Lessons in Debasement

David Alexander

“Every man has a pope in his belly.”
-Martin Luther

Reggie scanned the collection of misfits that had come to hear him speak as to an oracle. Regulars from adult education seminars, they included an aging hippie with a bandana, as well as a biker cultivating Civil War-era muttonchops. Reggie wore a stylish robe and slippers and cleared his throat before reading aloud from a piece of paper:

“The idea then, gentlemen, would be to plumb the depths of the prosaic. To delve into the world like a still-life where the flies have already feasted on the cheese. Convinced that the world is ugly, we will vie on our basest appetites. And Cain, that noble vegetarian, will be our guide.

Yet, oh, so slowly you will turn. At first you won’t know why but your heart will turn when the center cannot hold. And as the building crumbles your soul will be open to grace. But only for a moment. Then you will close tight the gates of your heart, gone to re-erect depressing office towers. Confident in the fact that-—oh captain, my captain-—you are the master of your destiny, your own soul! Too bad, in your philosophy neither of the two exist. Like Thales the Mad Greek you reduce the world to absurdity. (He said everything was water, you say everything is power.) But the world isn’t disenchanted. It’s the same as it always was. The only problem is you were too grasping and lost everything—-”

“Oh such rot Reg, such rot, really,” a voice shot out from a corner.

“Pardon? Does Your Holiness have something to add, pray tell?”

“Will you just hurry up? I have to get this finished,” the voice answered back.

“And so, um, and so you do not want anyone to . . . um. Darn it all.” Reggie then called out to the corner, “Excuse me, I told you to reload the printer. You typed the rest of your letter over my paper, genius. Be more careful next time.” He then addressed his audience apologetically, “So that concludes this installment of Silent Trumpet Literary Club.” Then he pointed to the biker with the muttonchops. “Next week Sam is to speak on the importance of character sketches, I believe. Good night all.” At this, the rabble scrambled up the steps to the cellar door.

“There, are you pleased with yourself? All for one idiotic letter.”


Please, spare me,” Reggie snapped.

“Do not take that tone with me. In blood I may be your brother but I am still your Father.”

“Oh yes, of course. Just do your scribbling on your own time. Is that clear?”

“That’s it Reg. I hereby excommunicate you. Ego vos excommunico. Ha!”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“I already have. Factum est.”

Reggie snorted, “Your Latin is lousy, by the way.”

“That’s nonsense: I’m infallible!”

“You’re infallible?” Reg teased. “Well, that is nonsense.”

“Oh, if only I had a corps of guards like that impostor in Rome has.”

“Watch it, Edward . . .”

“That’s His Holiness Leo XIV, my son.”

“So they tell me. Now please don’t go all pontifical on me.”

“Anathema sit!” Leo XIV cried.

“Look,” Reggie said “I’ve gone along with your whole ‘support group’ act because I thought it provided a good cover for my literary club meetings, which I do not wish our parents to interfere with. To tell you the truth it was sort of amusing for a time, what with the cross and fancy pajamas—-”


“Vestments, right. But I have got to tell you something: You’re ridiculous.”

“What? That’s rich coming from an excommunicant.”

Reg began to shuffle up the stairs in disgust, looking more annoyed than dejected at becoming an exile from the Church.

“Oh, and I don’t believe a papal election via the internet is valid, either,” he added, before slamming the cellar door behind him.

Leo XIV (a.k.a. Ed Marron) stood in his finery and played with the giant cross around his neck. He released a pent-up gasp of desperation, “Such insolence!” before turning toward a nearby computer.

The Blog of His Holiness Leo XIV, True Vicar of Christ. The Chair of Peter and the Universal Church having been left vacant by—-

The site featured a photograph of a man in his thirties decked out in white robes and zucchetto: a fitting reflection of the blogger in question. Just then, someone called came from above, yet His Holiness went on typing, rapt at his own words:

Encyclical: Deus diligendus est.
Brothers and Sisters my venerable predecessor Bob I had expressed that God in our age is not given His due . . .

A feminine voice pierced his train of thought. “Ed, dinner!”

And yet how true it is that . . .

“Eddie, I know you’re down there. We’re having lasagna, your favorite. ”

“Coming, Mother,” Leo XIV called back, mumbling epithets under his breath.

The sense of the divine is often lost. Indeed, there is no respect or reverence for…

“Edward, get your butt up here this instant!” Father called down in a thunderous voice.

* * *

Upstairs in the dining room, Father turned to his other son seated across the dinner table. “Reginald, what’s with your brother these days? He hardly comes up anymore.”

Reg lifted his eyes from the plate-full of steaming lasagna, “Oh, Ponty? He’s all bothered about the Literary Club I founded.”


“Personally, I think he’s jealous.”

“Well, why won’t His Highness come? Does he think he’s the freakin’ pope or something?”

“One could say that.”

Bewildered by this response, Father pounded his fist on the table. “What the hell? You with your stupid club and your brother down there doing God knows what. You’d think college graduates would do better things with their time. Finding a job, for one.” He paused for a second, then added, “I know Edward had that breakdown when he was working for the Diocese, but you, you’re just plain lazy.”

Not liking this turn in the conversation, Reggie continued, “Oh, and I’ve been summarily excommunicated, did you know that?”

“You see? This is exactly what I am talking about. Ever since that Monsignor Picozy started counseling Ed after his breakdown there’s been nothing but trouble from that boy. Now go and get your brother.”

“Excuse me, I’m surely not descending into that hellhole again.”

Previously silent, Mother piped up, “Do as your father says, Reginald.”

“Fine,” Reggie replied, dejected. He stooped into the darkness, the only light offered by an open back door, and noticed the stench of incense wafting from below. Switching on the lights revealed an altar where his brother was saying Mass.

“What’s all this?” Reggie heckled, creaking down the stairs.

Ignoring his brother, Leo XIV proceeded to the Kyrie after the introductory rites. It was then that Reg noticed a small congregation gathered in the basement, which had entered undetected through the door in the back.

Reg stared in amazement as the rabble chanted the Kyrie, rather badly. He spotted something familiar: a tie-dye bandana. “Charles, how could you?” he blurted out, at which the Mass came to an abrupt halt.

Reggie continued, “And Sam, what business do you have here? Don’t tell me, you seriously consort with this freak of nature?”

Sam, the biker with muttonchops, shrugged from his makeshift pew.

The Mass ruined, His Holiness lambasted Reg, “You have desecrated this place for the last time brother! See, he is the one I was talking about, this wolf in sheep’s clothing. I know some of you attend his literary soirées. That is no longer permitted under pain of excommunication.”

Charles, the old man with the bandana, stood up. “Excuse me Your Awesomeness, but that doesn’t sound very charitable. I mean he is your brother, man.”

“Only of the flesh. He must repent before he can rejoin us.”

“You mean I can’t go no more? I was supposed to give a talk next week and all,” Sam, the biker-type with muttonchops, complained.

“All the same, anathema sit.”

“Well, that ain’t fair.”

“There is no fair about it.”

“Tain’t fair, I say!”

“Yeah, man, like, what’s your hang-up?”

“Enough. Ego vos excommunico!” And he excommunicated the lot of them right there.

“Don’t pay him any mind. His blood sugar’s just low,” Reggie comforted the rabble as they filed out.

“See ya,” Sam the biker mumbled, closing the door behind him.

Then there was silence. Leo XIV put away his altar and other religious articles in a nearby cabinet that served as a sacristy.

Reggie was the first to speak up. “Well, now that you’ve lost your congregation you can finish this infantile charade, eh?”

“As soon as you put and end to yours.”

“I beg your pardon?” Reggie replied, staring at the pontifical buffoon before him. Mother called down from the kitchen, “Edward, Reginald, what’s going on down there? Get up here this instant! The lasagna is getting cold.”

Leo XIV turned toward Reggie. “Just stop fooling around, that’s all.”

“Fooling around? How dare you! You’re the one who’s—”

“Don’t make me come down there!” boomed Father.

“Let’s go, Ed.”

“That’s Leo XIV, need I remind you.”

Reggie turned away. “Spare me your delusions.”

* * *

Father was reading the Sunday sports section and grunted on seeing Reggie emerge from the depths. “Where’s your brother?”

“His Holiness? He’s not coming.”

“He’ll miss dinner,” Mother chided.

“I knew it, damn it,” Father rejoined, glancing at the want ad section of the paper before redirecting his gaze at Reginald. “So?”

“Alas, there’s not much call for English majors these days. As I have told you on numerous occasions.”

“Yeah, well, one way or another you’re gonna get your butt out of this house. Besides, it wouldn’t kill you to do some filing for Jiffy Enterprises. I know the office manager. I’ll get you an interview.”

“What about my illustrious club? The Silent Trumpet?”

Father sighed before continuing, “Your brother had a club once. Now he never leaves the basement.”

* * *

Leo XIV typed furiously at his computer:

Indeed, there is no longer reverence for the higher things and thus the image of God in man is all but lost. . .

Then His Holiness went to a high-backed chair where he sat in silence amid the cobwebs-—alone and excommunicated from the world.

David Alexander is working on a Ph.D in Spanish Linguistics at Ohio State University.