The following Sunday, the fifth of Lent, Don Fiorentino woke up in a very bad mood and with an annoying torticollis. He had dreamed of trees. Only trees and nothing but trees, and that seemed a bad omen, he declared.

Easter was approaching and he was not convinced.

He did not understand why the masses on the day of the Resurrection had to be so long. He preferred the first morning mass of ordinary time, gathered together and with a few faithful (always the same, most of the time) to that indistinct crowding of people who attended the solemn rite out of duty, out of boredom or because that is what everyone does.

He sat down at the kitchen table and began spreading a thin layer of apricot jam on a slice of stale bread, by scratching it insistently with the serrated blade of a plastic knife.

He wondered, for a moment, why in the Church one had to eat so badly and always eat the same things. Apples, for example. Everything in the Church tasted like apple to him. From the smell of the Scouts’ backpacks to the taste of the sandwiches eaten after the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, which had taken on their nauseating fragrance by being in contact with them. The apple, the symbol of evil. From the Latin malum. Which means “evil”, but also “apple”. And everything suited him perfectly.

As a child, his mother prepared him fruit salads in the summer that she had never forgotten. The strong, full-bodied flavor of the sweet, ripe melon clashed with the cool, watery texture of the watermelon. That was enough for him to be happy. If a few medlars were found, the symphony was complete.

It had been a long time since he had visited his mother. So much so that he had not even noticed the passage of time that separated him from his last visit.

Donna Angela, as everyone called her with a certain reverence for the sole fact of being the priest’s mother and having passed on his baptismal name to her eldest daughter, was a strong woman, more accustomed to stacking wood than discussing theology.

In this way, when Fiorentino, just a teenager, expressed his intention to become a priest, she replied hastily and definitively:

All right, but study, study hard, there are far too many ignorant priests around, and I don’t want my family to be carried around.”

He turned on the radio and made himself a weak tea, squeezing half a lemon into it, the seeds of which mixed with the yellowish liquid, announcing their imminent fate as residues to be spit out, due to the sense of slimy bitterness they left on the tongue.

The fourth channel broadcast the first notes of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. Don Fiorentino knew it by heart. Although he could not read music, he perfectly understood the key: D minor. The same as the composition he preferred, Mozart’s Requiem, of which he caught himself, from time to time, humming some short parts, reproducing the timpani of the “Introitus” with his mouth.

He enjoyed the first few moments. It was the 1929 version, with Rachmaninov himself on the piano and Eugène Ormandy on the podium. Fast, nervous and disturbing. Nothing to do with the reading of Rubinstein who, not having the deformation of the Maestro’s right hand, was forced to slow it down.

Don Fiorentino loved classical music. He owed this passion which cost him no effort to his laziness and proverbial indolence. Whatever song he listened to, he understood its meaning and even predicted its evolution, anticipating the notes.

Classical music evoked order, study and discipline in him. for this reason, he could not stand jazz, not that he despised the great orchestras of the 40s. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller tolerated them in small doses. However, he could not tolerate the glissades of cold jazz, of saxophonists surrounded by cigarette smoke improvising meaningless notes in front of the enraptured gaze of ladies in uncritical adoration.

In truth, he did not have much time to dedicate to semibisquavers. He was immediately taken by the thought of the homily he would deliver on the day’s Gospel reading. Generally he improvised the homilies. He spoke off the cuff, rattling off some hackneyed concept. However, above all, he said what people wanted to hear. So, as not to deceive them.

However, the episode of the resurrection of Lazarus gave him many difficulties.

It was long, complex and hard. In order to review it, he consulted the Vulgate of Saint Jerome. Not that people needed any Latinorum, it was they who needed the rigid inflected text.

It seemed to him that the Saint’s syntax was of great help to put his confused thoughts and conscience in order.

Infirmitas haec non est ad mortem, sed pro Gloria Dei.”

That is what he could not accept. That infirmity, human suffering, pain and everything that is irreversible they went to the glory of God. On the contrary, he was intimately convinced that suffering did not lead to any redemption, and that on earth every lament and cry of misery was exclusively an end in itself, that no one gained any advantage from it. Hunger, war, poverty itself, who benefited them? Certainly not to God who, as he had been taught, accompanied the derelict, holding them in his merciful hands. So, to whom?

Months earlier he had taken Giovanni the Fool to the cemetery. The one who laughed at everyone with his toothless mouth, walking from morning to night with his radio nailed to his ear and only asking for a few pennies to buy the batteries to make it work.

The funeral poster had been merciless. Since he was known in the village by that name, the wording “the Fool” had been deliberately placed under the name and surname of the unfortunate deceased.

Because this was an established habit in the country, that of giving everyone a nickname that everyone would carry with them throughout their lives and even after death. He had never been able to accept and despised it with all his strength. Why on earth did people’s stigma and disapproval have to accompany an individual throughout his tormented existence? He was reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of “The Scarlet Letter”, where the protagonist is branded with the letter A of “adulteress” in order to carry throughout his life.

He did not ask himself why there was evil in the world. He did not care much about knowing his origins, it was enough for him to know that he was there. He rather wanted to know what purpose he had, where it flowed, what river, sea or ocean was that could contain everything that had no use.

It was a boring and useless mass. He only managed to mumble a few formulas and forget the verse of the Creed that says “for us men and for our salvation”, and then recover and accompany himself until “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”. This, for him, was the true, authentic mystery of faith: salvation that turns into judgement.

Dear Dostoevsky,

You, who are a devout and pious man, will certainly be able to comfort me if I write to you that while reading your “Crime and Punishment”, I have asked myself questions that you, as a precise and methodical man of letters, will certainly have the pleasure of knowing how to listen to, by dissolving the embarrassing knot.

I am a priest of few prayers and many doubts, so I will disturb you only for the title, which seems very poorly translated in Italian to me.

Did you really write “punishment”? I do not believe. You wanted to write “penalty”, from the Russian “nakazanie”. You say it yourself when you say that “there is also an allusion to the idea that the legal punishment imposed for the crime scares the criminal much less than legislators think, partly because he himself, morally, requires it.”

The Christian should free himself from affliction. Mary herself, for me, for you, for us who tread the uncertain light of day in this life is the consolation of the afflicted par excellence. And how can affliction be useful to the condemned man, to the extreme point of being the one who requests it? And, furthermore, is not salvation, in your opinion, the remedy for all suffering? And, if so, who deserves it?

Blessed are those persecuted by justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, Matthew writes.

While I was eagerly reading your wonderful pages, it occurred to me to pick up an old volume I read as a boy, “The Last Day of a Man Condemned to Death” by Victor Hugo. The condemned man curses, blasphemes, shouts, even foams at the mouth. He does not want to die and ends his unfortunate life while he curses the jailers who take him to the gallows. Did he ask to die? And if life is a gift, who has the right to end it? And why is not putting an end to one’s own or someone else’s life a crime?

Help me, please. Yours.

He neatly put away the fountain pen which was still dripping with bluish-black ink, then took a Swedish match, lit it, not without a movement of satisfaction at that dry and distinct cracking of the fire, and burned the letter, feeling that sensation of liver pain again.