Father Bryan Gets a Life
by Robert Hampton Burt
For the fifth morning in a row, Father Bryan woke with an erection.
It wasn't throbbing, especially, but it was prodigious. He turned
onto his side, hoping it would go away. But it did not.
This was not the result of an idle mind, for Father Bryan had always
been thoroughly devoted, both mentally and spiritually, to pondering
esoteric matters, much more than any of the other holy men at Saint
Benedict's Little Chapel. We know this was true, because the others
gossiped habitually for hours and played basketball every time they got
the chance, which was usually several times a day.
The imaginings --which had also accompanied his four other recent
erections-- were much more vivid now, extremely suggestive, unusually
strong, and they persisted aggressively.
He tried thinking of the flowers that he and father Callahan had
planted last week. But no sooner than he thought of their beautiful
petals and fresh perfume, than erotic ideas forced themselves upon him.
They appeared to be accompanied by a validity and importance which he
was not going to be permitted to ignore, as though they were entities
in their own right, alien creatures domiciled in his otherwise holy
mind. His docility and acquiescence were about to be overtaken by a
force unavoidably actionable.
Quickly he got up, straightened the bedsheets properly, indeed very
properly, and made his bed. Still the erection didn't go away. Most
unusual. He wondered if it might have something to do with the thoughts
he had been having about his religious beliefs. But that didn't seem
likely, because he wasn't that much in love with them.
Perhaps it was because of Sister Angelica. But no. Sister Angelica
was pure and undefilable, although exceedingly human and most pleasantly
warm. Indeed, too beautiful and warm perhaps. And not at all unfriendly.
She had shown that she liked him, before, numerous times. So many as not
to be countable. But, surely, no such thoughts would fester within his
lonely soul on account of her.
But yes they did, and they had begun doing so constantly.
For the rest of the morning, from before his breakfast of unsalted
oats, all the way to noon, off and on, his awareness would only focus on
the long, avid entity hanging down his leg. It was not the same as him,
he believed, but a unique individual in its own right, for all practical
purposes having nothing at all to do with him really.
And then, around three o'clock, as he was crossing the courtyard just
outside Father Callahan's chapel office, Sister Angelica and her most
incredible smile approached him on the walk, and his willful friend,
unhappy inside the dark, woolen robe, sought to make itself known to
her. She --not intimating that she perceived it-- looked directly into
Father Bryan's dark brown eyes, with her blue and very feminine ones,
and she smiled at him in an unexpectedly personal way, and somehow her
lips were red and suggestively moist, and Father Bryan just nearly
went absolutely crazy with desire for her, would have done anything for
her, with her, to her, at her, would even have kissed her, if he had
known how, even right there smack dab in front of Father Callahan's
uncurtained Elizabethan bay windows.
"Hello, ...S... Sister, Sister Angelica," he said to her, feeling
like was going to melt.
"Good morning, Father Bryan," she replied. "I hope you are happy in
all of your parts."
What could she mean by that? Does she know about the erection? No.
Of course not. What would a nun know about erections? But what in the
world did she mean?
Yet, somehow, those were not the right questions, for their answers
implied too many meanings, some of which were totally outside Father
Bryan's ability to imagine.
Or so he thought.
During the chapel service, Father Bryan could hardly sing the sacred
words on account of his carnal thoughts.
Where did they come from? Surely not from Jesus! But why not?
Because Jesus never married, that's why not. But surely these thoughts
are not mine, he believed, not after all these years of profound
And he continued into the afternoon just like that, whether trying
to sing, or trying to sew a straight stitch in his robe, or trying to
think about the Bible while he was reading the Bible. All the time his
passion pulsed with its insistent feverlike obsession, almost like a
spoiled child, or, really, the same as any normal man's ordinary mind,
until, at last, it was the hour for his appointment with Father
When the moment came for him to enter Father Callahan's inner
sanctum, Father Bryan's mind went quiet. There wasn't the slightest
suggestion of anything inappropriate. Not even his thoughts of the
beautiful flowers and their wonderful perfume caused him to become
What a relief, he thought. Finally! I'll be able to achieve
"Good afternoon, Charles," Father Callahan welcomed him, smiling.
"Have a seat in this chair," and he went around and offered it to him
by standing behind it. This was unusual, in Charles Bryan's point of
view. Father Callahan had never been so kind to him before. Why now?
"Tell me about your contemplations."
"I have come to a conclusion," he told Father Callahan. "That is
what I want to talk with you about."
"Yes, yes. Go on."
"Well. It's like this, you see. I can't go on living here. I have
lost my belief in Jesus."
"Noooo," Father Callahan emitted, frowning with incredulity. "What
caused you to do that?"
"Some thoughts I have been having. You know, Father, I have
concentrated my meditations on these matters for a very long time,
years and years, and then, last month, they began to take a form that
was undeniably final. Five days ago, in fact, it became clear that I've
wasted my life, and now I don't know what to do. I can't continue being
a priest, living here with you and my brothers the other fathers, and
sitting beside you and them, and eating the same food that you and they
eat, and not believing in Jesus."
"Nonsense, Charles. Don't be ridiculous. What has brought you to
"Jesus cannot have been the Messiah. The Bible says that He and God
were together before the world was created, and that God made a plan, and
that He gave Jesus a purpose, and that the purpose was to save the
Hebrews, and then it says that Jesus didn't save the Hebrews but instead
saved everyone else, and that these people that Jesus saved were actually
the people that Jesus was supposed to save the Hebrews from."
"What? What are you saying? What's all this? Say that again?"
"No, I can't say it again. It's too... it's too... it's too
frightening. It's sacrilegious. I can't stand it!"
"Well, there's no reason to get all worried and give up what you've
worked for all these years. I would miss you if you left. Sister
Angelica would miss you. And where would you go? What would you do for a
living? There isn't a lot of demand for contemplative priests."
As he was saying this, he put his hands on Father Bryan's shoulders
and smiled pleasantly, while looking Father Bryan warmly in the eyes, and
Father Bryan distinctly got the feeling that something was going on that
he, Father Bryan, did not entirely understand.
"No one believes in Jesus anymore," Father Callahan told him in his
most friendly manner. "Surely you know this. No one sells everything they
own and gives the money to the poor. No one runs away from their parents
to follow Jesus, like the Bible says they should do. What parent in his
right mind would want his children to do that? And besides, our church has
come up with hundreds, probably thousands of different ways that you can
think about these things, any one of which will put your mind at ease."
"Those are all just excuses, nothing but lies," Father Bryan said.
"Well so what?" Replied Father Callahan. "What do you think the story
of Jesus walking on water is? And his mother being a virgin? And his rising
from the dead? And making wine out of water? You don't believe those
things, do you?"
And Father Bryan looked at Father Callahan, and he perceived him in a
way that he had never perceived anyone before.
And Father Bryan doubted his own piety for a second.
And Father Callahan was hoping that he would.
And Father Bryan said, "I'm going to my room. I'll see you at supper."
"I hope so," Father Callahan replied.
And after Father Bryan returned to his room, Sister Angelica showed up.
"You aren't supposed to be here," he told her.
"There is no other place I would rather be," she replied.
"You are married to Jesus," he told her.
"Jesus never comes to see me," she said.
And Father Bryan and Sister Angelica stared at each other for the
Until, finally, Father Bryan reached out and took her hand, and his
erection came back.
The next day, Father Callahan smiled at Charles Bryan as they passed
on the walk in the courtyard.
"How's everything?" Father Callahan asked Father Bryan, and Father
Callahan was smiling his most pleasant smile.
"I don't know how it could be better," Father Bryan replied.
"Your little conclusion went away, I trust."
"Yes, Father. It did. It went away completely."
"That's good," Father Callahan prompted. "I hope neither you nor I
will ever be bothered by it again."
"No, Father, we won't." And then he whispered to himself, so that
Father Callahan couldn't hear him, "And that's not all we won't be bothered
For all of his many years afterward, Father Bryan never again had a
problem with his erection. Whenever he woke with it, he would speak to it
quietly, and with respect, saying, "Now go away, and come back when Sister
Angelica is here," and it did as he requested, having at last determined
that even an erection can trust a priest, provided that the priest's
belief is not too competitively turgid.