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"It's where we've ended."

This morning I finished reading William Trevor's story collection The Hill Bachelors, yet another marvelous work from one of my very favorite authors. Trevor's prose is as gorgeous, lyrical and understated as ever. There are too many stunningly beautiful passages to count, but one passage, from the story "Of the Cloth", really grabbed me.

The story involves Grattan, the rector of a dying Protestant congregation in rural Ireland whose wealthy benefactors have all returned to England, leaving the rectory in slow decay. After the funeral of his Catholic handyman, Grattan is visited by one of the priests of the local parish, which is thriving, partly at the rectory's expense. Grattan is understandably envious of the parish's success, but the priest, Father Leahy, hints that despite all outward appearances the Catholic Church is itself in steady decline. As the priest enters the room, Grattan hurriedly covers up a copy of the Irish Times, which carried a photograph of a grinning priest who had just been convicted of child molestation.

"Time was, a priest in Ireland wouldn't read the Irish Times. Father McPartlan remarks on that. But we take it in now."

"I thought maybe that picture--"

"There's more to it all than what that picture says."

Something about the quiet tone of the voice bewildered Grattan. And there were initimations beneath the tone that startled him. Father Leahy said:

"It's where we've ended."

So softly was that spoken, Grattan hardly heard it, and then it was repeated, increasing his bewilderment. Why did it seem he was being told that the confidence the priests possessed was a surface that lingered beyond its day? Why, listening, did he receive that intimation? Why did it seem he was being told there was an illusion, somewhere, in the solemn voices, hands raised in blessing, the holy water, the cross made in the air? At Ennismolach, long ago, there had been the traps and the side-cars and the dog-carts lined up along the Sunday verges, as the cars now lined up now outside the Church of the Holy Assumption. The same sense of nourishment there'd been, the safe foundation on a rock that could not shatter. Why did it seem he was being reminded of that past?

"But surely," he began to say, and changed his mind, leaving the two words uselessly on their own.

October 2, 2007 in Books | Permalink

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