This is a modern re-writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” as found in his 1880 novel “The Brothers Karamazov.”
When Our Lord returned to 3211 4th Street in the northeast quadrant of the District, He was not placed in a dungeon. The USCCB secretary took him to one of the sterile but well-lit classrooms. In a professional manner, she told Him that He could sit anywhere. She added on the way out the door, “And thank you for your patience until the bishop arrives.” She turned with a pursed smile and re-entered her office near the main-entrance of the USCCB. The classroom door closed softly but firmly behind her. Our Lord had His choice of about 200 tablet-arm chair-desks. He chose one of them and sat down.
Bishop Apistos was assigned to talk to Our Lord. The bishop’s paternal-grandfather was from Greece, but his other three grandparents were immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Italy. He had entered seminary nearly 50 years ago with some faith, but he had mostly grown in his social skills since his priestly and episcopal ordination. Indeed, like most bishops, he could put lay people at-ease with a well-timed joke, albeit with surprising content at times. His face was pleasant, olive-colored and smooth. The bishop had a slightly rounded belly but was not obese by any means.
Bishop Apistos walked into the classroom with his episcopal crucifix in his upper left shirt pocket and a black coronavirus mask on his face. Our Lord was still sitting in one of the chair-desks. The bishop went over to Him (before Our Lord could stand up) and floated a blue mask onto the tablet-arm section to the right of the side desk. “Please wear this mask,” said the bishop. The bishop gave a tight smile behind his mask, but his eyes above the mask were not smiling. “No, thank you,” Our Lord said meekly. The bishop replied in a sing-song tone, “It’s for my safety, not yours.” Our Lord remained seated humbly, but regally, with His hands on His lap, quietly looking at His hands. Despite His Divine Majesty, Jesus was awkwardly seated like the dunce before a professor in that bright, sterile auditorium. The two of them were alone.
The bishop remained standing and said, “I’m sure you know this, but this wasn’t the best day for you to come. We’re in an annual migration and refugee services meeting with bishops from all over the nation and even a few international bishops have arrived. We have some major financial donors from the government today. I am a little tired because I had to pick up one of the Latin American bishops from Reagan last night. The other bishop wouldn’t take an Uber and the seminarians were already in bed. So, that job and the job of talking to you was left to me, not the head of the USCCB, of course.”
Our Lord raised His eyes, looked at the bishop with love and said, “Come here, my son.” The bishop started back a step, laughed a little behind his mask and mumbled, “Please…six feet. You know, social distancing. And please—’Your Excellency’ or just ‘Bishop.'”
Perhaps it was because he got little sleep the night before, but the bishop would later be surprised at how direct he came across to Our Lord at this moment: “You say all these poor migrants want you and want eternal salvation, but where do you think our money will come from if the government does not pay us for these resettlement programs? You say the rich want the sacraments and truth, but as to your extremists out there who criticize us—do you really think they can cover what the paycheck protection program can? And aside from the extremists, do you really think everyone is just going to return to Mass when the government finally tells us that we can bring parishes to full-capacity? Are they going to keep the chanceries open with their complaining? This is Your Church. Are you going to pay us to keep the chanceries open? Answer me. Did you only die for those fanatics who deny the pandemic? They wanted parishes opened to full-capacity yesterday! Or maybe you didn’t come to die for the lukewarm lay people who don’t have the strength to make it back to Mass or us bishops who are just struggling to find an answer and don’t know what to do?”
“I came to die for every one of them. I love every one of you bishops,” said Our Lord.
The bishop calmed himself a little and said, “Look, I fully recognize that this is Your Church, not my Church. But who is going to keep Your Church functioning if we don’t have these meetings. We probably shouldn’t have obeyed the government in closing these Churches so quickly while abortion centers and Wal-Mart remained open. We know that, now. And we bishops all know the government may never let us re-open to full capacity, but we don’t want to scare the sheep with that information. You made us the shepherds, right? You want us to scare them? If you want your sacraments to get to your people again, then tell your extremists to stop judging us for taking the paycheck protection program. Otherwise, we may not be able to secure even their future sacraments. And stop looking at me with those puppy-dog eyes as if to say, ‘Just trust me and re-open the parishes.'”
Our Divine Lord could see the fake smile behind the mask, but a normal human being (who was not divine) would have only seen the bishops cold eyes glaze-over for his next monologue. The bishop paused and Our Lord looked again at His pierced hands resting over His own knees. He still sat like the punished child or dunce in the awkward tablet-arm chair-desk. The fluorescent lights buzzed above them, but the din of the distant migrant meeting of over 100 bishops could not be heard in this classroom. Nearly 200 desks in that small auditorium remained unoccupied, and now the bishop glared at His Savior with frustration in his heart, but managed to appear pastoral from his years of practice.
The bishop said, “You say, ‘Suffer not the Children‘ and we bishops know abortion kills children, but why do your extremists act like that is the only issue that this broken country is facing? Don’t you care about the environment that You Yourself created? Let me read you from a brother bishop.”
The bishop pulled out his smart phone and read:
“While a specific act of abortion is intrinsically evil, the formulation of individual laws regarding abortion is not. It is an imperative of conscience for Catholic disciples to seek legal protections for the unborn. But whether these protections take the form of sanctioning the doctor or the pregnant mother, whether those sanctions should be civil or criminal penalties, and the volatile issues pertaining to outlawing abortions arising from rape, incest and danger to the mother are all questions of deep disagreement among advocates wholeheartedly devoted to the protection of unborn children. Like the issues of fighting poverty and addressing climate change, the issue of abortion in law and public policy is a realm where prudential judgment is essential and determinative.”
“What do you think of that?” asked Bishop Apistos. This time, the bishop was genuinely curious.
Our Lord continued to look at His hands on His lap. A very small trickle of blood poured through His hands onto the garment covering His knees.