Thursday, April 10, 2014

Confirmed Apple Thieves Must Help Each Other

Steve Brown in his book, A Scandalous Freedom repeats a story from Calvin Miller’s book called "An Owner’s Manual for an Unfinished Soul."

Every day on his way to hear morning confessions, a certain priest stopped and stole an apple from the orchard that he passed.  On the orchard wall was a sign that clearly said, “Keep Out, No Pilfering!”  Nonetheless, the priest would steal the fruit and eat it on the way to serve his people.  He always finished the apple just as he entered the confessional throwing the apple core on his side of the curtain.

A young girl named Cora also stopped every morning on her way to confession to steal an apple.  Entering the confessional, she would finish the apple and throw the core on her side of the curtain.

 “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” she would say.
 “How long has it been, my child, since your last confession?”
 “Twenty-four hours.”
 “And is your sin the same today as usual?”
 “It is, Father.  I am still stealing apples on the way to confession.”
 “Te absolvo.  Go, and try to keep away from those apples!”
 “I’ll try, Father, I’ll try.  But they are so good, and I am so weak.”

Every day the ritual was repeated.  Every twenty-four hours the priest stole another, and so did Cora. 

Finally the priest grew exasperated with Cora.  “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned” …: a very ordinary confession on an ordinary morning.
“Today, Cora, I refuse to forgive you.  You keep on stealing, and I’m tired of forgiving you, for we both know you will do it again.  You’ll never change, you wretched girl.  Henceforth, I do not forgive you.”
“Please, Father.  I am so very sorry.”
“No.  Before the cider dries upon your chin, you will have stolen once again.  I counted     365 decaying cores on your side of the confessional.  You are too wicked and apple-ridden to ever receive my forgiveness!”
The girl wept her way from the confessional.  For weeks her guilt grew.  She finally quit coming to confession.
Autumn came.  Winter approached. The fields around the church turned brown.  The swans left the pond.  The early daylight was heavy with frost.  The apples in the orchard were very few and mostly in the top of the trees.  The wretched girl, still unable to leave her addiction, shinnied up the highest frost-tinged boughs.  She was about to pick an apple when she noticed some movements in the branches across from her.  Then she noticed a black cassock.

“Father, what are you doing here?” asked Cora.
“Praying,” said the priest.
“In an apple tree?” asked the girl.
“Yes, my dear to be closer to heaven.”
“Oh, that I came here to pray … I came only to steal apples.”
“Wretch!” screamed the priest.

At that very instant the limb on which he was supported broke, and the priest plummeted to the ground.  Cora scrambled down and ran to see if the priest was dead.

“Girl, I am dying.  You must give me last rites.”
“No, Father.  I am impure, filled with harried and vile and unforgiven apple thieveries.  I am too wicked to grant you the absolution that you need.  May God have mercy on you, Father.”

The priest died and went to Hades and burned in flaming cider for a thousand years—but of course Cora never knew.

A new priest came in a few weeks, and Cora started back to church.  Once again she went to confession.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned I stole an apple this morning on the way to church.”
“You, too?” said the priest.  “Tomorrow morning let’s both steal three, and we shall make a pie together.  Who knows but that our Father in heaven shall provide the cinnamon.”

Even honest thievery had recompenses.  At last the swans came back and the fields turned green.

After Cora and the priest had eaten many a pie, they found they actually were beginning to help each other for support and prayed for each other, and finally both were able to quit stealing apples—at least they did not steal them all that often.  Still, some sins are hard to quit, and confirmed apple thieves must help each other pass the best orchards.

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