On Keeping Jr. Apostle Notebooks

For On Keeping Jr. Apostle Notebooks, I borrowed heavily from the personalities of several classmates and the sometimes tortuous battle they waged in seeking holiness in a world that turned topsy-turvy in the turbulent late 1960s.  In those days a more ‘manly’ and heroic practice of the faith was observed, one which especially appealed to young males attracted to all that is noble.  Even mortification – that physical discipline of the flesh to enhance spiritual clarity – was practiced by the devout.  Each character in this story is  a composite of boys and men I was privileged to know in my own spiritual odyssey,  The power of free will to turn away from a deeply rooted and genuine relationship with God challenges the notions of ‘cheap grace’ and brings to mind Paul’s exhortation to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”.  The power of restoration made available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most efficacious source of graces available to the believer, as dramatically portrayed in the deathbed scene around which the story revolves. 

Fr. Gerry Smalley traced the sign of the cross on the forehead of the sleeping figure in the hospital bed and recalled his first meeting with its occupant nearly fifty years earlier. 
Gerry Smalley was the center of attention that morning in Sr. Veronica’s fifth grade class.  He was a nervous, pudgy, and congenitally awkward boy studying the floor tiles as he was introduced to his new classmates.  It was difficult moving to a new city in the middle of the school year.  Friendless, and not gifted at making friends, young Smalley prayed for rain so that he might avoid the painful indignity of outdoor recess and the unpredictable scrutiny that awaited the newcomer.  After Sr. Veronica’s introduction, he retreated to his assigned seat, enduring the stares of his new classmates, wondering if some yet unnamed bully was taking his measure.
It turned out to be a very pleasant and sunny spring day, but then, Gerry was accustomed to unanswered prayer.  Unmoved by his fervent intercession, hadn’t the Deity relocated his family anyway?  He skirted the perimeter of the playground, testing pebbles worthy of kicking, when out of the corner of his eye he saw a pack of boys advancing boldly.  He plunged his sweaty hands into his pockets and anticipated the worst.  Would his ample stomach invite the classic belly punch?  Or would one of the boys sneak behind him, crouch on all fours so that another would push him backwards?  He expected anything but was prepared for nothing.
There were five of them.  The apparent leader, the smallest, was sporting a disarming grin.  He extended a hand.
“Smalley, I’m Leone.”  His handshake was firm and warm. 
“Dang, Smalley, your hand’s all cold and wet!  I guess that means you’re healthy, y’know, like a dog’s nose.” 
Gerry turned white.  He didn’t like where this conversation was going.  Leone turned to the gaggle of grinning comrades behind him. 
“This is Greene, Guiterrez, Quincy, and Zelinski…in alphabetical order.”  Each nodded at the acknowledgement. 
“During recess, if the weather is nice, we play kickball.  You’re on my team today.  Any questions?”
Greatly relieved, Smalley could only reply, “Yeah, glad to meet ya.  Do you have first names?”
With that, Lenny Leone slapped him on the back and everyone guffawed in unison.  “Sure, we got first names, but only the Sister and our parents ever use ‘em.”
The ice was broken, melted, and fit for swimming.  It was the beginning of a very good day for Gerry Smalley.  It was the beginning of a very good year.
Fr. Gerry’s reverie was broken by a nervous cough from one of the family members seated around the bedside.  He arose and announced “I’ll check back tomorrow morning.  Please call me if Lenny’s condition changes.”
He was in the hallway preparing to leave when he felt a tug on his shirtsleeve.  It was one of Lenny’s granddaughters, Larita.  He had met her for the first time this afternoon.  She was seven years old.  The young girl was holding a soiled brown pocket notebook – the inexpensive spiral kind that he hadn’t seen in a long while.
Through missing front teeth she said, “Fr. Gerry, Grampapa told me he wanth you to have this.  He thaid you would know what it ith.” 
He patted her on the head as he took the notebook and slipped it into his shirt pocket.  “Why thank you Larita, thank you very much.”
The young girl blushed demurely and returned to the family vigil.
When he returned to the rectory, Fr. Gerry grabbed a can of beer from the refrigerator, kicked off his shoes and fell into his recliner.  He clicked on the TV and remoted to ESPN to catch the latest previews of the coming college football season.  During the first commercial, he examined the little brown notebook his grade school chum had bequeathed him.   He turned to the opening page which was neatly inked in the careful block lettering of young Lenny Leone.

Jr. Apostle Notebook of Lenny Leone
Spiritual Journal of a Soldier of Christ
April 16, 1960 –

Fr. Gerry smiled as the cold beer warmed his stomach.  “Now there’s a term I haven’t heard in years”, he said to himself, “’Soldier of Christ’”. 
Fr. Gerry did some quick mental math and nodded his head.  Of course, he realized, that would have been our Confirmation Day.  He continued reading the opening page.

“Death Rather Than Sin!”
(D. Savio)

The motto of St. Dominic Savio, a protégé of St. John Bosco.  Savio was a frail young man of heroic faith who died at the age of fifteen.  An obvious role model for the young Leone. 
The entries were all dated.  Most would be cryptic and innocuous to the casual observer.  Things like….missed night prayers…too tired after football game…no excuse…confession on Saturday.  The entries followed no logical pattern.  There were streaks of daily logs and then lapses of several days, even weeks.  One particular shorthand narrative arrested his attention.

Stood up for Smalley today.  DeNato beat the crap out of me.  Not sure how to handle this one.  St. Joseph, pray for me!

In his mind, Fr. Gerry began to reconstruct the context of the passage.  They were in the seventh grade, that painful period when some boys and girls began to blossom physically (and some didn’t).  Lenny started to show dark hair on his upper lip, so much so that he actually had to shave once a week.  Gerry, on the other hand, was still waiting for his voice to crack.  Bob DeNato was an eighth grader, older than most of his classmates (he was required to repeat 2nd grade) and a first class bully.  Now that there were no longer older students to keep him in check, he had become unbearable.  You just stayed out of his way.  This day was different.
In those Limbo moments before the school bell rang to make official the beginning of another day of classes, students would kill time in the parking lot.  The younger boys would be chasing each other, playing tag or shooting marbles.  The girls would be walking in small groups, presumably talking about boys.  In their identical blazers, they resembled small flocks of birds, busily chirping in those melodious voices that had begun to make Gerry tingle inside.  Gerry had just been dropped off with his younger siblings and immediately began searching for ‘the guys’. 
“Hey, fellas, look, it’s the Pillsbury Dough Boy!  Maybe if we ask real nice, he’ll give us his autograph.”
Gerry’s blood ran cold.  He turned around to discover he was being surrounded by Bob DeNato and his merry band of punks in training.  DeNato thrust a finger in Gerry’s soft abdomen.  “Ouch, that hurts!”
DeNato jabbed again.  “Hey, Dough Boy, you’re supposed to giggle like a girl when I do that.  Don’t you watch the commercials?”  And with that, Gerry was jabbed from every side by the ruthless pack of DeNato jackals.  He dropped his books and tears began to stream down his cheeks.
“DeNato!  Leave him alone.  Why don’t you goons pick on someone your own size?”
The pack spun around.  It was Leone and the rest of Gerry’s buddies.
DeNato feigned surprise and fear.  “Oh, Leone, I would, but I can’t find anyone able and willing to meet the challenge.  Are you volunteering, you little wuss?”
        Leone met his eyes without flinching.  “I’m not afraid of you, DeNato.  Just leave Smalley alone.  He’s done nothing to you.”
       DeNato took a step forward.  He was at least a head taller than Leone.  He shook his head dismissively and then his right hand came out of nowhere and landed with a loud SLAP on Lenny’s face.  You could see the red imprint of DeNato’s hand on Leone’s cheek.  He staggered back a step, fighting back tears of pain.  DeNato righted the unsteady boy before him with another ear-splitting slap from the left side.   Lenny balled up his fists to defend himself.  DeNato faked a left punch to his face and returned another slap to the side of his face with his right, immediately followed by another from the left.  The bully had a sick smile on his face as he savored the moment.  The school bell mercifully ended the confrontation.
        “Good timing, Leone.  Saved by the Bell!  Let’s go guys”, DeNato commanded his court, “the wusses here will want a little privacy while they change Leone’s wet diaper.”  They departed in raucous laughter, never looking back.

Fr. Gerry was deeply moved by this recollection.  Relieved, grateful, embarrassed – at the time he didn’t know what to say or do.  Nor did any of his other chums.  They simply walked to class in somber unity.
Lenny Leone was a popular kid.  Class president, head of the Knights of the Altar, not to mention the smartest kid in class.  Girls even said he was cute (behind his back).  Upon entering the classroom it was clear from the animated circle of girls surrounding Sr. Lucille that the play-by-play had been delivered to the authorities.  Sr. Lucille shot a stern look directly at Leone.
“Mr. Leone”, she intoned, “Step out in the hallway, please.”
The classroom was abuzz for interminable minutes while Greene pressed his ear to the doorway, trying to decipher the muted tones of the interrogation.  On signal from Greene, everyone scrambled to their seats to assume postures of innocence and ignorance.  It was hard to tell whose face was redder, Leone’s or Sr. Lucille’s.  One thing was apparent, Lenny did not incriminate DeNato.  That wasn’t his style.
Fr. Gerry smiled knowingly as he mused about the amazing denouement of this incident.  He read the remaining narrative for that day’s entry.

Mom and Dad got a call from Sr. Lucille.  Mom wants blood, but Dad took charge.  He said it’s time I learned how to deal with bullies.  He will teach me how to handle them.  I’ll have to trust him.  If DeNato had a dad, I wonder what they would be talking about right now?

Mr. Leone was a no-nonsense ex-Marine.  Rumor had it that he had killed enemy combatants with his bare hands in the Pacific theater.  Entries for the next several days were punctuated with a new obsession.

Practice, practice, practice…till you can do this in your sleep.  Timing is everything.

The Old Testament story of David and Goliath was an epic tale of faith and courage, but for Fr. Gerry Smalley’s money, the day Lenny Leone took down Bob DeNato ran a close second.  He could recall every detail vividly.
It was during recess.  Without a word, Lenny broke from their group and boldly approached DeNato and his cadre of delinquents.  From a distance of about fifteen feet he stopped and just stood there, staring at them.
“Well, if it isn’t Little Lenny Leone,” DeNato announced to the audience that was cautiously gathering.  “Little Lenny Leone”, he repeated, “that has kind of a ring to it, y’know.  Speaking of ringing, how’s that ringing in your ears doing this morning?  Maybe you need a refresher!” 
Bold chuckles from DeNato’s allies.  Wide-eyed silence from everyone else.  Lenny simply stared, and then, to everyone’s surprise, he bent down and slipped off his penny loafers, and without once taking his eyes off DeNato, placed them on the ground behind him.  His eyes still focused, he then removed his socks and stuffed them into the shoes.
Bewildered, DeNato queried “So….who are you today.  Tom or Huck?”  More guffaws from DeNato’s cohorts.  Leone stood defiantly.
“No, DeNato.  Those pointy dog-crap kickin’ shoes of yours are scarin’ my penny-loafers.  I’m just protecting them.  And speaking of loafers, how are you doing today?”  The whole while, Lenny gently rocked on his bare feet, impervious to the grit and gravel of the blacktop below.  Smalley noticed that the skin on the sides of his feet were scuffed and calloused.
A very non-Elvis sneer curled DeNato’s lip as he quickly advanced on Leone.  And then an amazing thing happened.  As soon as the larger boy was within striking distance, Lenny kicked up his left knee, raising himself a foot off the ground, and in the same motion, pivoted in mid air while his right leg extended like a shot, sending his heel sharply into DeNato’s solar plexus.  The larger boy exhaled with a painful groan, nearly doubling over.  Lenny’s retracted leg hit the ground and served as a spindle upon which he spun himself like a top.  His extended left leg snapped a heel against DeNato’s exposed face and sent him reeling to the ground. 
An audible gasp went up from all sides.  His eyes still focused on his adversary, Leone crouched and put his socks and shoes back on.
“DeNato, we only want you to leave us alone, OK?”  Lenny walked over and extended a hand to help the dazed boy to his feet.  Halfway up, DeNato cursed and wildly swung his fist toward his smaller opponent.  Lenny adeptly caught the fist in a cupped hand which then transformed into a grip on DeNato’s wrist.  Leone gave it a slight twist.  His left forearm slid to the vicinity of DeNato’s upturned elbow, and as Leone fell to one knee, bringing his attacker to the ground, it was apparent from the grimace on DeNato’s face that the pressure on his extended limb was producing excruciating pain.
“Promise you’ll leave us alone and I’ll stop”, Leone said calmly as he exerted yet more downward pressure.
“I promise, I promise, I promise” screamed DeNato.  Leone released his grip and let him collapse in relief and humiliation.  And then he just walked away.
Once out of earshot, Lenny’s incredulous buddies swarmed around him.  “Man, where did you learn those moves!  Can you teach us?”  He was trembling uncontrollably…the after effects of an overdose of rushing adrenaline.
“I can’t believe it.  It worked just the way my Dad said it would.  DeNato was just like the dummy hanging in the garage…even down to that cheap shot when I helped him up.  Incredible!”  And that was the last of it.  The ‘moves’ were never taught to the others, nor ever discussed from that day forward.  A small price to pay for Peace on Earth, at least that portion of earth occupied by the seventh graders at St. Damian’s!
Fr. Gerry flipped through some more pages.  Another entry dated in March of ’64.

Greene’s birthday adventure.  Disaster averted.  Strike a blow for Purity!

Fr. Gerry blushed.  That day had proved to be a turning point in his young life.   Single mothers were rare in those days.  Whether Jeff Greene’s mother was a widow or a divorcee, Jeff never mentioned and no one ever asked.  Mrs. Greene was a colorful and outspoken woman who successfully ran her own real estate agency.  The ‘adventure’ referred to Greene’s infamous 13th birthday outing.  
By pre-arrangement, Mrs. Greene was to pick the guys up on Saturday morning and treat them to a movie matinee and burgers afterward.  It was assumed the whole affair was to be chaperoned by Mrs. Greene.  To the boys’ surprise, the group was unceremoniously dropped off at a downtown theater. Mrs. Greene pressed a twenty dollar bill in Jeff’s hand.  “Have a good time boys.  Stay out of trouble.  I’ll pick you up at 4:30.”  And with that she sped off with Jeff’s older sister to spend the day exploring the new mall.
It was also assumed that Mrs. Greene would have chosen movie fare appropriate to the taste and mores of 12 and 13 year old boys.  Gerry remembers studying the tantalizing posters outside the theater lobby.  They depicted comic figures of buxom nurses in tight fitting uniforms being chased by leering doctors with exaggerated tongues hanging from their mouths.  The teasing graphics promised something new, unexpected, and dangerously exciting in the realm of adolescent cinematic experience.  Guiterrez nudged Smalley and whispered, “Do you think Mrs. Greene had any idea what was playing here?”  Smalley remembers replying, “Naw, I think this was the first theater on her route.  Looks pretty interesting though, if you know what I mean?”
In 1964 cash was all the identification required to enter such a theater on a Saturday afternoon.  Jeff ordered six tickets and took the change. 
“Hey guys, we have plenty of money left for popcorn and stuff…this is gonna be great!” 
With awkward eagerness, they followed Jeff into the darkened theater and took seats in the back row.  The first feature had already started and the boys, arms loaded with popcorn, drinks, and gigantic boxes of Jujubes settled in.  The mindless comedy was rife with raunchy double entendres which mostly went over the boys’ heads. 
The ample display of young female flesh, however, was both embarrassing and titillating.  Six sets of saucer sized eyes were glued to the screen. 
Smalley was seated next to Leone, who was fingering the scapular he had just pulled out from under his shirt.  “This thing is burnin’ me up, Smalley”, he whispered.  We shouldn’t be in this place.”  With that, he stood up and announced
“Guys, we’re better than this.  Let’s get outta here!”  And, five minutes into a movie that was less than half over, the group walked out.
Gerry recalled the grace with which Leone avoided any disparagement of Greene’s mother (though she certainly deserved it).  “Well guys, we have a couple of hours to explore the city.  Let’s do it!”
And explore they did.  They loitered in pawn shops until asked to leave, sampled the fare of every bakery in sight, and shared exaggerated war stories over cherry cokes at the five-and-dime soda fountain.  Mrs. Greene picked them up at 4:45 in front of the theater.
“How was the movie boys?  Did you have a good time?”  Mrs. Greene was met with a chorus of polite affirmation and that was the end of that.
It was a few days later, during recess, when a slight drizzle had driven the bored students to forego their usual activities and congregate in small groups, waiting for the inevitable bell that signaled the end of their respite from classes.  Leone was off by himself, deep in thought.  Smalley took advantage of this rare opportunity to engage his friend in private conversation. 
He approached casually and joined Lenny in leaning against the cool brick of the wall the boy appeared to be supporting.  “Leone, y’know….Saturday….at the movie theater?”
Leone glanced over, meeting his eyes.  “Yeah, that was something else, huh?”
“Y’know Leone, I really wanted to stay and watch that movie.  I woulda too, if you hadn’t led us out.  I guess I want to thank you…y’know, for doing the right thing.”
Lenny tilted his head, as if he were seeing Gerry for the first time.  “Yeah, I wanted to stay too.”  He then glanced away, a dreamy look on his face.  “Blessed are the pure of heart…for they shall see God.  Yeah, Smalley, I wanted to see that movie too, but I decided I wanted to see God more, if you know what I mean?”
Gerry nodded as that thought sunk in.  Their eyes locked for a moment and in a very calm and measured voice, Lenny said “Smalley, I figure it’s about 10 minutes before recess ends.  Wanna make a visit?”
Gerry smiled.  “Yeah, sure, let’s do it.”
The two boys entered the falling mist, oblivious to the stares and mumbled speculation from observing classmates, and ambled toward the church. 
Sensing a new and invisible bond, Gerry violated the unspoken code of adolescent male protocol and asked a very personal question.  “Leone, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Without hesitation, Leone punched him on the shoulder.  “Pleasing to God, Smalley…pleasing to God.  But that’s our little secret, OK?”
Upon entering the side door they shook off the moisture that had accumulated on their windbreakers and dipped their hands in the holy water, making the sign of the cross.  The church was cold, dark, and empty.  The two boys knelt in the front pew and directed their attention to the Divine Presence that resided in the Tabernacle next to the red candle-lit vigil lamp.
Smalley observed his comrade as he gazed at the tabernacle, lost in quiet contemplation, and envied the shameless passion with which Lenny Leone communed with His Lord.  He recalled one Saturday the guys spent roaming the countryside on their bikes.  Exploring woods, racing up and down hills, resting on a grassy hillside, tracing pictures in the clouds.  Leone had maneuvered the itinerary so that the day ended in the Church parking lot, around the time weekly Confession was beginning. 
“Hey guys, what do you say?  We’re here, you know we need it, let’s go to Confession.” 
Against reluctant protest, Leone gently badgered them in.  And upon leaving the church he sported his Cheshire Cat grin.  “C’mon, guys, admit it.  You feel a whole lot better now, don’t you?”
It was at that moment, Gerry remembered fondly, that he felt the call to become a priest.  He knew that more than anything else he desired to not only discover the spiritual intimacy that was so evident in his young friend, but to inspire it, nurture it, and sustain it in others.  He wondered if he might not have been in the presence of a budding saint and entertained possible holy card depictions of the eighth grader kneeling beside him.
Ah, the innocence and romance of childhood idealism! thought Fr. Gerry.  Like most things in the adult world, reality was much more mundane and ‘inspirationally challenged’ than he could ever have imagined.  Though there were moments in his vocation that bordered on ecstasy, they were rare and brief – the priesthood was a consuming occupation, fraught with frustration, seeming futility, and soul-searching self-evaluation.  Now, in the twilight of his vocation, he could dispassionately weigh his successes and failures and realize that after all was said and done, he had become ‘pleasing to God.’
And now, after nearly 50 years, he stood at the final fork of his temporal crossroad with Lenny Leone.  The turbulent 60s and 70s had not been kind to his friend.  Just as the biblical David he so resembled, Leone’s Goliath days were overshadowed by nights with Bathsheba.  It was during his junior year at seminary prep that he heard the news that Lenny had dropped out of school to marry his pregnant girlfriend.  Ever faithful to doing the ‘honorable’ thing, Lenny’s unbridled passion had prematurely relegated him to an early dose of adult responsibility.  A succession of modestly paying retail jobs allowed him to care for a young family as he was left behind professionally by peers of lesser ability.  Gerry grieved for his friend at the time.  He looked for a clue in the pages of the notebook.  As he inventoried the post-grade school entries he noticed they were increasingly punctuated with teenage angst and confusion as Leone’s passions came to terms with a world that bullied his spirit with unexpected revelations of global injustice and rampant hypocrisy.  The inequities that surfaced in the Civil Rights struggle and then the Viet Nam conflict challenged the innocence of an entire generation. 
By Fr. Gerry’s calculation, the final entry was probably penned sometime in the middle of Lenny’s sophomore year.

Where are you Lord?  Where have you gone?  I have become Hebrews 11:6!

Fr. Gerry picked up the well-worn New Testament sitting on the table beside his easy chair to look up the reference.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

He retroactively ached for the troubled soul behind this admission.  As Lenny was undergoing the beginning of his 40 years in the wilderness, Gerry Smalley was acquiring the cozy faith that was suddenly eluding his friend.  Not that the seminary culture was immune from the corrosive waves roiling from a generation in rebellion.  It was during his freshman year of college in the Seminary that he first confronted the evil that had invaded even the womb of his clerical formation.  The progressive Spiritual Director responsible for their development had initiated a radical voluntary activity to which all of the 1st year seminarians were encouraged to attend.  Each Friday evening after dinner and before vespers, hard-core pornographic movies were shown in the dorm study. 
“You will be required to deal with every type of perversion and sexual experimentation in the confessional”, it was explained.  “These materials will help to de-sensitize you and to spare you from shock and judgmentalism.”
Young and impressionable, Gerry would have bought that line to ease his conscience, had it not been for the echo in his head Guys, we’re better than this.  And while he lacked the fortitude to imitate the call to virtue that he remembered so vividly, Lenny’s shadow kindled a different expression of courage.  He retreated to the chapel where meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries before the Blessed Sacrament proved to be a more suitable preparation for the rigors of the confessional. 
He remembered another time when he had walked into St. Damian’s to make his own private visit.  There was Leone, kneeling on the hard floor before the Altar, his arms outstretched, a rosary dangling from his right hand.  Fascinated, Gerry observed for several minutes as Lenny struggled to maintain the uncomfortable posture.  He quietly snuck out to avoid disrupting this very private moment.  A ‘Palanka rosary’ was the devotion he had witnessed, as he later learned.  In remembrance of the Passion of Jesus on the Cross, the devotee contemplated the Sorrowful mysteries and so joined in the Lord’s passion, imitating the posture of crucifixion.  This memory inspired Gerry’s Friday evening devotion as he prayed for his fellow seminarians…and his friend from long ago.
At the occasional grade school reunions (which Leone never once attended) Gerry would hear apocryphal stories of various ‘Leone sightings’.  He would sometimes be observed lurking in the shadows in the back of church at Sunday Mass, but rarely seen taking Communion.  Some mentioned seeing him at soccer games and other parental gatherings, but he always avoided conversation. 
However, Gerry the seminarian and later Fr. Gerry the priest, on numerous occasions drew wisdom, guidance, and inspiration from the spunky spiritual warrior he was privileged to know in that lost era of innocence.  Fr. Gerry now wondered, hoped, that perhaps his prayers had in some way sustained Lenny Leone through that long dark night of his soul.  He whispered a prayer of thanksgiving that his old friend had called on him to seek reconciliation and the Church’s Anointing of the Sick.
Fr. Gerry replayed that final conversation, before Lenny had drifted into unconsciousness earlier in the evening. 
“Gerry, all those Hail Marys…all that ‘Now and at the Hour of my death’…must have said thousands of ‘em.  Most of ‘em when I was a kid.  You think it amounts to anything?”
“Yeah, Lenny, I think it amounts to a lot.  You were very devoted to Our Blessed Mother. You once told me you would die on a Marian Feast day.  You recall that?”
“Sure, sure.  I was a crazy kid.  I said a lot of things.  A real dreamer.” 
Fr. Gerry wasn’t sure if it was the pain medication or the memory of special moments long ago that caused tears to well up in Lenny’s sallow eyes.  By his recollection, he had never seen Leone cry.  Fr. Gerry felt the cool and palsied hand of his friend grip his arm.  His eyes bore a glint of the old mischief as he struggled to speak in a hoarse whisper.
“Gerry, y’know, I coulda been a contender!”
Fr. Gerry smiled broadly.  It was at one of their many sleepovers that the guys had stayed up all night, eating cold pizza and watching even older movies on the 24 hour movie channel.  The classic “On the Waterfront” played between cheesy ads for defense lawyers and truck driving academies.  Lenny had been deeply moved by Brando’s portrayal of a washed up prize fighter who traded a shot at the championship for the quick profit of throwing the big fights.  He delighted in cracking them up on innumerable occasions with his near perfect mimic of the famous line “I could have been a contender.  I could have had some class.  I could have been somebody.  Instead of a bum!”
But Leone was not smiling back.  There was no trace of Brando in the utterance.  None was intended.  His eyes were suddenly sharp and piercing. “No, Gerry, I really mean it.  I could have done things with my life…for Him...” He pointed a shaky finger at the crucifix on the opposing wall.  “Maybe this cancer is a gift.  Y’know, a last opportunity to make up for lost time…a chance to spend some quality time on the cross.”
Fr. Gerry breathed a prayer to the Holy Spirit… for wisdom, guidance, the right words to say. 
“Lenny, remember the passage about the Laborers in the Vineyard?  In that parable Jesus was describing the call to advance the kingdom of God.  The task was to harvest souls.   Some people went out in the first hour, some in the middle of the day, some not till the very end.  Lenny, in that earliest hour, you were the first one in line.  You did a bang up job tilling soil and planting seeds.    You knocked yourself out early, while a lot of us were still sleeping, so to speak.  I probably owe my vocation to that early labor, but my actual response was closer to midday, if you know what I mean.  I guess you could say I took over where you left off.   You planted a lot of seeds; I got to see them grow.  Hey pal, for both of us, it’s getting close to that last hour, and yet here we are, laboring together again.  You did good, Lenny.  Let’s forget about those lost hours, OK?  You showed up…first and last hour.  I think there’s still a pay stub waiting for you.”
“Thanks, Gerry.  You a good man.  If I make it, I’ll put in a good word for you, “he winked.  “Thanks.  Thanks for everything.”
The years melted away from Leone’s face, and for a moment he was the smooth skinned young apostle, full of faith and fire.  A wide grin lit his face. Then he closed his eyes and drifted into unconsciousness.
It was shortly after midnight when Fr. Gerry received the call that Leonard Leone had just passed away in his sleep.
 Overwhelmed with conflicting emotions of grief and serenity, the priest was unable to go back to sleep.  He picked up his breviary to prepare for the coming day.   He suddenly realized that he had lost touch with the calendar in the past 48 hours.  It was officially August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, a great day to enter heaven.  Filled with joy, wonder and thanksgiving, Fr. Gerry knelt, picked up the rosary from his bedside and stretching out his arms to form a cross, he began contemplating the Glorious Mysteries.