Sacred Vows

His strategy for forgetting Justine Samuels was to keep busy with his work as the local parish priest but his efforts failed miserably.  No matter where he was or what he was doing, he couldn’t stop thinking about her and wishing that he could see her again.  He missed her terribly.  Against his better judgment, he had continued to see her even after he realized that he was in love with her.  His excuse was that her grandmother was one of his parishioners and it was his duty to visit her especially since she was unable to attend church.

On several occasions, he visited the elderly woman and prayed for her.  Then he would spend a few minutes in the living-room talking to Justine.  It was during one of those times that she broke down and confessed that she didn’t know how much longer she could continue to care for her grandmother on her own while worrying that she could lose her job because the company might be downsizing.  Her job meant a lot to her because she was able to work from home.  She had moved into her grandmother’s cottage after the elderly woman had fallen ill.

Touched with compassion, he offered to counsel her.  They met once a week in her grandmother’s bright and airy sun room and the sessions lasted for an hour.  Sometimes he would stay afterward and have a cup of tea or he would leave immediately after.

Soon he found himself dropping by even when they didn’t have a counseling session on pretext of checking on her grandmother.  Afterwards, he would feel guilty and go to the chapel and pray for forgiveness.  Try as he did, he couldn’t stay away and during the summer when the weather was pleasant, Justine and he would sit outside in the garden while her grandmother was taking a nap in the living-room.

One afternoon, they were out in the garden, sitting on the bench, talking.  Behind them was a climbing rose bush winding its way up the side of the house to second floor window.  He got up and went over to it.  “Whenever I see a rose, I can’t help but marvel at its beauty and intricacy.  Have you ever heard the quote:  Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.

She shook her head, getting up and going over to him.  “No, I’ve never heard that quote.  Which of the two categories do you fall into?”

“The second.  I praise Him for putting roses among thorns—beauty among the ugliness that exists in this world.”

“For me, the roses represent God’s grace among the thorns which are the trials in life.”

He reached out to pluck a rose from the bush and winced when its thorn pricked him in the palm.  As he reached into his robe for his handkerchief, she took his hand in hers and gently turned it over to examine the wound.  The touch of her fingers stirred feelings in him and mortified, he pulled his hand away.  She looked startled and when she would have reached for his hand again, he stepped back, putting some distance between them.  He pressed his handkerchief into his palm.  It wasn’t bleeding much.  The wound was the size of a needle prick.  “I must be going,” he said tightly.

“But you only got here ten minutes ago,” she protested.

“Yes.  I have matters I need to attend to.”

“Will I see you again tomorrow?”

“No, Justine.  We can’t see each other anymore.”

“But why not?”

“God help me, but I love you.”

Her eyes widened.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “I’ve wanted to tell you that for such a long time.”

He dragged his fingers through his hair in agitation.  “There’s no future for us.  I’m a Catholic priest and I adhere to the church’s teachings.  I made a vow of celibacy that celibacy so I could identify with Christ who was celibate.   In an act of sacrificial love I vowed to give myself completely to the service of God and His church.”

“But where in the Bible does it say that priests aren’t allowed to fall in love and get married?” she asked, looking confused.  “Aaron and Caiaphas were high priests and they were married.”

“A Catholic priest follows the example of Christ who is our High Priest and He wasn’t married.  His gave His life completely to serving His Father and shepherding His church.  It was Christ who said in Matthew 22:30, ‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’”

“But how do you explain what Paul said about some people forbidding others from marrying, teaching human doctrines and putting traditions above God’s Commandments?”

“Paul made it clear that being single allows a person to give his undivided attention in serving our Lord.  He recommended celibacy because he himself was celibate.”

“But wasn’t it Paul who said ‘let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn with passion’?”

“He was talking about those who can’t exercise self-control.”

“Tell me, Father Montgomery, how do I stop myself from burning with passion?”

“Marry Robert.”  Robert was a member of the church she used to attend before her grandmother became an invalid.  On a few occasions he had stopped by the house to see how she and her grandmother were doing.  “He cares for you.”

“Is that what you want?” she demanded.

His face went pale.  “It’s not a matter of what I want but what must be.”

“So, this is goodbye.  I’m never going to see you again.”  Her voice trembled and he could see the beginning of tears in her eyes.   “This is so wrong.  You and I should be together.”

“What would be wrong is for me to turn my back on my faith, my church and God because I love you,” he muttered between clenched teeth.  He reached out and his hand trembled as he touched her face.  She caught his hand and pressed her lips into the palm where the thorn had pricked him.  Groaning, he wrenched his hand away and bolted from her.  That was the last time he saw her.  He stopped visiting her and sent the Vicar in his place.

Now he was faced with a dilemma.  His love for Justine was affecting his life and his work.    He had to do something about it, but what?  He went into the chapel and spent the next few hours in prayer, pouring his heart out as he sought God’s guidance.

Where is he?  Justine wondered as she sat there in the pew, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  He wouldn’t be pleased to see her, she knew that, but she had to come, if only to see him once more and to tell him that she had employed a live-in caregiver for her grandmother and that she had left her job for a better one.

As soon as the service was over, she went up to the Vicar.  “Excuse me, Vicar” she said.  “Where’s Father Montgomery?”

“He is no longer with the church.”

Her heart sank.  “Did he transfer to another parish?”

The vicar shook his head.  “No, he left the priesthood.”

She stared at him, in shock.  “He left the church?”

“Yes.  Everyone was shocked except me.  He had started to question the teachings of the church and his heart was no longer in what he was doing.  I suspect this had to do with a woman although he never said anything.  He was unhappy and I told him that whatever he decided to do, make sure it’s a decision he can live with.  After much prayer and fasting, he decided that the best thing for him to do is to leave the priesthood and the Church.  I wished him well.  Perhaps God will lead him in another direction where he can serve Him as faithfully as he has served him all these years.”

Justine thanked him for his time and left.  She walked out of the church in a daze.  Father Montgomery had left the Church.  Where was he?  “Oh, Lord, You know where he is.  Please lead me to him.” As she got into her car, she got a strong impression to go to the park opposite where she lived.   After she parked her car in the garage, she crossed the quiet street and went into the park.  About ten minutes later, she spotted him sitting on the bench facing the duck pond.  Heart thudding she approached him.  “Hello,” she called.

He glanced up.  “Hello,” he replied, quietly, rising to his feet.  His expression was serious as he met her gaze.  “I was coming to see you.  Your grandmother’s nurse told me where you lived.  When I got here, I decided to come to the park first.”

“I heard that you left the Church.  What should I call you now?”

“John.  You can call me John.  How have you been, Justine?  I think about you every waking moment.”

“I’ve been miserable,” she told him.  “I missed you so much.  I went to the parish today just to see you but you weren’t there and the Vicar explained what happened.  Why did you leave, John?”

“I left because I had too many questions about the church’s teachings which contradicted what was in the Bible and—because of you.  I couldn’t hide from my feelings.  It’s funny.  I believed that the robe I wore would protect me from feelings I believed that I shouldn’t be having.  I realized that underneath the robe was a man—a man who desperately loved a woman who was right when she said that it was wrong for us not to be together.  Will you forgive me for running away from a love that no sacred vows could quench?”

She nodded, reaching for his hands.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  I know that it must have been hard for you to leave an institution you have known and served for most of your life but I truly believe that God has a great plan for your life.”

He pulled her closer and bent his head so that his forehead was resting against hers.  “Yes, I believe that He does and you are a big part of that plan.”

She closed her eyes as they stood there in the sunshine, silently thanking God for granting her the desires of her heart.

 

 

 

Sources:  American Magazine; Catholic Answers; Vox; EWTN; Catholic.com; Diocese of Trenton

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Providence

“Miss Johnson, to what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?” Lucius Suchet asked, his brown eyes studied her as she stood in the doorway.  “I’m astonished that you remember me considering that you didn’t so much as say a word to me last night.”

She ignored his remarks and marched over to the table where she tossed books, papers and pamphlets willy-nilly on the table.  She was about to turn around and leave when he caught her by the arm.  She tried to tug it away, glaring at him but his grip was too firm.  “Unhand me, Sir,” she ordered him.  “Remember that I am a Lady.”

His expression darkened.  “Yes, and I should remember that I am the son of a vicar,” he muttered.  “Yet, it was I who was invited to sit at the table and have dinner with your family when you were not.”

She blinked.  “I know that the color of my skin is the reason for this arrangement but it by no means suggests that I am not held in the highest regard by my family.  They are merely following convention however prejudicial it may be.  Now, please let go of my arm.  Perhaps Miss Foster might allow you to manhandle her but I won’t.” She tugged at her arm again and he released it.

His eyebrows arched.  “Miss Foster.  Why do you mention her?”

“I observed the two of you last night after dinner.  How she hung on your every word and how you showered her with your attention, no doubt filling her head with foolish notions–”

He laughed.  “My dear Miss Johnson, you are jealous.”  He seemed very pleased at the thought.

His remark and the expression on his face infuriated her.  “I am not jealous,” she retorted.  “To be jealous would imply that I have feelings for you, which I do not.”

He moved closer to her and she backed away, her eyes wary now.  “Look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t have feelings for me and I will pursue the matter no further.”

She glanced frantically at the door, longing to make her escape but he advanced toward her like a tiger while she backed away until she felt the wall behind her.  “Mr. Suchet, if you are indeed a gentleman as you would have me believe, you will permit me to leave right now.  The coach is waiting downstairs for me.  I must return home before my family begins to wonder where I am.”

He was standing very close to her now.  His eyes held hers like a trap holding a helpless bird.  “Tell me now that you don’t have any feelings for me,” he insisted.

Her eyes were wild now, with fear and something else which she hadn’t wanted him to see.  Her breath was quick and laborious and her heart was pounding.  She closed her eyes in defeat.  “I can’t” she admitted.

She felt his warm breath against her cheek.  “I have feelings for you too.  Feelings I have had ever since the first time I saw you.  I tried to fight them because was painfully aware of the difference in our stations but they are too strong.”

“What about Miss Foster?” she asked.  Seeing them together had filled her heart with such jealousy and pain that she had wanted to bolt from the room.  Instead, she had turned her attention to the gentleman who paid her some attention.

“There is nothing between Miss Foster and me, I assure you.  What about you and Mr. Wright.  I saw how receptive you were to his attentions.  I was mad with jealousy but propriety kept me in check.”

“It was the wish of my family that I should marry him as he was the only gentleman who would marry a woman of color.  I suspect that his reason for wanting to marry me had more to do with my fortune.”

“Is it your wish to marry him?” he asked anxiously.

She shook her head.  “No.  I turned him down and my family was not at all pleased. They fear that I shall die a spinster as there will be no more prospects of marriage for me.”

“Would you have a problem marrying the son of a vicar?”

“Are you asking me to marry you, Mr. Suchet?”

“Yes.”

“Then, my answer is yes.”  Her family would not approve of this match but she could not bring herself to marry for any other reason but for love.  And she loved Lucius Suchet, a man without fortune but a gentleman, nevertheless.

He swept her up into his arms and swung her around.  Then he bent his head and kissed her.  “I love you, Ivy,” he whispered when he drew back to gaze down into her upturned face.

“And I love you, Lucius.  I almost allowed pride and station to rob me of this happiness.”

“I believe that Providence had a hand to play in this,” he said.  “It is what gave me the courage to press you about your feelings for me.”

“I am thankful, then to Providence,” she said with a smile.  “It brought me to my senses.”

 

 

The Vicar’s Daughter

After she had put some distance between Mr. Rivers’ property and herself, Dora stopped to examine her torn dress.  She was panting and her heart was racing.  She was lucky that all she suffered from her foolish decision to take a shortcut through Mr. Rivers’ property was a torn skirt.  He had set his savage dogs on her, “That will learn you to trespass on my property,” he yelled as she ran for her life with the two beasts in hot pursuit.  How she managed to escape the jaws of death, she didn’t know.  Perhaps it was the Lord showing her mercy.

What a mean man that Mr. Rivers was, she thought.  He was rude and always threatening to loose his dogs on anyone who dared to venture on his property.  She knew it was foolish of her to cut through his property but it would be getting dark soon and she wanted to get back to the vicarage before it did.

She had to catch her breath first before continuing on through the woods.  The dress was ruined.  Sighing, she sat down and thought of how she was going to explain to her parents what had happened.  As the daughter of the Vicar she should have respected Mr. Rivers and stayed off his property.  And she had always been taught not to think badly of people, no matter how miserable they were.  Still, Mr. Rivers irked her so.  She would have to pray to God about him.

She sat there for a while, thinking and then the setting sun reminded her that she had to head back home.  As she rose to her feet, she started when she heard the sound of an approaching horse.  She glanced around the clearing and her eyes settled on a lone rider coming toward her.  Had Mr. Rivers sent the law after her for trespassing on his property?  As the rider got closer, she recognized him.  It was James Hiller of Mannerly Manor where her cousin Mabel worked as a lady’s maid to his mother.

This was the first time she had seen him in these parts.  She stood erect, concealing the tear in her skirt as best as she could.

He drew to a halt beside her and dismounted the horse.  He bowed and she curtsied.  “Miss Baker,” he said.  “What are you doing out here?”

“I went for a walk and was on my way home when I heard you approaching.”

“It is getting dark.  Please permit me to take you home.”

The thought of sitting on the horse terrified her.  “Oh, no, Mr. Hiller, I would rather walk.”

He smiled.  “Nelson will not harm you, I assure you.”

“Nelson?” She looked at the horse and then at him in surprise.

“I named him Nelson after my uncle who taught me how to ride.  Come, let me help you up.  You needn’t be afraid, Miss Baker.  Nelson is a gentle beast.”

Still not convinced but because of his persistence, she allowed him to lift her up onto the fine steed’s back and then he mounted.  She held onto him for dear life as they galloped through the woods.  She was relieved when they reached the vicarage.

He got down and helped her down.  His hands were still on her waist as she tried to steady herself.   Her face was flushed and her heart was racing.  She didn’t know if the ride was the cause or his nearness.  Their eyes held for what seemed like an eon before he released her and took hold of the reins.  And she stepped back.   “Thank you, Mr. Hiller.”

“It was my pleasure, Miss Baker.” There was a brief pause.  “May I call upon you tomorrow afternoon?”

Her eyes widened.  “Call upon me?”

“Yes, I would like to see you tomorrow.”

“All right.  Tomorrow then.”

“Good evening, Miss Baker.”

“Good evening, Mr. Hiller.”

He bowed before he mounted the horse and rode off.

She gazed after him, hardly able to believe that he wanted to call upon her–the Vicar’s daughter.  She hadn’t expected to see him that evening or that he would even stop and talk to her.  She had Mr. Rivers to thank for that.  If he hadn’t run her off his property, she would not have stopped in the place where Mr. Hiller came upon her.

Laughing, her eyes filled with delight, she gathered up her skirt and ran to the house, anxious to tell her mother that a certain gentleman would be coming by for a visit tomorrow afternoon.

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