyone is welcome to ride with me.”
Some in the crowd grumbled. This Bridegroom was turning out to be not quite the thing. A few felt heartburn coming on and returned to the hall to wait. Perhaps a different groom would be along eventually? Others checked the program to verify the time and date of the luncheon.
“Is there room enough for everyone in there?” one squinted while looking at the limousine.
“The harvest is vast, but the workers are few” the Bridegroom acknowledged.
The guests exchanged sheepish looks on hearing that. Most felt embarrassed for the type of fellow who went around quoting scripture. But somebody finally went first and climbed inside the limousine. While it didn’t seem possible, the remaining guests all managed to fit in its spacious, plush interior.
As they pulled away, the Bridegroom cheerily waved to a man in white walking nearby on the sidewalk: “The Holy Spirit is always moving forward!”
“Hey, that’s my line!” the man shouted back with a smile and wave of his own.
The attendant, his anger now having mastered his gratitude, had run after the limousine in a vain attempt to snap a photo of the plate. All he could remember later for the police report were the first and last letters, but nothing of the long inscription in between.
A few blocks later the Bridegroom slowed the limousine to a stop before a park. An old clown was juggling a colorful array of balls there, his only audience himself. But how high the gold one flew! The Bridegroom beckoned him over. The clown approached, bowed low, and climbed in without a word.
“This story is rather silly” one guest muttered.
The Bridegroom nodded, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor.”
The limo took off again and blazed down a golden road for an age. Without warning, a long boat crewed by two men suddenly appeared alongside. One was a battered old admiral wearing a bicorn. A smaller, but still dangerous seeming man stood at his side. The windshield was wetted by sea spray, but wiped clean by platinum blades.
“Permission to come board, m’ Lord?” asked the admiral. “Granted” said the Bridegroom, and two crossed over to the car.
“But, but… They’re sailors!” the wedding planner cried, holding a program to his nose.
The Bridegroom recited: “Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters; They have seen the works of the Lord, And His wonders in the deep.” The small man laid a crown of roses on the Bridegroom’s head as he entered, and sat down.
Soon after this the limousine took an onyx off ramp to a city by the sea. The limousine pulled up to the curb outside a convention center, and a few jaws dropped when the welcome sign for “COMIC-CON ¥” appeared. Two men emerged from the building and walked towards the limo. One wore sunglasses and carried a walking stick. A big red man of fearsome visage followed him.
The red one bowed, “We’re not much to look at, Sir, but we’d like to come too.”
“Blessed are they who maintain justice, and constantly do what is right.” The Bridegroom said. They both got in, the red man having to hunch down just a bit.
“These are comic book characters, and not very realistic ones at that!” a guest griped.
The Bridegroom smiled: “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.’” There was groaning at this from many in the limousine, who found it a very hard appetizer to swallow.
On the way out of the city, the limousine pulled into a service station. A battle-scarred samurai in baroque armor limped out to greet them. “May I help you, my Lord?”
“Yes, my car is thirsty, and I need you to join us.” The samurai opened the hood, and added water to the radiator. As he did that, a lady in a beautiful gown emerged from the station and squeegeed the windows.
The planner wondered aloud, “I am not sure these archetypes are still culturally relevant.” The small man turned to look at him on hearing that, and the planner resumed fanning himself with his program.
“They also serve who only stand and wait” the Bridegroom said. The samurai gingerly made his way into the car with the lady on his arm, his armor creaking
The limousine continued on like that for some time, and made many stops. Men and women in the uniforms of all nations joined them. The guests began to sigh aloud and grind their teeth as the eons passed.
The tension was finally broken with the statement, “Next stop, Peoria.” Peoria, they asked themselves. “Can anything good come from Peoria?” a chorus asked.
The limo stopped at a non-descript house on a leafy Peoria street. An old man waited there in the driveway. The Bridegroom got out and embraced him.
“I am still working. May I send a representative ahead?” the old man asked. “You may. Come when you are ready.” said the Bridegroom. The old man whistled, and a dangerous looking dog burst out of the house and jumped into the limo.
“The invitation specifically said ‘no pets’” the wedding planner complained, as he scooted away from the beast. The Bridegroom might have sighed:
“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.”
This is really much too much, thought the wedding planner. He pushed his way out of the limousine, and stormed off in search of the bus station. “I don’t know about little boys, but no dog has ever won the National Book Award!” he yelled at the limousine as it sped away.
The planner’s anger proved a trifle contagious, and more guests began to mutter against the Bridegroom’s tarrying ways. They would miss the reception if he persisted in his detours.
As if reading their minds, the Bridegroom spoke: “There she is.”
The limousine rolled up to a grassy field rich with wildflowers. At the far end was a gorge through which a cold, black river flowed. They couldn’t see the river from the car, but the guests knew it was there. And its chill snaked into their hearts.
Beyond the gorge, a girl played hide and seek with her shadow among a grove of pistachio trees. The Bridegroom touched the wheel and trumpets sang out. The girl did not hear them, lost in her play.
He laughed, and rolled down the window. “Hey little girl, wake up over there!” At that, she turned and smiled, and followed this with a wave. She then glanced at a frayed rope swing tied to a nearby tree. The girl walked over and grasped it, and then began to back up from the gorge.
Seeing the rope, the red man’s breath caught in his throat, and he stirred himself as if to get out. But his blind friend laid a hand over his, and the red man was still.
The girl held the rope, pointed her legs, and let the swing take her out over the gorge. She cleared the river easily, landing gently on two feet. A young man with glistening eyes met the girl there, and he took her hand and led her to the Bridegroom.
And as they walked, she was changed in a twinkling of an eye, a girl at heart, but a woman now, and maybe even a queen. And surely this was the pinnacle of creation, these words made flesh, and the wild flowers bowed and became her train as she passed.
The Bride curtseyed before the Bridegroom, “I am not dressed for the occasion.”
“You are all fair my love, and there is not a spot on you.”
The wedding coordinator, who had been dormant till now, was ready to erupt. Her nails would have torn the silk upholstery if it had been a common fabric. Her eyes might have even burned holes in the Bridegroom’s headrest. But this was no ordinary silk, as it had an infinite thread count, and is not available at your local retailer. She was not truly terrible, but the sort of woman who believes the world depends on her will, and thus may be terrible at times in pursuit of its perfection.
Leaning out a window she said, “Listen Mr. Bridegroom, if that’s who you really are. I know this girl. And I’ve checked, and she is not on the guest list!”
He turned to look at her. “There are many sheep, and some who do not know me. But listen:
I have made her immortal with a kiss
I have quenched the torches and broken the swords
All the ships have returned home
And I have lost not a one”
After this, no further protest was made. The Bride and the young man were given the seats up front, a special place of honor. The dog laid its head in her lap, and gazed up at her in adoration while the young man scratched its ears.
The limousine glided away and continued on until it came, at last, to an unfamiliar place. There is no cell phone reception in this distant country, so we will have to imagine what happened next. Perhaps something like this:
“Here we are” the Bridegroom said, as all the world turned to face him.
The Bride got out and looked up, and there saw a pearl and ivory star descending from the sky. It came at last to the ground, and all marveled at it and its signs. The larger said “Pancake Palace” in big, turquoise letters. And below that, the smaller boldly proclaimed “All You Can Eat” in ruby. While words cannot do it justice, it was certainly the most wonderful pancake palace that eyes had ever seen. It seemed to stretch to the horizon, and the sun would need to leap in its courses to clear the far corner.
The aroma of fresh pancakes wafted outside, and the Bride’s mouth began to water. “All are welcome to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb,” the Bridegroom said as he held the door for the Bride. He held a mithril MasterCard in the other for all to see, “Everything is on Me.” The Bridegroom used it to hammer a silver spike into one door, now open for any late arrivals.
The revels had started a symphony ago in hope of the Bride’s arrival, and a rising anthem could be heard within. The medley marched inside to the sound of great rejoicing. There was a little jostling, not that a beat that could ever be lost, then or later. And the maple syrup began to flow freely in rhythm to the music, and the pancakes were very, very good. Amen and alleluia, alleluia and amen.
*This was the first idea I finished writing a few months ago. It was prompted by an uncharitable reaction on my part to a few blog posts I read that suggested that catholic fiction died with Flannery O’Connor. While I certainly am not going to resurrect it, (and I dispute it is even dead), the point is we perhaps need to have a more catholic, with a lower case “c”, of what we view as reflecting our faith. This one still has a bit of an irritated, strident, edge to it, but I am done playing with it. There are allusions to writers worth reading, and no I am not going to tell you who they are.