Pasayten Pete

Chapter Twenty-Five: Father Ambrose

"This is entirely too much! This generosity exceeds our demands. I've provided for every needy family in the valley! Where can I possibly use all this money?"

Jim Brightman smiled to himself. Such a complaint could come only from Fr. Ambrose, the elderly priest who had devoted so many years of his life to his small parish.

"You know as well as I, this money comes from our friend in the mountains. He was led to it that it might serve those whom the spirits would aid. That means you, and we've had this argument before. So, please, be quiet and take the money. If you can't use it here, use it for your reservation work."

Jim handed the banded stack of bills to Fr. Ambrose, smiled at his old friend, and reached out to give the priest a gentle squeeze on his shoulder. He turned and left, smiling to himself. Each time he returned from making a delivery to his trusted precious metals dealer in Wenatchee and handed over the charity share to Fr. Ambrose, he faced this same protest: "It is too much!"

It was a great deal of money, but the needs were great. Mike Peterson and Jim Brightman knew of no other who could be so trusted to use the money wisely and well. No family in the valley would suffer; no child would go hungry; no deserving student would miss a chance at a good education. Fr. Ambrose and his "spy network" of elderly ladies knew every family and every need in the valley and well beyond.  The fact that the gold came directly from the mountain made sharing a fair and reasonable endeavor: the wealth of the land was meant for the needs of all who lived there. Fr. Ambrose was the Creator's humble servant who tended those needs.

Antonio Augustus Bernard was born in 1883 to an humble peasant family who owned two milk cows, a small band of sheep, a goat, and a two-room cottage high in the Swiss Alps, barely north of the Italian border. From the moment he was able to walk he went each day with the family flock high into the mountain pastures. When his hands grew larger and stronger, he milked the family cows, dawn and sunset. He walked down the steep hillside to the village school, and when he had learned his letters and words he begged his father for extra candles so he could read stories and scriptures beside the fireplace each evening.

Their village supported a small chapel, served by an elderly priest whose soul was exceeded in quality only by his rich and varied knowledge gained from many years of travel and study before he had settled into the remote Swiss village. When he looked into young Antonio's eyes, he saw reflected in that child his own thirst that had led him to acquire knowledge, and then to an accommodation with his spiritual nature, and then to steadfast devotion to service. He knew this child would go far along that path if he was shown the first few steps. From that first moment, the student and the mentor were never far apart.

Antonio grew tall and strong, a son of the mountains. His keen mind thrived on the many books and lectures his mentor provided. It was inevitable that he would go to seminary and into the priesthood.

He chose for himself the singular name of Ambrose and for the remainder of his life he would be known by that simple name. Despite his impressive physical and mental gifts, he preferred to remain humble in spirit and simple in taste. He lived frugally and worked in service wherever he was sent.

He was drawn to the shores of the new world, to the great expanse of the American continent. The motto of the welcoming statue in New York harbor appealed to him: "Send us your poor, your huddled masses." Europe had become too confining, too rigidly bound by prejudice and class. His first glimpse of the towering Rocky Mountains; his first breath of the rich, hot desert air of the vast southwestern desert, gave his spirit wings. Here was room to grow and a hugely isolated population to serve. The native Americans were a deeply spiritual people but were virtually imprisoned, economically and culturally, in their own land.

Fr. Ambrose begged his superiors to be allowed to live and serve in this great new land, and they eventually relented. He chose the poorest of missions, the most remote, forsaken, poverty-cursed missions in the entire region. He prayed the hardship would strengthen him in his resolve.

A greater need arose with the outbreak of the Great War. Armies marched across Europe and a veil of darkness descended on the world. Fr. Ambrose knew that the youth of his adopted country would encounter an evil such as they had never seen; they would be caught up in unimaginable carnage. He volunteered to become a chaplain in the armed forces and was sent with the first American Expeditionary Force to arrive in Europe.

It was there that he met Colonel James Brightman and Captain Michael Peterson. Lieutenant Antonio "Ambrose" Bernard ministered to the fighting men of their command. Two things emerged from that experience: a friendship forged in fire between the three men that would never perish; and a grief born of death and desolation that would sear the chaplain's heart. This wound would never completely heal.

Fr. Ambrose was thirty-seven years old when he went off to war, strong of body and absolutely convinced of the correctness of his faith. He was forty when he returned, sick in body and soul, his faith shredded, his spirit wounded. So many men had fallen. Some died in his arms. He tended their souls but dared not be their friends. He exhausted his tears weeping for the agony of his friends; too many were maimed, killed, sacrificed to the cruel, insatiable god of war.

It seemed that the very best among them were chosen to die: husbands and fathers, artists, teachers, craftsmen, students, all were taken by the bloody scythe. They rotted as cold, mutilated corpses in the bloodied mud of Satan's field. He beheld the carnage on both sides of the battle lines and raised his face to curse the very heavens where a heedless God sat with blind eyes. He felt himself impelled to curse Creation itself, but he knew this was wrong. The fault lay with man, not with his God. Fr. Ambrose nearly lost his own soul to grief, yet a dim spark of faith remained deep within.

As many had done before, Fr. Ambrose lost himself in travels to distant lands. He found solace in the ancient highlands of the far east. He devoted himself to studies of ancient philosophy and religion with Buddhist priests and Confucian scholars. He discovered that millennia of human travail and pain have created a certain insularity of existence: each soul is singular; each moves through life alone, making choices, questing, seeking acceptance and resolution. A soul might seek to place itself on a chosen path and move steadily toward an ultimate destination, or it might stray and lose itself in lust or anger or grief, ultimately to waste itself, alone and forlorn in the void of dissolution.

Fr. Ambrose moved as a solitary pilgrim throughout the greater breadth of the Asian wildernesses, serving, studying, fasting and praying. As his consciousness and wisdom expanded, his heart healed. His lungs, scarred by poison gas, regained much of their function; his body, wasted by trench diseases, thrived on the simple diet and rigorous discipline of the mountain retreats.

He returned to America where he found himself mysteriously drawn to a remote mountain valley in the high Cascade mountains of the Pacific northwest, a landscape that he recognized as similar to the alpine peaks and meadows of his birthplace. He had, in a sense, been led home.

There, a modest chapel served a small rural population. Eastward, over a high range of foothills, lay a neglected and impoverished reserve of native people. The chapel, the valley, and the natives challenged his resolve to settle and serve. Fr. Ambrose not only returned home, he rediscovered his life's work. He knew he would remain in the valley and serve its people for however many years remained to him.

He was stunned when he found his two lost friends, veterans of the war that nearly consumed them all. Never again would the three friends be separated.

Fr. Ambrose knew Mike Peterson's secret, his calling as a spiritual healer, a shaman. He knew of the native spiritual beliefs, their traditions and practices, during his years as a young priest in the southwestern deserts and pueblo highlands. He never condemned what he saw or learned. The gift of his broad education at the feet of his childhood mentor and his studies of Asian religions and philosophies precluded any narrowness of mind, any rigid dogma.

He was in direct conflict with the dogma and canons of his church, but in good conscience he could resolve the spiritual essence of all religions as different dialects of the same spiritual message. He never dared speak of such to his superiors, of course; he would instantly be accused of heresy and blasphemy, and would be condemned and defrocked. He wisely kept his own counsel. It was his wisdom and quality of spirit that had during his early years gained the trust of the native villages he visited, and it was quite rare that a chief or shaman would treat his gentle ministry with hostility.

Fr. Ambrose sought few converts for his church, but he brought huge numbers of his ministry closer to their Creator. In his mind, that was the ultimate purpose of his service. Under a sheltering blanket of stars when he laid his head down of an evening, he sometimes felt a whispering spirit descend upon him, touching his soul: You do well, my servant. We are pleased.

He was now into his seventy's and his body remained obedient to his spiritual drive. Fr. Ambrose was as detached from the church hierarchy as any priest could be. He acknowledged his bishop whose office was away at the eastern edge of the state, a long journey from the valley. He corresponded little, sending only the barest reports. He was left alone to serve his flock. The valley was small and unimportant, overshadowed by the far greater wealth and population of the prosperous "inland empire" of the eastern region.

Thus it was an uncomfortable moment when Fr. Ambrose received a visitor one weekday. An ominous black sedan pulled into the small lot beside the chapel. A thin, hawk-faced man dressed immaculately in a tailored suit entered and arrogantly, without invitation sat himself in a chair facing Fr. Ambrose's desk.

"Open this envelope. Read the description. Study the photographs and tell me what you know."

Fr. Ambrose's eyes betrayed nothing. He regarded this hostile stranger with extreme caution. He willed himself to be a blank mirror, reflecting nothing. He sensed this man to be anathema, evil, the spawn of self and avarice. He would treat this stranger as he would treat a venomous serpent, coiled and hissing, ready to strike without warning.

Fr. Ambrose studied the description and photographs. No trace of recognition or emotion crossed his face.

"I know nothing of this. I can tell you nothing."

"Nothing? Nothing at all? You have no knowledge of this person?" Vitelli hissed, staring at this old priest who ranked barely above the dust and poverty of this place.

"As I said, I know nothing of this, and I can tell you nothing. May I ask, why do you seek this person?"

"Yes, you may ask, and I will tell you that this man is an insult to our Mother Church. He practices witchcraft. He indulges himself in forbidden and destructive arts. He is believed to have fomented the death of a revered and holy priest. This man must be found and destroyed!"

Fr. Ambrose sat quite still and expressionless, until he asked:

"May I know where all this occurred? What leads you to such a remote place as this?"

M. Vitelli took his own long pause to regard this priest. He might be poor and of low station, but his reticent demeanor was not that of a simple fool. Vitelli decided to answer the question, but he spoke very carefully with this priest.

"There was an incident. It involved a family in Kansas City. They had long been members of the cathedral congregation. They made an accusation, unfounded of course. Afterwards, a revered figure of the great cathedral was found dead under distressing circumstances. The family has since fled the city.They have come here. We are troubled that this man in the photograph visited this family at their home in Kansas City shortly after the incident. We feel he may be connected with them here. We seek this man, to determine his true nature and motivations. Is that sufficient for you? I remind you again, we regard him as an affront, a threat, to our Mother Church."

Fr. Ambrose bowed his head slightly and returned the documents and photographs to their envelope. He slid them across the desk to M. Vitelli.

"Please take these with you. I will remember the description and the face. Will you be leaving us, or will you stay here for a few days?"

"I will stay if you think you can gain this information for me. I must insist that you confront this family, the Jacobs, with subtlety of course, and ascertain from them their knowledge, their involvement with this man. What was his business with them? What was the purpose of his visit to their home? Does he have contact with them here, or more importantly, does he live nearby, or even here in this valley? You must contact them immediately and use their obedience to you as their Priest. I assume they still attend Mass?"

Fr. Ambrose felt an icy chill seize his heart. This man was truly evil. He had no regard for decency or sacred trust, if he would so cruelly use these good people, devoted followers of their faith. In a flash he knew what he must do. Insight, inspiration, a divine suggestion, whatever it was, he knew. Direct action was necessary. This evil man would not be satisfied until he had achieved his ends. He must be stopped, neutralized, suddenly and decisively.

"Yes, I believe that is possible. They are good and trusting people; they have shown me their fullest confidence. They are, as you asked, faithful and dutiful followers. They will give me honest answers to whatever questions I ask. Will you stay for a few days, then?"

"Yes, yes, of course. I will make my own arrangements for lodgings and meals, and I will wait two days for word from you. Make it quick! This is a matter that demands swift resolution. It is a dire matter!"

Fr. Ambrose sat in the Jacobs home, sipping honeyed tea. Frank and Madeline sat with him at their kitchen table, wondering at the unexpected visit from their new priest who had so quickly become a valued and trusted advisor and a spiritual comfort to them. His face was worn and tired, seeming many years older than they'd last seen him.

"I bring caution, and I must advise you to avoid our mutual friends. They must neither contact nor visit you for the next few weeks. I do not wish to alarm you but there could be great hazard if we do not move very carefully and discreetly."

Frank regarded the priest's words and tried to suppress the angry thoughts boiling in his mind. The old man was clearly troubled, yet he sat composed and calm. He manifested no alarm or distress.

"Very well. Perhaps at some future time you will tell us what this hazard might be, but for now we will do as you ask. We will stay to ourselves. We will make no visits to our friends, nor will we invite them here until you tell us otherwise."

Madeline observed and listened. Through their troubles, she had developed trust in her husband and her daughter. She learned to keep her own quiet counsel. She spoke or intruded only when appropriate to the situation.

"Thank you, that will be quite helpful. Now, if I might borrow your telephone? Forgive me, for I must make a private call, and my office is not a safe place to speak aloud what I must say."

The phone rang three times before Violet Brightman reached the wall telephone in her kitchen:

"Oh, hello, Father Ambrose. What a pleasure! Oh ... Jim? You need to speak with Jim? Why surely, he's in the other room. Let me tell him to pick up the other phone. Yes, hold for just a moment. I'll go tell him."

Relocation < <> > Vitellis_End

Pasayten Pete © Graybyrd 2010

Last modification: 2016/8/25 at 19:26