Forgiving Father Mac

by Camille Partridge

Well, I've been reading through a few of the topics on the forum, and it got me to thinking about a fanfic topic that would be set in series 1-3, based on the premise that Fr. Mac was not the perfect example of what Machiavelli would advise a priest to be, but, instead, resembled some of the priests I have known, and that I am sure other people know today. Sadly, we've all known our share of Fr. Macs as well, but what if Fr. Mac had been a truly *good* priest and pastor to Peter, his curate? I can envision a conversation more like this than the one portrayed in the show:

"Peter, please, sit down." Fr. Mac is seated behind his desk.

"Yes, Fr. Macanally, you wanted to see me?" Peter looks haggard, as if he has not been sleeping.

"Peter, you don't look well. You've been late to several different services these last few months, this funeral just the latest. I know you are quite troubled. Don't you want to talk to me about it?"

"Well, Father, I don't know, I'm not sure what you mean by 'troubled'." Peter is trying his best to hide his problems, even from himself.

"Well, if you won't tell me, I will tell you. It's Assumpta, isn't it? Miss Fitzgerald?" Fr. Mac leans forward. "Peter, I am not here to berate you about this. No one in the village has said anything overt, but even to the occasional visitor like myself, it is very clear you have strong feelings for Miss Fitzgerald. What is not so clear is what her feelings may be towards you. From your demeanor, I am presuming you have not ever spoken to her about this, that you are wrestling with temptation, shall we say, all by yourself, and without knowledge of what her feelings might be on the matter. Is this the case?"

"Father, I don't know what you mean, I've never..." Peter's face is flushed, and he has started to stand up.

"No, no, Peter, sit down, please!" Fr. Mac raises a hand, and, when Peter keeps rising, adds, "Father Clifford, sit down!" Peter sinks dejectedly into the chair, defeat on his face.

"Peter, please don't make me make decisions for you, this is something you must decide in your own mind and heart. However, you MUST be honest, not only with yourself, but with Assumpta Fitzgerald! Now listen carefully, please, and answer these questions honestly. Don't bluster and try to bluff me, in the end your dishonesty will not only hurt you, but Assumpta as well. Can you do this, can you answer me honestly?" Fr. Mac stands and steps around the desk, and puts one hand on Peter's shoulder, firmly, but supportively squeezing a bit as well.

"I, I'll try, Frank, I really will." Peter slumps forward, resting his head in his hands, rubbing red, tired eyes to ease the gritty feel in them.

"Good! Now, first, am I right, you have not spoken to Assumpta about what you feel for her?"

"I haven't, Father. Once, she tried to get me to talk to her, but I avoided the issue, it was after hours at the pub, and I turned tail and ran, I didn't answer her."

"Ah, as I suspected. So, what do you feel for her? Is this simply a case of desire, strong physical attraction? Or do you find yourself wondering what she would say if she were present in any conversation you were having? Do you always want to see her at the end of every day, talk over the day's events with her? Do you simply long to take her in your arms and kiss her, make love to her, or do you want to just sit beside her and watch a movie, read a book, walk the dog with her, hold her hand? Is it just the sex, or do you look at her and see the woman you want to be the mother of your children? When you disagree with her, do you think, later, that you ought to try harder to see her point of view, and try more tactfully or clearly explain yours? And finally, how long have you felt this way? Is this something that's been building for months and months, or a response to a specific situation that just erupted? I am thinking, obviously, of Padraig and Brendan's play, here, I think you know. I'm not a poet, but I'm trying to differentiate a passing infatuation from a true connection as best I can, here." Fr. Mac takes his hand from Peter's shoulder, and sits back down behind his desk.

"Ah, well, Father, I know the physical feelings are there, I can't deny that. But to your other points, I have to say, it isn't just physical. I can almost see the children, when she holds little Kieran, or that little foundling that was left on my step, I can see her holding our child, as well. I do want to spend the end of every day with her, share everything with her. I want to get to know her, know everything about her. And it isn't something that just hit me, sudden-like. I think I knew, when she picked me up on the road, on my way here, after that confessional nearly crushed the bus that day, that she was special, that I was drawn to her. Since then, every day I've found myself wanting to talk to her about something, from world events to what color I should paint my front door. I can see, very clearly, that we could grow old together." Peter raises his head, and looks at Fr. Mac's face as he finishes.

"Well, Peter, if you were, say, a school teacher here at the school, would you have asked Assumpta out on dates, since soon after you first got here? Would you have told her your feelings by now, perhaps even proposed to her?" Fr. Mac rests both elbows on his desk, leaning forward and meeting Peter's gaze square on.

"Yes, Father, I can say yes to that, without any doubt." Peter straightens, his superiour's last question clarifying things for him very suddenly.

"Well, then, Peter, we have one thing left to determine, here, between you and I. If you were to leave Ballykissangel, do you think you would forget Assumpta in a year or two? Or would you remember her, miss her, regret leaving? If she died, suddenly, could you go on being a priest, or would you feel so lost, so suddenly bereft of faith that you would leave your priesthood and even your faith behind?" Squinting, Fr. Mac observes Peter's face closely as he asks the last question. The aghast look and suddenly whitened complexion tell him exactly what he wanted to know.

"Ah, ah, Ah doan't know, Faather, Ah never, Ah doan't even want ta think a such a thing!" Peter's northcountry accent, schooled out of him from childhood, breaks through in force under the stress of even imagining Assumpta's death.

"Well, Peter, I think that settles the matter for me, but I have to ask you, as a fellow priest, are you willing to go on retreat, see if a bit of distance and time will let you recover your vocation, let you regain control of your mind and body, put these feelings behind you?" Fr. Mac leans back in his chair.

"I, well, yes, Father, I would go on retreat. Father, it's not that I don't want to go on serving God! I love my service, I really do!" Peter's tone of voice raises half an octave.

"Well, Peter, I will allow you to go on retreat, but only on ONE CONDITION! Now listen carefully to me, young man! I will only let you go on retreat if you TALK to Assumpta, FIRST! I will not let you run away from your troubles, and perhaps break a young woman's heart as you do it! Have you thought about her? What if she feels the same things you do? What if her heart aches with love for you, fearing that she will never be able to tell you, that she must live with you, but without you, kept forever apart, because of your vocation? Peter, God did not send you to Ireland, to my parish, without a good reason. He may have a different purpose for you than you have presumed for all these years. Or, perhaps, His plan for you has changed? I will not try and second-guess our Lord, but I will insist that, as you spend time in prayer to try and see if His will for you becomes clear, that you do so with as full a knowledge of the situation as you can have. Will you do that for me, Peter? Will you talk to Assumpta, tell her how you feel, find out how she feels, before you go on retreat?" Fr. Mac stands again.

Peter slumps in his chair again. "Father, Ah don't know if Ah can. Couldn't Ah jus go on retreat, try an' regain control of ma feelins?"

"NO!" Father Mac leans forward, both hands slapping down on the ink blotter on top of his desk. "Father Clifford, I will NOT allow you to run away from your troubles *again*, and cause heartache and pain when you do it. I will NOT transfer you, nor allow you to be transferred, if I can stop it, until you learn to quit running away. Assumpta Fitzgerald may not attend Mass or seem to be a faithful Catholic, but she is still a member of my parish, and I will NOT let a member of the clergy under my supervision abuse her in that way! You WILL speak with her, and you will do it in the very near future, do you understand me?" Father Mac's face has reddened, and he is leaning over his desk, obviously angry.

Peter also starts to rise, then, seeing the anger and resolve on his superiour's face, sinks back down, finally defeated, and admitting to himself the full folly of his attempting to sidestep this issue for the indefinite future.

"Father, I will speak to Assumpta. I, I want to do the right thing. I love God, I love serving him as his priest, but I also love Assumpta Fitzgerald, more than I have ever loved any other person in my entire life. I knew, when I became a priest, that I was surrendering any hope of living in that kind of love. I had never met anyone I ever thought I'd want to share my life with, I thought I never would, that God would keep me from falling in love like this. Why, Father, why has God let this happen to me?" Peter drops his head into his hands again, hiding his face.

"Peter, God did not *let* this happen to you. The priesthood is meant to be the hardest choice a man can make. If it isn't a sacrifice, a true and real sacrifice, then how can you consider it hard? Did you never wonder why you had nothing to sacrifice, other than abstract notions, when you felt the calling of the priesthood? However that may be, and I will not second-guess why God has brought you and Assumpta together at this time, He has, and now you and I and Assumpta all need to have the information in place to make the *right* choices, and act on them appropriately. I have done my part, I have made you face your situation head on, and given you a clear path to go forward on, so that you can pray, and make your choice. Now it's up to you to take the next step. Will you do so?" Father Mac sits back down again.

Peter raises his face again. "But Father, what if she laughs at me, or just doesn't feel the same as I do?"

"Peter, I can understand your worry, but, from my perspective, I don't think you need to worry about that. However, allowing the possibility, if you decide that you want to go on retreat and then try and come back to BallyK, I will agree to that, or to request a transfer for you, if you find being around Assumpta too painful. I do want you to make your choice based on complete knowledge and honesty, though, so please speak to Miss Fitzgerald as soon as you possibly can, all right?" Fr. Mac's complexion has calmed again, and his face, while serious, is also pleasant.

Peter straightens in his chair, dropping his hands to his lap. "I will, Father, I will speak to her as soon as I possibly can. And I will let you know the result of that conversation, and how I wish to proceed. If I do not want to go on retreat, afterwards, but instead apply for laicization, will you facilitate that?

"Well", Father Mac looks pensive, "I would prefer you to go on retreat, so that the Bishop feels I have done my best to retain you for the Church, but, if that is not your wish, I will do my best to advocate for you with the Bishop. Is that satisfactory to you?"

"Yes, Father, that is just fine. Thank you, Father, for being with me as I go through this. Peter stands, and Father Mac stands as well. Father Mac then steps around the desk, and extends his hand, which Peter takes, and the two exchange a firm handshake, then Peter leaves the office. Father Mac watches the door close, then he sits back down, and pulls a photograph out of a drawer, looking at it, his face a study in remembered loss and pain.