Back Back Story: The Immortals

Thu 09/01/05 at 7:14 pm

As a child, Catholicism fascinated me. In sixth grade, I had one of my Catholic friends teach me the Hail Mary. I also liked the idea of being able to ask God directly for what was wanted instead of leaving it to “Thy will be done.” You want a million dollars? Ask for it. And if it didn’t happen, well it wasn’t that the prayer had gone unanswered. No prayer goes unanswered; it’s just that sometimes, God says, “No.” Later in life, when questioned about how a Lutheran knew so much about those idol-worshipping, transubstantiating Catholics, I would explain, that, like Luther, I too believed there was only “one true Church.” Despite the above, I hope no one will be surprised to learn that these days, I’m incapable of supporting the Church’s position on almost any issue. For instance, Catholicism (and for that matter, all of the Big-Three — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is beyond redemption from a feminist perspective – it will take a whole lot more than using gender-neutral language, that’s for sure.

Even so, St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, continues to play a role in my life. In 1987, I had the privilege of beginning my life as an attorney by clerking for Justice Mary Coon Walters, the first woman ever appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. As the appointment lasted only a year, obtaining an associate position with a law firm provided more than a few anxious moments during my tenure with The Court. At the time, few firms were looking for new associates, and after a couple of courtesy interviews (in deference to Justice Walters), I began to despair of finding gainful employment.

Cora, Justice Walter’s secretary and a devout Catholic, came to the rescue. She told me I had to go over to the St. Francis Cathedral during the lunch hour and light a candle to St. Anthony to help me find my “lost job.” I did as she told me to do. The next day a fellow named Joe Sturges from Sager, Curran, Sturges & Tepper, P.C. called to set up an interview. I had sent my resume to the firm on the advice of Justice Walters, who told me Stan Sager was “the best mentor I could hope for.” I went to said interview, and the rest, as they say is history. I accepted Stan’s offer to join the firm. Six years later, I made partner. (And Justice Walters was right about the mentor part.) Since that fateful (if one ascribes to such notions) afternoon in Santa Fe, Tony has come through for friends, family members, and me on many occasions. At the moment I’ve got him working on my lost novel and lost lungs.

Another aspect of Catholicism that I thought about every once in awhile, especially during the time when so many priests were leaving the priesthood, was the edict that, no matter what, “once a priest, always a priest.” Somehow or other I learned that this precept stems from the biblical figure, Melchizedek. In the Hebrew Bible, Melchizedek was the king of Salem who rode out with the King of Sodom to meet Abraham “after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer.” It seems Abraham and his personal army had come to the rescue of his nephew Lot who had been taken prisoner during a battle involving several kings and kingdoms. Following the victory, Melchizedek “brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” Genesis 14:18. And so was celebrated the first eucharist (small “e”) (from the Greek word for “thanksgiving” or “thank-offering”).

Melchizedek reappears in Hebrews 7 where he is described as the “King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace.” In Hebrews, we discover that Melchizedek is “[w]ithout father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” Hebrews 7: 2-3. I remember, the first time I read the above, saying to myself, “Self, what if Melchizedek is indeed still here, hanging around awaiting the Second Coming?”

The Hebrews reference to Melchizedek triggered a vague memory of another biblical character who might also be hanging around. The final verses of the Gospel of John set forth an exchange Jesus has with Peter. John 21:20-25. Specifically, as Jesus and Peter walk along, Peter turns around to see “the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper.” For reasons that are not entirely clear, at least to me, Peter asks Jesus, “which is he that betrayeth thee?” Then, without awaiting an answer, Peter goes on to ask, “what shall this man [the disciple whom Jesus loved] do?” Jesus answers Peter’s question with a question, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” At this juncture, the narrator steps in to explain the ripple effect of Christ’s statement; i.e., “[t]hen went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die.” The narrator then takes some pains to explain, “yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” We then learn our narrator is none other than “the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.” In plain English, the writer/narrator is the beloved disciple himself, John.

After re-reading the above, my inner conversation continued, “Self, what if Melchizedek and John are both hanging around awaiting the Second Coming, and the two of them meet up somewhere in Israel because they have learned the earth is threatened by an apocalyptic event?” (Rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem, anyone?) And so the seeds of the novel were planted.

next post: Of Rosemary and Flies to Wanton Boys
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