Father Ramon stepped to the pulpit to deliver his Sunday morning homily. The familiar faces looked up at him with the familiar expressions: expectant, sleepy, thoughtful, judgmental, and blank. This Sunday, though, the old priest knew he would give them a lesson they would remember.
“You have noticed the sword on the high altar,” he began. “It has lain there for two weeks, now. I have told no one the story of how it came to be there, but I will tell you now.”
The sleepy and blank faces took on more life. The judgmental remained judgmental, as if daring the priest to be interesting.
“It was two Thursday evenings ago. I was alone here in the sanctuary, praying.
“I had just completed my prayers when the narthex door opened, followed by the door to the nave.” Father Ramon gestured to the back of the church where these doors were, and some heads involuntarily turned to look at them.
“A tall man came in. He had removed his hat, and I could see his dark hair, flecked with a few strands of gray. Still, he was a young man, perhaps in his 30s. He wore fine clothes under his dark cape. His boots were dusty from the road.
“The man strode up the central aisle to the chancel and genuflected deeply and with true devotion. I was standing there, and he gave me a single, polite nod. Then he drew his sword.”
A small gasp rose from the congregation.
“The man walked up to the high altar, and he lay his sword gently upon it. Then he prayed, and his simple, heartfelt prayer moved me so deeply that I can recall every word, which I will now repeat for you. The man prayed thusly:
“‘O God, you know my life, my deeds, and my heart. With this sword, I have killed many men. Some were your enemies and some, I confess, were merely mine. I have tired of taking men’s lives, and I surrender my sword to you. Grant me your peace. Amen.'”
An unusual hush had enveloped the congregation. None coughed, and no baby cried. The judgmental faces had become quizzical, which Father Ramon considered an improvement.
“The man came down from the high altar, nodded at me again, and went out into the night. I could barely hear his horse race away as the man rode into a new life.
“Earlier, we heard the words of Our Lord as he told Peter that one who lives by the sword shall also die by the sword. This man of whom I speak was surely familiar with Our Lord’s warning and finally heeded it.”
The priest drew breath to cap his homily with the phrases he had so carefully crafted over the course of two weeks. These final words would shed new light on the Gospel message and lives would be changed. This was what he had wanted to accomplish his entire priestly life.
The banging of the narthex door and then the nave door stopped him. His mouth gaped silently, and he could hardly believe what he was seeing.
All heads turned to watch as a well-dressed man with gray-flecked dark hair, a dark cape, and dusty boots marched purposefully up the aisle. He genuflected in a most perfunctory manner and bolted up to the high altar. He grabbed up the sword and angrily shot it home into the scabbard that hung from his belt. Then he charged back toward the aisle, making an even briefer obeisance before the Tabernacle than he had before. He began almost to run toward the exit, then halted and turned back toward the astonished Father Ramon.
“Forgive me, Padre,” he called out over the heads of the stunned worshippers. “I forgot a couple of enemies. I’ll bring the sword back later.”