Volume 2, Number 2, 2005
Father Maurice had been suspicious of me from the beginning. The man was a young handsome pastor striving hard to make a good impression on the bishop, his parishioners and, most of all, his mother.
The last thing the pastor wanted for his new inner-city parish was an old irascible priest like me for his assistant. I wasn’t old enough to retire, but too ill to assume the responsibilities of a pastor. By teaming us together, the bishop thought I could teach the lad a thing or two.
For the first time in weeks, Father Maurice finally permitted his implacable demeanour to slacken and he entered into the banter with great laughter and abandonment.
Half way through dinner, the doorbell rang. Father Maurice was enjoying himself so much that I insisted on answering the door. He was about to say no but he wasn’t ready to forego the merriment to answer the ringing.
At the front door I met a man and woman. Both were well beyond middle age with silvery hair. Respectably dressed, each carried a briefcase and had a professional air about them. I had no idea if the couple were from the parish. Their expressions were serious and tense. I introduced myself as Fr Aldo Mocny, the assistant to the pastor. The two simply nodded, unimpressed.
They told me their names – Mable and Avery Jenkins – and handed me their card. It was nicely done in old script. They called themselves “alpha-theologians,” a term I’d never heard before. Before I had a chance to say anything, Mrs Avery began to apologise profusely, saying that there’d been a change in their itinerary. They’d just been given permission to meet with some spiritual leader of an ashram who they needed to consult and, hence, they’d be leaving the city the next day.
I politely told them the pastor was expecting them tomorrow and that I would pass on their regrets. With a pained look on her face, the woman asked if they perhaps could meet with me, if Father Maurice wasn’t available. I left the question hanging for a moment before I hesitantly led them to the office. Mrs Jenkins was quick off the mark.
“Father, thank you for taking time to listen to us. Avery and I have been studying the Bible. We both know the original languages of Holy Scripture – Greek and Hebrew. We’ve also learned to read Aramaic. Recently, we stumbled on a particular insight that significantly shows how evil becomes so pervasive in our society. We believe our insight is so important that it may solve a problem that has plagued theologians for centuries - you know, the one about there being so much suffering in the world while God, who is all-powerful and all-loving, could have prevented such suffering.
“Two years ago,” she continued without so much as taking a breath, “we started consulting with some of the leading scholars and theologians in the world. We now have people researching our basic findings with each of the major religions in the world. We’re happy to report that our findings are proving credible across a wide spectrum of religious traditions. Just think Father, finally a concrete basis for eradicating evil in the world. Avery and I are specifically in charge of collecting signatures for a petition to be sent to all leaders of the Christian faith. We will be presenting our petition to the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and various Patriarchs. So you can see that it is important to have as much support from within each tradition of the Christian faith as possible.”
“Yes, well, Mrs Jenkins, I think the person you should be addressing is the Bishop of the diocese, not me,” I interjected coldly.
“Yes, Father Aldo, that is a valid suggestion. Our experience tells us however that it is better to collect a large pool of support from parish leaders before going to their superiors to endorse our findings. Actually, once you understand our findings you’ll realise the dramatic effect it may have over your congregation. You’ll probably want to talk to Bishop Mackley yourself.”
“What is your finding Mrs Jenkins?” I asked with growing impatience.
“Allow me to explain Father,” Mr Jenkins said abruptly with a distinguished accent.
“All knowledge, religious and otherwise,” he began, “is communicated through language. Language is at the basis of our belief system. The purity and genuineness of your belief can only be as pure as our language permits. My wife and I, after exhaustive studies, have found how the devil and evil works in the world. Through extensive lexical studies we’ve discovered that the very language we pray and advocate to God is possibly contaminated with the work of the devil. We’ve been lucky to isolate the point of infection Father. It lies with our alphabet. More precisely with the letter ‘d.’
“Now listen closely Father. We’ve found a preponderance of words in the English dictionary that denotes an awful and terrible undermining of God’s creative work in the world. It is our conclusion that the very use of the letter ‘d’ is demonic. Just think Father of the terrible persuasiveness of evil expressed by ‘d’ words. Let me rhyme-off a smattering for you. Listen closely now. They’re all life-denying. There’s of course ‘devil,’ the signature of Satan himself, and then there is demon, death, decay, destruction, defect, debase, debauch, decadence, decapitate, deceit, deceased, decompose, decline, decrepit, defame, denounce, deficit, defraud, deformity, delusion, defrock, deprive, demolish, demise, depression, descend, desolation, despair, despise, despot, despicable, destitution, devastation, dethrone, diatribe, devious, deviate.”
Tapping my fingers on the desk, I sat placidly and still in my chair, happy my odd face hid a bellowing laugh trying to escape me.
“Are you getting the drift Father?” Mr Jenkins continued with a serious tone in his voice.
“The work of the devil is not in our hands or idle time but in the proliferation of words announcing the work of the anti-Christ. It’s been going on for centuries. With modern media we’ve all been innocuously indoctrinated into the cult of darkness. Most ‘d’ words indicate division and separation. This is the essential meaning behind such terms as diabolical. It only gets worse Father. There’s disease, disguise, dishearten, disorder, disintegration, disgrace, disembody, dissect, down, dispute, disquiet, dictatorship, duel, deny, dumb, dynamite, deport, disengage, dilemma, discourage, divest, disgust, dissension, die, demagogue, damage, danger, deform, debase, derange, demean.
“Can you see the simplicity yet the evil of such a strategy, Father? The alphabet has been contaminated and corrupted. Since Adam and Eve uttered their first words, the devil pierced their tongues with the sign of his wicked ways. In mere speaking, we can’t help but utter the wishes of Satan!”
“All right, Avery! Thank you,” Mrs Jenkins broke in. “You’ve made the point marvellously. Father Aldo is an intelligent man. I’m sure he sees the significance of this discovery. Our task Father is to act swiftly. We’re demanding that religious leaders move quickly to eradicate the letter ‘d’ from the vocabulary of every Christian. Not only abstinence, but a complete suppression of the fourth letter of the Roman alphabet.”
As she continued speaking, she reached into her bag and pulled out a pen and a clipboard of paper with a list of signatures.
“I believe you see the necessity for action Father Aldo. Please sign this petition. We’ll be happy to leave you a kit for a workshop on this problem. Both Avery and myself are available for organisation and teaching purposes. I just can’t emphasise the urgency behind this finding.”
“You’re absolutely correct, Mrs Jenkins” I clamoured, banging my fist against the desk. “Your discovery is the dankest, damn, darn astounding piece of detective work ever divulged. I always thought those bloody ‘dees’ were suspicious. Real duds they are! I just can’t believe we’ve been duped for so long. The devil isn’t daft, he is? That dope must think we’re a bunch of dodos. Well, hats off to you two; you’ve really connected the dots on this one, haven’t you? Actually, as much as I’m delighted at your demonstration, I’m rather dumbfounded that no one else has uncovered this alphabetical debacle.
“If you don’t mind,” I tempered my voice to grab my guests full attention, “I have some friends in Rome. I’m going to call them this very minute and get the dolts out of bed and demand an explanation. What we need is a D-Day on ‘d’!”
I picked up the phone and pretended to dial an international number. Using my seminarian Latin and Italian together, I fabricated a false conversation with an imaginary Cardinal DeVino in the Vatican. I let the deception go on for several minutes while modifying my voice to relay a tone of gravity and seriousness to the Jenkins. Rubbing my beard, and flashing my eyes, I gave the impression of hearing amazing and dazzling things.
To my chagrin, there was a knock at the door and Father Maurice poked his head in. At first he just smiled until Mrs Jenkins rose from her chair and introduced herself and her husband, explaining the change in plans. The pastor’s jaw dropped and his face turned very red. Mrs Jenkins put her finger to her lips, signalling to Maurice to be quiet, telling him that I was speaking to officials at the Vatican!
The pastor stood ramrod straight, glaring at me. I quickly brought my make-belief conversation with Monsignor De Vino to a close.
Unlike Maurice, who had rage in his eyes, my two visitors were on the edge of their seats with anticipation.
“Father Aldo,” Mrs Jenkins quickly asked, “what did they say? Please tell us.”
“It seems you’re quite right. The alphabet has been under an inquisitor’s scrutiny for quite some time. They’ve been drubbing it for centuries trying to figure out just how the devil encoded it with evil. It seems the letter ‘d’ is definitively a dispraised word in the eyes of the Vatican but not the darkest. Their experts believe that ‘d’ is a decoy. While it may be a dispirited and depraved letter, it has been employed by the devil to divert and deviate us from the real dominate letter of evil.”
For the sake of effect, I stopped speaking. I sighed as if to indicate that I wished to be finished with the matter entirely.
“I would really like to know what is going on,” Father Maurice stammered his words with a glare.
“No, Father Maurice, it is all right,” Mrs Jenkins twisted in her chair to face the confused pastor. “Father Aldo has been most understanding and sympathetic to our discovery. It is so important we hear what he has to say. How providential to have someone with connections to the Vatican!
“Tell us Father Aldo,” she pleaded with me. “What is the problem? What letter do they say is the worst of the lot?”
“‘F’” I said matter-of-factly. “The Cardinal informs me that the devil’s real tools are fear, fatalism and all the fanfare of falsity. Consequently, Rome is sticking with ‘f.” They’ve declared war on it. There is just too much ‘effing’ going on in the world’s bedrooms and boardrooms and they’re having an ‘effing’ time trying to suppress and control it. Cardinal DeVino reports that it’s just a big ‘effing’ mess at the moment but he has assured me that they’ll fetter it out one way or the other.”
Mrs Jenkin’s gasped in horror, as her face turned pale and tears appeared in her eye.
Suddenly there was a loud bang on the desk.
“I told you, Mable,” Mr Jenkins said with a fiendish smile on his face. “I should have never listened to you about that that dumb ‘d’ thing. I suspected ‘f’ years ago but you wouldn’t hear of it. Now, you’ve got it from the on high, don’t you?
“Well, of course it is ‘f’!” the man went on in a high pitched voice. “Just look at the lexicon. There’s fall, fake, failure, falter, faithless, famine, feces, flesh, fornication, feint, feral, fickle, friction, fight, forbidding, final, faze, flu, flunk, fluke, foible, force, foreskin, and the reason for the Fall itself, the feminine!” he said, emphasising the last term.
“Oh you miserable man,” Mrs Jenkins shot back. “You’re always trying to show me up, aren’t you, you pig?”
As my two visitors lost their composure and began arguing, Father Maurice remained perfectly still, his back flat against the wall and his face pained.
I spoke up loudly and took control of the situation, inviting them to write Cardinal DeVino and to compare notes. The two continued to quibble nastily as I showed them to the door. I thanked them for the delightful chat and reminded them to minimize their use of ‘f-words’ lest the work of the fiendish one fructify on their tongues.
Father Maurice could hardly speak when I returned to the office.
“When they mentioned ‘letters’ on the phone, I thought they meant Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, or something like that” he mumbled innocently. “I can’t believe what I was hearing.”
“Oh that gibberish,” I said softly, while putting my arm around his shoulder and guiding him back to the dining room. “That’s just the fee-fi-fo-fum of the devil’s fun, you know - all the ‘effing’ the Vatican is trying to protect us from.”
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