I wrote this for an HG Writing Challenge. A little Northanger Abby never hurts.
Sermon on the Mount
She had to see him one last time before she went home.
No matter how hard Cathy Moreland fought it, that same traitorous thought returned. From deep within came the cry for one last glimpse to sear his graven image on her heart and in her soul, to forever haunt the corners of her mind. Henry did not love her, but she knew she loved him with her entire being.
There was only one place she could see him, truly see him as he was meant to be, and so her steps took her back to the first place she had ever laid eyes upon the man who could never be hers.
The second service of the morning had already begun when she slipped into a back pew. The choir was singing the anthem and it was just the distraction Cathy needed. Providentially, a woman wearing a large hat sat in front of her, providing cover from any wandering eyes from the pulpit. But Cathy didn’t listen to the music; she was too lost in the memories of how much had changed since she had arrived at Mount Sinai Church last September.
Cathy was really excited when she discovered the advertisement for an internship on a bulletin board of her small private college. It may not have been glamorous, but Cathy loved the atmosphere on campus, and the education program was well respected. She had scrimped and saved, working many an odd job throughout high school and continued to do so when she arrived at school, in order to afford the tuition. Her parents lived comfortably, but her dad’s small minister’s salary didn’t leave room for luxuries, and paying for his children’s college education was certainly a luxury.
Her father’s death the year before had plunged her into the world of the financially needy, and with that came the grants and opportunity that her father’s income had prohibited. She had lost her father but gained some monetary relief. It was not a bargain she would have every wished for, however, it allowed her to apply for an internship at Mount Sinai, working with the youth of the congregation for the fall semester. When she was accepted, she thought that perhaps the sorrows in her personal life were coming to an end.
And so they had seemed. The person she worked under was Henry Tilney. To her, he was amazing. He had a way with kids that made them open up and listen to what he was trying to teach them. The highlight of the semester had been a trip to his family’s mountain retreat. The Tilney’s were very wealthy and had a large piece of property. The youth and their chaperones had plenty of room to camp. Nighttime around the campfires was filled with singing, laughter and stories. Of course, Henry would teach them as well. His lessons were not just about their faith, but more often than not, touched on the real world issues they faced every day at home and at school.
Cathy supposed that week in the woods was when she fell in love with him. He was everything she did not realize she was missing. Unfortunately, all he ever showed her was a constant friendship, and Cathy came to the realization that it would never change into anything more.
It was time to go back to school. She had received special credit for her time at the church and was allowed to miss the first week classes. Now, that dispensation was at an end, and she had to be in class in the morning. Today her mother was coming to take her back to real life. Unable to leave, Cathy had stayed a day longer than she had planned. Everyone had said their goodbyes on Friday. As soon as the sermon was over, she would slip outside and leave Mount Sinai behind.
She was startled when the lights dimmed, and his presence filled the room. Head bowed, afraid to look, she could feel Henry Tilney stride to the middle of the platform.
“It’s not often they allow the youth minister to speak in the ‘big church.’” The audience chuckled. “And it’s even more rare to let a single man speak on a Valentine’s Day.” That brought another round of appreciative laughter from the crowd. “Let’s talk to God before we begin. ‘Father, please use this young, foolish man to speak the words You would have us hear. Amen’”
Cathy sat spellbound as the real Henry Tilney immerged. This man was no longer shy and bashful. He spoke with conviction and power. His text was predictable – I Corinthians 13 – the love chapter. It was St Valentines Day.
“‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.’ My students will tell you my singing reminds them of a bullfrog…
“‘If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ I’m not sure my dad would be too happy if I gave away the family fortune, but he would be disappointed if I did not continue to be generous with the wealth that has been given us. The concept of living below our means to share with those less fortunate is nothing new…
“‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ How does one begin to tap into the joy that such a life of love can bring? …
“‘Love never fails.’ Can any of us claim to have never failed? True, Godly love does not.”
He spoke without notes, only his thin Bible in his hand, ring finger stuck in the passage to hold his place. Cathy would peek around the woman in front of her to see him walk to and fro, engaging his audience in his gripping oratory. When he was done, the room was silent. He prayed and then turned to leave, but something stopped him, and he faced the crowd again.
“That’s the second time I’ve preached that sermon, and both times, I’ve been trying to ignore what I’ve said. You see, I’ve seen the face of love, and I’ve run away. I’ve tried to convince myself that only a fool would dream such dreams. Well, call me a fool because that is what I am. I let my pride – something this passage warns against – take away something special. Please, if you did not hear the words of the Lord, then heed the words of a mere man. Embrace love when it comes, because if you do not, it may walk away before you even know it is gone.”
The congregation had gone. The lights were off, and Henry made the long walk up the aisle, toward the back of the church and a lonely ride home.
He almost missed her. She was sitting in the last pew with her head bowed. He knew that head anywhere. He took his place beside her.
“I thought you left yesterday.”
She shook her head, refusing to look at him.
“Did you mean it? What you said?” she interrupted, her head still bowed.
“I always mean what I say when I preach.”
“I’m not talking about the sermon. What you said after, did you mean it?”
Henry reached to take her hand. “I said I was a fool, for I let the love of my life leave without telling her how I feel.”
At last Cathy raised her head. What he saw broke his heart and filled it with joy.
“No more a fool than I, Henry,” she sputtered through her tears.
There was so much to be said and little time to say it.
“I love you, Cathy, and I’m not going to let you go.”
“But I have to go home, even though I wish to stay with you.”
“I know. I understand you have obligations to fulfill and your schooling to complete. I mean I’m going to come and visit you, and when I can’t do that, I’ll call. And in the end, Catherine Moreland, once this season of your life is complete, I’m going to sweep you off your feet and make you my wife.”
Then they sealed their pact with love’s first kiss.
As Henry walked Cathy to the parking lot to wait for her mother, she asked, “When you are no longer single, do you think they will allow you to preach on Valentine’s Day?”
“Who said I plan to be working that day? I’ll be off on a romantic getaway with my wife.”
He never did preach another Valentine’s Day sermon. Cathy made sure he was unavailable.