The Sacrificial Lambs

December 9, 2011

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Editor’s note: Today’s story is a rerun. This story originally ran on May 21, 2010.

Father Joseph Dugan finally gave in to frustration and set the church’s financial statements off to the side. The once thriving parish was shrinking each year, as the young people went off to college and followed job opportunities out of state. For the last five years, donations had not kept pace with expenses. The parish was having to dip into savings. The account that was intended for capital improvements was quickly being drained.

Father Dugan had more pressing issues to tend to this evening. Agnes Sherrill was being buried in the morning. Agnes had been a parishioner for her entire life – ninety three years. Tonight’s wake had been very small affair. Agnes and her late husband had no children, and Agnes had simply outlived her relatives. There were a handful of friends, as well as people from the parish who turned out to show their appreciation for Agnes’ devotion to the church.

Dugan was always saddened by these types of funerals. It seemed that there had been an awful lot of them lately. Maybe the rotten winter weather was just putting the priest in a pessimistic mood. He shook off the feeling and set his mind to composing a fitting eulogy for such a fine human being.

The next day, as he walked back to the church after the funeral, Father Dugan cheered himself up by thinking of Agnes being with the Lord in heaven. This put him in a better mood, although he knew that Wednesday nights wouldn’t be the same without her boisterous shouts of “Bingo!”.

To Dugan’s great surprise, the mail held good news for the parish. It contained two checks from the estates of deceased parishioners. The money definitely came at an opportune time. The parish would be able to rebuild their capital improvement fund. Perhaps the ancient furnace could finally be replaced, allowing the temperature inside the church to rise back above sixty degrees.

As Dugan thought about the two women who had been so generous, he realized that they had also been honored with very small funerals. Like Agnes Sherrill, they had left behind no living relatives. Once again, Dugan had the distinct feeling that there had been a lot of these types of funerals lately. He decided to prove to himself that he was wrong. He grabbed his calendar and began to leaf through it.

Dugan soon realized that his gut feeling was correct. There had already been six such deaths this year in which the parishioner left behind no living relatives – and it was only March. Most of the previous years had only seen five or six such deaths. Dugan was puzzled. Why was there such a spike this year?

Dugan had no time to ponder such mysteries, and soon put it behind him and immersed himself in church business again.

Father was distributing communion during mass the next Sunday when he noticed that the deacon next to him push aside a couple of hosts, seemingly looking for a specific wafer among the identical hosts. When Dugan saw Deacon Taylor pick up a host whose color was a different shade than the others, the pieces all clicked. Dugan pretended to lose his balance and stumbled into the deacon. Deacon Taylor lost his balance, and dozens of hosts fell to the ground. Dugan handed a host to Mary Davis as Taylor picked up the hosts from the carpet.

After mass, Dugan noticed that the discolored host was no longer present. Dugan was certain that he had seen it, and had a good idea why Taylor had taken it.

Two hours later, Dugan was struggling with a difficult decision when the phone rang. It was a detective from the police department, informing him that Deacon Taylor had walked into the precinct and confessed to poisoning several members of the parish so that the church would inherit money from the estates.

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