In the words of the old cliché this was the first day of the rest of Sal’s life and his anxiety and anticipation were beyond measure. His mother had made a marvelous breakfast, but his gastric juices overwhelmed the assorted delicacies and he merely feigned enjoyment. Why is it that ever new adventure provokes such harrowing vistas? After breakfast he packed his suitcase, and put on his Roman collar. It was a rather warm day in June, but had not was not coupled with the east coast humidity that was to follow in the coming months.
Kissing his parents he left 202 Delaware Avenue ,and as he drove to the end of the street a few of the neighbors had assembled at the corner to wave goodbye. He returned the waves and headed toward the New Jersey Turnpike. Many times on a Saturday he had taken this road as the first part of his ride to the Shore but this was different. The destination here was not a rowdy weekend with his friends; this was his first parish assignment .The seminary was a stage ,but this now was the main performance only unlike the past five years there was no script.
The traffic was growing and Sal knew that it would get much heavier once he entered the Garden State Parkway which was the main thoroughfare leading to the shore.No sooner had he exited the Turnpike and entered the Parkway when the traffic came to a screeching halt. For the observable horizon all Sal could see was a chorus line of brake lights.
Looking into his rear view mirror he could see a police car speeding on the shoulder. As the car whizzed by him on the shoulder it suddenly came to a halt and at breakneck speed the patrol car backed up. When it was parallel with Sal’s car the officer rolled down his window and said”follow me Father there is an accident a mike from here. Sal turned his car to the shoulder and tried to keep up with the patrol car but he was not used to going ninety. When they arrived at the accident scene both cars had substantial damage but there were no serious l injuries. Sal with holy oils in his hands removed his stole from his neck and returned to his car. The officer came by and said”Thanks Father glad it was a false alarm .As soon as the tow truck clears the road you can be on your way”Fifteen minutes later Sal was again moving rather quickly despite the traffic and was aware that he was only three exits away from Westbury. Again, as before the traffic came to a dead halt. As he glanced into the rear view mirror a patrol car was speeding on the shoulder. This time there would be no need to back up because apparently the officer was searching for the priest again.
Smiling the officer waved Sal with a motion that indicated he should follow. Steeling his nerve Sal pulled on to the shoulder and with peddle to the meddle stayed on the officer’s tail. Arriving at a three car fender bender Sal realized there would be no last rites given but was now shaken by the realization that if this kept up he would be late for his first day in the parish, Exiting his car he walked over to officer and said “officer it is not that I don’t enjoy playing bumper tag with you but I am on my way to my first parish assignment and if this keeps up I will be late.” The officer introduced himself and said” I am officer Darcy McGill and I am afraid you have a problem Father.” He took out his pad that contained forms for traffic tickets “Let’’s see Father first I have you for speeding ,riding on the shoulder and tail getting a State Police patrol car. I think there are enough points for you to lose your driver’s license. Only kidding Father get back in your car and I will hold the traffic for a few minutes to give you a head start. By the way what’s your name because we are always looking for chaplains that can really drive fast.”
Sal sped away and was relieved once he saw the sign for Wewstbury.Getting off the exit he drove three miles up South Street and made a left onto First Street. Arriving at 315 First Street he presumed that the building next to the Church was the rectory. Taking two long breaths he opened the trunk and suitcase in hand climbed the four steps and rang the bell. A middle aged woman with what he perceived to be a German accent answered the door.” Good afternoon I am Father La Grecca.””Yes Father we were expecting you, please come in. It was bright and sunny outside but Sal felt like he was entering the catacombs because there was almost no light in the hallway. “You can put your suitcase down here Father. She then led him to the end of the hallway, and entered what appeared to be an office.” Monsignor Father La Grecca is here.”At the end of the room in a leather chair smoking a cigar sat the pastor Msgr Henty Masterson.He barely grunted at the news that his new curate was present, and Sal thought he looked like Ebineezer Scrooge. Also in the room were two other clerics. The older one Father John Flannery extended his hand and said “welcome to Holy Trinity”. The younger priest Father Gene McCoy warmly shook Sal’s hand, and offered “when you are ready I will show you to your room. The Pastor continued to smoke his cigar and watched Wheel of Fortune while Sal stood twiddling his thumbs. Gene indicated that there would be no breakthrough conversations on the horizon and said “let’s go upstairs to your room.”Upstairs was a fancy word for the attic where Sal would be housed Gene was most helpful in conveying some of the parish ground rules, and advised Sal that they would leave to hear confessions in an hour. Sal unpacked and was undaunted by his initial entry into parish life.
At five to three Gene McCoy called up from the hallway and said “time to go Sal. Together they walked to the Church which was only 100 feet away from the rectory. The church was dimly lit and Gene said”get used to it .The Lord may have said “let there be light but our pastor never heard him. Leaving a light on is more sinful than murder in Holy Trinity. Your confessional is the one at the front on the left. As Sal entered there were six or seven persons waiting to have their confessions heard. Seated in the confessional he slid the panel open and almost immediately heard an older male voice say.”Bless me Father for I have sinned.”When the penitent had finished Sal gushed forth a tidal wave of thoughts that he had stored waiting for this very moment. He went on for a few minutes with spiritual gems that could transform this man’s life .When he finished the voice on the other side of the screen said”Could you repeat that Father I am very hard of hearing.”