Beth was sad at school, sitting on the bench at break, mourning the loss of her friend, Isabella, and looking longingly at classmates chatting with their friends and walking with each other. It was a warm, sunny day, with a few clouds whisping by. Then a smiling girl walked towards her, saying apparently to the air, “Hello everybody, my name is Josephine, Jo, for short.” Then she paused six feet away from Beth, not looking towards her. “I am a very nice person”, she continued, “and I am going to stand here until someone talks to me, because, I have been in this school for three whole days, and not one has talked to me! Hello, hello, somebody, I am really fun to be around. Never fear, Jo is here!”
Beth felt her longing was heard, though she had a pang: was this girl a little dingy? Yet Beth was intrigued. How brave, she thought. And the school could be snobbish. She got up and moved cautiously towards the girl. “Hello”, Beth said softly. Jo continued to gaze round. Beth moved closer and said a little louder, “Hello”. Jo gazed up and down at her and then said, in slightly disapproving tone, “Finally, someone in this school talks to me!” Beth hesitated, a pang of doubt halting her. Then Jo flashed a brilliant smile towards Beth. Beth ventured, “My name is Beth”. Jo said, “So, what class do you have next?” “English”. “So do I!” So, Beth and Jo walked to the class they found they had together.
Jo and Beth became great companions. They did much together, riding their bicycles to the beach, swimming in the ocean and wading in the creek, fishing from the pier, taking a rubber raft on the creek, and visiting each other in each other’s homes. They had so much fun. They even had adventures that were exciting, if not quite proper. And she was Catholic! Imagine Beth’s excitement when her parents allowed her to attend Mass with her friend! What a disappointment, though! Everything was like another friend’s American Lutheran church! They sang hymns throughout, the “presider” faced the congregation to pray, people whispered loudly in church, no one hardly kneeled, and there was a piano banging out popular tunes! The “homily” was half jokes and the “altar servers” squirmed and looked bored. The “presider” seemed clownish with his plate sized host! “Be a humanist and love all religions” rasped the “presider”. Well, Beth’s parents seemed disappointed when Beth informed them that she would[EH1] not go back there. “Well, why would I”, thought Beth. “My Danish Lutheran church has more reverence than this new thing! I wish we went more!” Maybe Gruntvig was right! “First be human, then Christian!” The new Catholic group seemed slightly wild animal, to Beth!
One time, Jo & Beth went into a tunnel where the creek went for a long while, carrying flashlights, though they knew that their parents disapproved of anything dangerous. Another time they walked towards a train tunnel. Jo wanted to go through it, but Beth had been so cautioned by her model railroading oldest brother to never do that, so she refused. Jo frightened her by heading straight for the tunnel, saying harsh words of “prissy!” and “coward!” Beth quickly put her ear to the steel rail and heard a rumble and felt the vibration. “No, Jo, a train is coming! Put your ear to the track if you do not believe me!” Jo looked back disdainfully, then, seeing real fear on Beth’s face, reconsidered, and put her ear to the track. Suddenly, Jo thrust up and yelled, “Well what are you waiting for?” Both girls ran for the steep bank and clawed up, clutching grass and branches, just making the top of the bank, when a huge engine, black and loud like a tornado, whooshed underneath. The girls lay still for a while, until they stopped shaking. Then Jo started laughing. Beth started laughing, too, though a little uncomfortably. Then they walked home.
Jo had a wonderful voice. Beth was so proud of her friend, singing a solo in the school concert, which she and her parents attended one evening close to summertime. She had such an unusual, young, melodious yet minor key voice. Jo was invited to join the school’s elite, A Capella Choir. It was a very conservative school, so mostly classical compositions were sung.
A week or so later, Beth wondered why her friend seemed difficult to find during breaks. It was close to summer vacation, and she wanted to plan adventures with her friend and invite her to visit with her to meet her family. Finally, Beth saw Jo, on the other side of the quad, not where they usually sat. Beth went up to her and complimented her on her voice and performance. Jo looked very uncomfortable, and looked away. Beth was completely startled. “I have to go!” Jo snapped. Then she was all brilliant smiles when members of the elite A Capella Choir walked near. Jo started talking to them, and walked a ways with them. Beth watched. They left Jo behind. But Jo persisted in her pursuit of new friends, with Beth watching, over the next few days.
Finally, Jo came over to where Beth was sitting, and flippantly said, “Hi.” Beth said “Hi”. Maybe she had her friend back. Jo had a pomegranate she was peeling and eating. Then they left for class. Beth went to her art class and pulled out her drawing of fruit and a cow skull on a drape, which her teacher had arranged. She began to finish the skull and started to fill in the red lines of her beginning drawing of a pomegranate on the drape. She looked at the still life, to draw from the real pomegranate. She blinked, and then blinked again. She went up to her teacher and asked, “Did you take away the pomegranate for some reason? I thought it was a nice accent.” The teacher looked stern and said, “Someone stole it.” Beth did not say anything. But she felt sick to her stomach. It was clear, now, that her fun friend was a social climber, leaving friends for more “elite” ones. Beth was not like that. She tended to collect friends, not deserting them simply because she had moved on to better places. After all, people superior to her would still associate with her and tolerate her imperfections, and it helped Beth to improve, Beth reflected, thinking of Isabella. So why should she desert friends she had grown beyond? She wished their parents had not stopped their friendship. She wondered what Isabella thought. Still, Jo could have had gotten the pomegranate from her own home.
Beth found Jo on a bench at break and sat down beside her. “Jo, do you mind telling me where you got that pomegranate from? You usually buy your lunch.” Jo gave her a superior look and” smirked, “That stupid art teacher did not even see me take it!” “How did you manage that?” Beth played her along, suddenly realizing Jo thought that Beth would be a co-conspirator. “Just at the end of school yesterday, when everyone had left and he was not in the room. There was water running. He must have been in the back room with the sink, cleaning up. I was quick.” Beth just looked down, hiding her reaction. Then Jo got up, and walked away with Miss A Capella. Jo got up and went into the art room. She told her art teacher. The pomegranate was gone. No one could prove anything. And Jo was an expert at affecting an innocent look. But the teacher thanked Beth warmly.
Beth was glad she had her A-student study friend for a companion. She was sorry she had not associated with her more throughout the year, for she was an honest girl, who talked of one day becoming a Christian missionary. But summer was almost here.
* * *
Beth was sitting by the creek, noticing shadows of pollywog tails wiggling little gold and tan marble bodies hither and dither. It was pleasant sitting on the cool green grass, in the breeze, a healing balm to her wounded feelings.
Then she noticed a graceful figure in the distance, moving towards her, dress flowing in the breeze, her hands delicately gliding soft willow branches aside, then into the clear path. It was Isabella! “Hola, mi amiga. I have not seen you all year.” Beth gasped, astonished. Isabella smiled softly. “May I sit down?” Beth said nothing, simply moving aside for Isabella to sit on the grass she had pressed down. “I have been very busy. I know our parents have been angry with you, however, no one ever meant for it to be forever.” Beth’s eyes filled with tears. Isabella continued. “A lot has happened and I have had to help my family a lot. I am sorry I did not come sooner”. “Oh Isabella! I have been a fool!” blurted out Beth. I was so lonely without you and I thought I had found such a fun friend, and she was, but she turned out to just step on me to find ‘better’ friends and she is not even honest!”
“Well, let us pray for her right now” said Isabella. She drew out a lovely stone rosary of rose quartz, and began to pray softly. Beth listened and started to follow a little…”full of Grace, blessed art thou…” Isabella said a decade. Then she gently placed the rosary in its velvet purse and sat back with both hands on the grass, a little behind her. “What a lovely day! It is so nice to rest a little.”
Beth asked, after a silent communion, “You said you have been very busy.” “Come, I shall show you.” Isabella took Beth’s hand and they walked hand in hand, rather skipping, to Isabella’s home. Beth held back a little. Isabella giggled slightly, saying, “My parents are not home right now, but even if they were, they would welcome you.” Reassured, Beth walked into Isabella’s home and living room. What a surprise! Why, it looked nothing like the spacious, elegant, Mexican styled room of before! The tasteful Catholic figurines and pictures were still in place, but the room was crammed with what at first appeared to be knick-knacks, and the floor looked like a cross between a fabric store and a used book shop!
After Beth’s eyes adjusted to the shadowed light from the brightness of outside, she saw that the room was lined with near life-sized statues of Jesus and Mary, like her vision, and Saints! There must have been eight of them! The shelves had figurines of saints. The “fabric” were beautiful brocades with intricate embroidery in gold, silver, sapphire, ruby and emerald colors, which Isabella called vestments. The books were black leather covered Missals and hymnals, and some very elaborate books one would see on an Altar. There were beautiful paintings of saints, large and small, and a Last Supper tapestry. They were all traditional and all luminously beautiful.
Beth’s face asked the question. “We were thrown out of the Novus Ordo church which once allowed us to have our priest say the Tridentine Mass, which is according to the in perpetuity Council of Trent, which protected the Mass from change, though it allowed the various cultures of a dozen Eastern Catholic Rites, which few people know. (Beth was a little dizzy from this elaborate sentence! But she got the gist of it.) All of us, my parents and my brothers, sisters, cousins and friends, found all these in trash cans, thrift stores and tossed in the basement of the church. Some are a little damaged. A friend is restoring those we can save. They locked the church on us, so we could not get our Mass things. It is a miracle that we have found so many. Some are from other churches which have also excluded our Mass.
“What will you do?” inquired Beth. “We are praying for a priest to be sent to us and we are trying to find a hall to rent for Mass. Then we will carry some of our sacred things and set up for Mass. We are praying we can buy or build a chapel for Mass.” Beth hoped they would find a place and a real priest. She prayed they would! For she did not want that beautiful, sacred, solemn, holy experience to end! “How can you go on, though, if all the leaders are against you?” “Oh”, said Isabella, “we have a leader, an Archbishop Lefebvre, who has passed on, but he is a saint and his presence helps guide us. We have two Bishop’s, now, that are loyal to his memory, and saying the true Mass. We pray for others not so fortunate, and like one of the Bishop’s had said, try not to be prideful, for ‘God gives Grace to everyone in different measure and we never know who will come through to the end.’ So we never condemn them for that is up to God. We pray for them and are very clear about their inferiority to the true Catholic Faith. We are completely honest about it and I am sorry so many are offended by the truth. But some, by their fidelity to what they do have of Grace, will go to heaven, when some of us by our laziness or inattention, might not!” Beth noticed that Isabella never talked down to her, even if she had to strive to understand her more learned words.
“Well, enough of being so serious! Come and see my new puppy! She is a love!”
Moments later, Beth was overwhelmed with a delightful, wiggly warm and so soft puppy, snuggling in her lap as she sat on the grassy lawn in front of the house. It ran round her, and tumbled somersaults over her legs and sniffed her arms and seemed delighted with life. Soon both girls were giggling their troubles away.
Photo #1 Beth #2 Our Lady thrown away. #3 Our Lady restored. Photo #4 The slightly Wild Thing Novus Ordo Mass #5 Beth’s Danish Lutheran Church #6 The warm puppy.