Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ranulf the Unready (or Eat, Pray, Sin)

“I built the bloody church, I damn well better have a say in the advowson!” Lord Beauchamp bellows at the cowering messenger before him.
“Yes sir, it’s just that the bishop –“
“The bishop – !” Beauchamp thunders, before attempting to regain his composure to add quietly, “ – is not my concern. My concern is Ranulf. I want him out of my household. You can understand that, can’t you?”
The messenger, practically in a crouch before the large table that serves as a sort of desk for Lord Beauchamp, had been averting his eyes but now allows them to meet his master’s. “Most certainly, my lord. But the bishop insists that his office has the prerogative as the parish is in his jurisdiction and that to cede such a privilege without compensation would be irresponsible.”
“Aha! The truth outs, as it always does.” Beauchamp’s face brightens with malice as he wheels his large, barrel-chested frame around the table to loom over the messenger more directly. “Of course, coin might make the bishop more amenable to my suggestions? Wedmore has revenue just like any other parish, and the bishop wants a taste? I am reading you correctly, yes?”
As the fairly diminutive messenger fumbles for a reply and seemingly shrinks as his lord comes closer, Beauchamp digs into his cloak and produces a small woolen pouch that jangles with the King’s currency. “Here,” Beauchamp shoves the money at the messenger’s chest brusquely. The messenger’s hands come up to grasp the pouch. “And you can tell the bishop that my brother won’t need much of the revenue. He’s a simple man – as far as the bishop’s accounts are concerned, it will almost be as if he could keep the parish vacant indefinitely without anyone noticing. It’s a great deal for the both of us.” Beauchamp glowers at the messenger for a moment. “Now, off with you!”

Eggs, porridge, bread, mutton, plum marmalade – that’s French after a fashion. Our Norman heritage. Yes, I like plum marmalade. Oh, how did I get hungry again? I’ve just finished a plate.
Ranulf Beauchamp blinks and looks up and over at the others eating at the table. As stocky and rotund as his brother is tall and muscular, he pays no attention as his more handsome sibling rises and begins to tap loudly on an empty goblet.
Perhaps, a spot of ale would do me some good. I’ll enjoy that. Ranulf reaches out and grabs a cup of ale and holds it up to his mouth to drink.
After tapping at his goblet and clearing his throat loudly, the room quiets to hear Lord Beauchamp speak. “Guests, fellows, kinsmen near and distant, I bid you salutations with all the gladness my heart can offer for coming tonight to share in this feast of bounteous proportions.”
It’s warm but it tastes good. The cup drops away from Ranulf’s face for a moment before he lifts it again and returns it to his mouth.
“It gives me great pleasure to be able to announce here and now that my dearest brother, Ranulf Beauchamp, shall be ordained as the new priest of Wedmore parish!”
Ranulf sets the cup down as ale dribbles from his chin. Applause and glowing adulation meets his distant gaze. He looks around nervously, his face mottled like spoilt cream, his eyes watery and bemused. I wondered why my brother let me sit so close. What’s going on, then?
For the next few moments, Ranulf’s environs become a blur. His brother seems to say more words but he cannot make them out. Likewise, other people at the table cast encouraging breaths in his direction but they all come out dim and faint. Ranulf turns to his brother, feeling flummoxed and overwhelmed. “What is everyone on about? What have I done now?” He speaks quietly and his brother doesn’t seem to hear. Except he does and after a moment he addresses Ranulf with a fierce, steely glare.
“You’re to become a priest. Do you remember Wedmore? Where I built that chapel. You liked it enough, right? Tomorrow, you will visit your new home on your way to Glastonbury where you shall be given a crash course by the monks there on the subjects of Latin –“ Latin!? “– and theology.” Theology…

Ranulf was mumbling to himself and clutching the Summa Confessorum tightly under his arm when Brother Stephen entered the anteroom to lead the pastor-in-waiting into the offices of Brother Geoffrey.
“I hope you’re enjoying your stay in Glastonbury, sir.”
“Yes, wal, of course it’s a splendid – enjoying it and so on –“ Ranulf trails off, avoiding eye contact with Stephen at all costs. As they enter, Brother Geoffrey sets aside his work and looks up at Ranulf and Stephen.
“Thank you, Brother Stephen. That’ll be all for the evening, then.” Brother Stephen bows and exits quietly. Now all of Geoffrey’s attention is deployed singularly onto Ranulf.  “ are we finding ourselves tonight?”
“We? Sir…”
Geoffrey sighs, “What is it that brings you here?”
“Ah, yes, well it’s this Sum-ah Confessorium you’ve got me studying.” Ranulf glances down at the item in question and then looks up at Geoffrey hopefully.
“Right, are you having some trouble with it? It’s meant to prepare you for taking confession from your parishioners.”
“Well, it just…sinnin’ and that,” Ranulf pauses as he tries to collect his jumbled thoughts. “Take Luxuria for one,” Ranulf opens the Confessorum and slides the text over towards Geoffrey, his finger indicating a specific passage. “What’s that mean?”
Brother Geoffrey scans the passage. “Well, sometimes if you keep your inquires general you can avoid inspiring further lust. Usually, you should not describe a sin that a parishioner has never heard of…” Geoffrey trails off as he sees Ranulf nodding.
“I get that bit. I meant the next – the extracting of the confession.” Ranulf taps his hand against his chair, his uneasiness bubbling to the surface.
“Well, Robert of Flamborough felt it inappropriate to include too many details of how he got confessions of masturbation. It’s unfortunate to some extent if you want to follow his example as best you can.”
“Painfully, yes, confessions can be a difficult business.”
“I mean, painful masturbation, that sounds like a fairly serious – I don’t know if that’s just for a priest to –“
Brother Geoffrey shakes his head. “Oh, no. No, I believe you’ve misread it. He didn’t mean masturbation that was painful, he meant that he extracted the confession painfully.” Brother Geoffrey frowns. Does Ranulf get it? “You see –“
“So the bloke had done normal masturbation, and Robert’s just getting him to confess about it.” Ranulf says this slowly with a number of pregnant pauses, almost stammering a bit. As if he was unfamiliar with some of the words he was using. Normal masturbation…is that a sin, then? I suppose it is. I suppose I knew that. Of course, I remember now.
Brother Geoffrey had been waiting because it seemed that Ranulf had more to say. But he did not say any more, instead he just sat there in a sustained silence. It seemed to Geoffrey as if he was working something out in that thick skull of his. “Yes, he’s just getting him to confess. You’ve got it, I think.” Did Ranulf hear him just now? His expression hadn’t changed. His brow remained furrowed. Just more sustained silence. “Will that be all, then?”
 “It’s not a bad sin, is it?” Worry had worked its way through Ranulf’s face.
Geoffrey is taken aback. “Excuse me? I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, but if you are still thinking about masturbation, yes it’s bad, because yes it’s a sin and sins are bad.” Geoffrey realizes he is shaking slightly, his breathing irregular, his mouth dry. He can’t believe this man is about to enter the priesthood. This is why reform is needed, he thinks. This is the true price of simony.

The rituals aren’t too difficult after awhile. With repetition, he can get a handle on most of it. Even though his Latin is still poor, he can get by with rote memorization. It’s not perfect, but he feels he has been able to keep up the appearance of a proper education. He has never seen Paris nor Bologna, but he can deliver a Pater Noster like no one’s business.
It’s the unplanned work that has shown itself to be problematic. He has to deal directly with parishioners on a daily basis. This is a problem. He never feels he has the right thing to say. He does not believe he possesses the ability to cure or care for souls. He cannot cure or care for his own soul, much less for the souls of an entire community like Wedmore. His heart is sickened by the deceptions he must promulgate constantly. His mind is stricken by internal accusations of hypocrisy and inadequacy. Can he go on like this? Won’t someone find out?
Does every pastor feel this way at first? No chance. I can’t imagine it. They might worry that they fail their flock, but I know I am doing so. It’s all trouble. I’m just not up to it. I don’t know why my brother thought I was. I don’t know why anyone thinks I am. It seems like a bad joke. A trick of some kind. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps a demon is behind all of this. An evil demon, out to make of fool of me and the whole parish, maybe even the whole church. A demon laughing endlessly. Laughing in the face of God. I hate the demon with every inch of my being. I hate the devil.
I’ve got to concentrate. I can’t let my head wander. Right now, there’s a woman here who wants to confess. She needs to confess to me. She’s waiting for me to begin. How long have we been sitting here? How do I lose track of time? Did we already begin? What is she waiting for? Have I been staring at her face?
“Father…“ she says, shifting uncomfortably.
“Yes. Have you committed lechery?”
She sighs, “I don’t know. I’m scared.”
So am I. Ranulf takes a deep breath. “There remains coitus which is lechery in the strict sense of the word. Have you ever been polluted with lechery?”
“I’m not sure. I think so.” Tears well up in the woman’s eyes.
“Ever against nature?”
“I don’t know. Maybe…what is against nature?”
Ranulf grimaces. “Nevermind. Ever with another woman?”
“Oh, no!” she cries.
The woman is crying now, and it is making Ranulf emotional as well. He struggles to remain composed as he asks his next question. “With clerics or with laymen?”
She is crying. She is in pain. He wants to help her. “I’m sorry – only with laymen. Only laymen.”
He breathes heavily. “Married laymen or single?” This is wrong. I feel wrong. I do not want to think what I’m thinking or feel what I’m feeling. May the Lord save my soul.
“Bb-both!” She stutters, tears dripping down her face and onto her neck. She is hyperventilating. Is the priest wiping the tears away?
“With how many married people?” I cannot do this. I will not do this.
“Only one.” Is her breathing becoming shallower?
“How many times?” I have to take my hand off of her neck. I have wiped away the tears. That is all I can or will do.
“I - I don’t know,” she hiccups.
Don’t cry again. Do not shed a tear. “Let us find out what we can. How long were you with him?”
She begins to respond, but he cannot hear her. He watches her, but she is no longer confessing in his mind. And his hand has not left her person.
“Do you sin with clerics?”
“You have already asked me that.”
“Have I?”

May the Lord save our souls. For I cannot care or cure. I am lecherous and wicked. I have strayed and led my flock with me. I know what I do is wrong, but I cannot stop. The demon got to me. I cannot resist the devil’s temptation. I wish I could go home. I bring sin to this place. Instead of curing this woman, I have only worsened her condition.
Is this really who I wanted to be? I don’t know. I don’t know how to escape it. I never thought I would end up this way. What have I become? Why am I so full of sin? This is why I cannot be the shepherd. How can I care for the souls of others when I cannot care for my own? I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t know how to escape it.
Did you ever introduce any innocent person to sin?
I admit to masturbation. I admit to fornication.
 Did you come to your female cousin?
Did you come to a pregnant woman? Was she pregnant?
No, no, no! No, I won’t admit to that. This is all wrong.
Many tiny children are in this way debilitated, crippled and oppressed. In time of menstruation or recent childbirth are generated many lepers, epileptics and children disabled in other ways.
I don’t want to hurt anybody!
Were you ever "infamous" for fornication?  Was it public knowledge?
I hope not. I hope to escape it all.
Did you go to prostitutes? You should be afraid that she might be your kin, or vowed to religion…
My brother! It’s him! You want him! He went to prostitutes and he brought me. He laughs in the face of God. I went to prostitutes, yes, but I did so without prior knowledge.
Have you fornicated in a holy place or on a holy day?
Yes! Yes! I am right now!
Where and how often, in what order, with what person and in what kind of fornication?
Stop it stop it stop it it’s not her fault, blame me, I should know better…
Have you looked with evil intent at many people, men and women, have you desired, solicited…kissed them?
Too much. Far too much. I can’t think, I can’t breathe.

“Are you all right?”
“You’re crying.”
“Yes. I am full of sin and I have led you astray.”
“You made me feel better.”
“Yes. But that’s not my job. I should be caring for your soul, and not for your body…”
“I don’t want to think about that right now. Do you want to think about that right now?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Well, then. Let’s not.”
“But –“
“Can’t we just enjoy each other’s company a bit longer?”
“I would love to.”

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