Two shapely young women, dressed in Catholic school girl uniforms with a skirt length no nun would ever tolerate, wobble towards the Bistro teetering on top of their patent leather stiletto pumps.
“Damn,” I say looking through the front window, “Where were these girls when I was a kid at St. Agnes?”
“Probably not even born,” Beth quips.
“You’re funny,” I snort.
“Besides those girls are a little old to be in grammar school,” she says. “They’re like twenty-three.”
I grab some of the treats we’ve been handing out to the neighborhood kids. Opening the door I call out, “Hey girls, want some candy?”
The girls laugh.
“Hey, Snickers!” one exclaims.
“Don’t be late for school children or you’re gonna get a spanking,” I say.
“And you’re gonna punish us?” the other girl says, provocatively wiggling her hips.
“Naughty naughty,” I say, wagging a finger.
“Thanks for the candy mister,” the girl says Lolitishly.
“Have a Happy Halloween,” I say. I go back inside.
“You enjoyed that didn’t you?” Beth says.
“Oh yessss,” I exhale.
“Why didn’t you dress up for Halloween?”
“Well, I thought of coming in as The Rude Waiter.”
“Not much of a stretch.”
“Yeah, I thought of painting on a thin mustache and wearing a monocle.”
“That would have been funny.”
“And you know what?” I say.
“Some customers wouldn’t get the joke.”
“No, they wouldn’t,” Beth says.
“Some people are killjoys, even on Halloween.”
“Pumpkin Patch Scrooges,” Beth mutters.
“Are you doing anything for Halloween?” I ask.
“Yeah, me and my girlfriends are going to this haunted farm thing out in Jersey.”
“That’ll be fun.”
“I love that stuff,” Beth says.
“Did you hear about that haunted house some church is sponsoring?” I ask.
“Check this out. Instead of normal scary stuff, you know, ghosts and Frankenstein, they’re exhibiting terrifying punishments for sin.”
“I saw it on TV,” I say, “They had people frying in electric chairs, gays dying of AIDS…..”
“I don’t think I’d like that haunted house,” Beth says.
“One exhibit showed a woman being dragged into hell because she had an abortion.”
Beth looks at me in shock. “Can you imagine some poor woman who had an abortion seeing that?”
“Especially if she thought it was a ‘regular’ haunted house.”
“Man, I mean, it’s a kid’s holiday,” Beth says, shaking her head.
I suddenly remember something from long ago.
“Did I ever tell you about the time my godfather spoke at an anti abortion rally?” I ask.
“He was a priest wasn’t he?”
“What did he say?” Beth asks.
“Well, it was an ecumenical rally and people were really whipped into a fire and brimstone frenzy,” I say, remembering. “You know, these loose women are sinners, they’re going to hell, etcetera.”
“Man,” Beth breathes.
“So it’s my godfather’s turn to speak…………..”
…..and shuffling into the pulpit, resplendent in his Byzantine vestments, my godfather looks over the top of his glasses upon the congregation.
“I have heard many of you talking today about God’s punishment, His wrath. How you’re good Christians because you hate abortion. But, after listening to the people gathered here, I can’t help but notice that some of you harbor a vituperative attitude towards the very women you want to help.”
People start shifting in their seats uncomfortably.
“I know many of you, like me, are here because you want to defend the unborn. Some of you are motivated by the deepest conviction.”
“But some of you are here because you love to hate.”
“Are you here because you really want to help the unborn?” my godfather asks. “Have you taken an unwed mother into your home? Feed her? Cared for her baby? Or are you here because this is where your friends are? Are you here to indulge in a comforting sense of moral superiority? Smug in your certitude you’re not going to hell?”
Everyone is listening now.
“Let me tell you about something about Hell,” my godfather says, “We know there’s a hell because Jesus said there’s one. But we don’t know if anyone’s actually in it.”
My godfather lets that thought sink in.
“What’s more,” he says, “Jesus never liked hypocrites. He once said, ‘They do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? No! Every thing they do is done to attract attention!”
Now some of the congregants look angry.
“Let me ask you something. Are you relieving these women of their burdens? Or are you adding to them with your self righteousness? Are you helping or hurting? Because if all of your fervor is directed towards feeling good about yourself, if it’s about getting attention, if its about how you’re better than someone else – YOU ARE WASTING GOD’S TIME!”
A couple of people get up to leave. Undaunted my godfather continues.
“The Lord has never been welcome in the house of the righteous and the certain. Instead He walks amidst the damaged and the confused. To Him, the one that is lost is a treasure beyond price. Who are we to judge these women? They are precious treasure. Love, not hatred, is what they need.”
His words reverberate through the church. People are staring at the floor. Some shake their heads in disagreement. Others look thoughtful.
“Remember, the mercy of God is radical and boundless,” my godfather says, “And I thank God everyday that He is more merciful than you or I will ever be.”
My Godfather steps down from the pulpit. I don’t think he was invited back the next year. …..
“Wow,” Beth says.
“I think those people with their haunted house are making things worse. They’re just burdening people with guilt and shame and not lifting a finger to help anyone. It’s all about attention, “Look at me. I’m a righteous son of a bitch.”
“What do you think about abortion?” Beth asks. I tell her.
“Interesting,” Beth says.
“But I’ll tell you something,” I say, “I’ve known women who’ve had abortions. I know what kind of people they are, what they’ve wrestled with and how they live their lives today. They’re not going to hell. Not by a long shot.”
“How can be sure?” Beth asks.
“I believe what my godfather always told me.”
“That God is more merciful than we can possibly imagine.”
“We know there’s a hell but we don’t know if anyone’s in it,” Beth says.
“That’s a lot to think about,” she says.
“Tell me about it,” I say.
A little boy dressed up as Thomas the Train walks in and says, “Trick or Treat.”
I give the kid a Snickers bar. He giggles. Beth giggles. I smile.
I think about that church’s haunted house. This little boy doesn’t need to see that stuff. Halloween is for kids. Can’t the contentious world of adults wait just a little longer? Oh well.
I spend the rest of All Hallows Eve imagining a hell devoid of souls.
Incredible post. I really like what your godfather had to say. I believe that too. I’m a Christian, & I think that Jesus would have cared & cried with any woman struggling with that decision. I’m also pleased that you didn’t share your feelings about abortion because this isn’t the place for that. I love how professional yet feeling your writing is.
Your godfather is right on about Jesus’ opinion of hypocrites. Hypocracy is a kind of sin that will make even vice pay compliment to virtue. Ie: A corrupt person acknowledges that virtue is deserving of honour when they point out a person who has received illegitimate honour for their faked virtue.
I try to be cautious when I feel someone else might be doing something wrong, because I know that I have been forgiven for many things myself and I shouldn’t be ungrateful for the grace that I’ve received. That doesn’t mean I should be silent though. In this spirit, as I feel your godfather is also motivated, it is possible to defend the unborn for selfless reasons.
However I believe your godfather is incorrect on hell being empty, assuming you quoted him accurately. Yes, God’s mercy is great, but so is His justice, too. “For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” There should be no question that there will be people in hell, and it is a disservice to suggest to anyone that God is not very serious about sin. Perhaps your godfather meant that you can’t predict who is eventually going to repent and receive forgiveness from God, and thus individual sins aren’t an indicator of who goes to hell?
I agree that it’s totally wrong to say abortionists or people who’ve had abortions will go to hell, as if it’s an unforgiveable sin. It is not. There are people who regret the decision, and even though there are sometimes associated consequences, they should not fear hell if God forgives them.
However, you cannot understand God’s Mercy without regard for His Justice. He is not merciful in spite of His justice, but through satisfying it. The human race is separated from God as rebels are from their ruler on whom they are dependent. Justice requires a penalty for our rebellious hearts, but this penalty can be paid by the Son of God dying in our place. We receive this offer of mercy by accepting the Christ as our Lord and Saviour. There is almost no sin that this will not forgive, but it is not a forgiveness that will be forced upon you. Each person has to decide whether to accept the offer, or to answer for their sins themselves. The reason why God’s mercy is therefore so great is precisely because His justice demands a severe penalty from us, yet He will take the cost of it upon Himself if you ask Him to.
So yes, there will be people in hell, but they go there because they chose it over receiving Jesus. Saying that not many people will be in hell, or that it will be empty, either pretends that God will force people to accept Christ, or misunderstands how serious the problem of our separation from God is.
Oh, Waiter, that was beautiful. Your godfather was a true Christian, a true man of God, at a time when many wear the false mantle.
He wasn’t trying to say that hell is empty. He was trying to say that while people are all too willing to do God’s judgment and condemn others to hell, the truth is we don’t actually know who God ultimately decides should be in hell, and it isn’t our place to make that decision.
I love your godfather.
I always tell people that I’m going to be driving the tour bus (usually after I’ve committed some little sin or told some dirty joke) but I really hope for the world’s sake that hell really is empty.
Maybe that’s why the devil is such an angry little prick.
Waiter, I’m as atheist as they come.
But if I were to meet your Godfather, I’d give him a hug. Because he’s the kind of Christian who reminds me that they’re not all bad, despite my personal experience with them.
I would prefer to thank you for the efforts you’ve created in writing this article. I am hoping the same very best do the job from you within the long run too. In reality your creative writing abilities has inspired me to begin my very own BlogEngine weblog now.