Turn The Page: Live chat on 'Anvil Soul' with David O'Sullivan
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f you are interested in names, mine is James O’Ryan. My story happened when I worked as a priest in Temora, a small town with a population of almost ten thousand if you count all the farmers who live on the green, fertile land that spreads out in all directions. It is an isolated town where they can make their own rules as much as any town can. I say “they” because I never belonged there. It felt almost as if I were an outsider on two accounts. For one, people came to me on spiritual matters, and there is a divide. That is how the Church operates. But also, I have been lonely all my life. I have had loneliness follow me in my work, in my spare time, even now, in my sport. In swimming and running, you rely on yourself, you are competing against yourself.
I became a priest in the large seminary called Saint Patrick’s, on the north side of Sydney. It is a huge sandstone building on a hill overlooking the ocean. At night, you can sit in the front of the building, where the library is, and watch the ocean. I almost quit the seminary a number of times, but the library and the promise of a life free to study kept me. I have never felt completely confident in my faith. If I had quit, I would have stayed on to study philosophy as a lay student, but God knows what I would have done with my life. It would have been an education for the love of learning. I felt afraid to quit. I pictured myself working in a coffee shop for the rest of my life, serving people hot drinks. I worked in a coffee shop when I was twenty. One day, I told a woman who worked there that she looked tired. I said it without thinking. She hated me after that and would say to me each day, “James you look so tired,” in a mocking voice I can still hear.
At the seminary, they try to get you involved with games and sports like football, but I would always refuse and take myself away for a run or a swim in the ocean pool. I do not like playing football. They refer to it as “team building”. Team building is losing a part of yourself for the greater good. People trust you if you can fit in.
I desire women. I think about them a lot; it drives me mad. I pray to God to be released from these almost-paralyzing desires, but they remain inside of me. I think of them, I watch them, I see them in the congregation. The desire for sex distracts me. Dear reader, I truly believe in God, and I want you to know that. I know that every cloud, every sunrise, every star was placed there by His hand. I know that Jesus laid down his life to save us. I know that, from the infinite reaches of space to the tiniest cell inside of me, everything has God’s fingerprints upon it. He made me, and He challenges me to remain faithful, no matter how many temptations appear. He wants me to help others. Some time ago, as I sat on the train to Temora, I saw an old man attempting to get aboard. He had a cart full of bags and a microwave oven amongst his items. He struggled to pull his belongings aboard with him. As I watched from my seat, he fell over, his things spreading across the platform with him. Everyone just watched. No one helped. I felt God directed me to give the man assistance, so I rushed out of the train, gathered the man up, and carried his things aboard. To everything there is a season, a time to help others and a time to require help. I accompanied the man to his stop, then I helped him off the train again. To me, the old man was an angel; I had my true faith tested. However, I am not superior to those who stood about and did nothing. I have my shortcomings, too.
I was new in Temora then, but I soon found another earthly angel who tested me in another way. She had raven black hair and wide, beautiful eyes. She was in her twenties, the eldest daughter of Roger Martin. She sat in the front of the church while I celebrated Mass. I remember it so well: her lovely face shining out in the dark church, her body flowering before me. Only the angels of Heaven could rival her beauty.
I remember my first love, too. She also studied at Saint Patrick’s. She had red hair and a quiet way about her. She handled books like they were sacred. I would see her in the library, absorbed in her reading, never looking up, allowing me to watch her for minutes at a time. She had a large pair of glasses that would hide her face. When she looked down, they would slide along her nose so she had to continually push them back up. I loved her and it frightened me.
One evening, a storm came over the sea, and rain fell heavily upon the seminary roof. The two-story windows at the end of the library were slick with the rain. The heavy grey ocean rose and fell, and it became hard to tell the storm from the sea. The lights were on because the clouds hid the setting sun, making it dark outside. Shadows danced off the stone walls; the electric lights flickered occasionally, threatening to go out completely.
The library was almost empty with a few students whispering in the dark corners. Mary sat in the pale light of the large window, so close to the cold, dark rain and wild storm, concentrating on her work. I knew which book she had in front of her because it was the same one from yesterday. Philosophy – in the history of the world, titled just like that. The page edges were tinted gold, the writing was large and inky as if written by hand. I watched her roll through the book, occasionally licking her finger gently to turn a page. She turned the pages so royally, so full of good-minded action, that I lost my breath like you can in dreams.
I came to her table and sat down opposite her, but we never spoke. I felt too shy, and she appeared detached. But I loved her. I would have thrown away my faith if she had wanted me.
"I would save the last two bullets. One for Hilton and one for me."
Father James O'Ryan has lived his life by a high moral code; using his beliefs to uphold the sanctity of the church he has pledged his life to serve. After the church places him in the sleepy town of Temora, Father O'Ryan finds himself tempted with lust and distracted by the dangerous actions of his fellow priests.
Will he turn a blind eye to the events surrounding him and take the fall for his brethren or will he issue justice with his own hands?