Time for First Reading. The boy, shy and nervous, walks towards the lectern. It's his first time to do the reading, a task he'd avoid at any cost if he could. But there is no way around it. As a junior in this high school seminary, he and his classmates have to take their turn on the altar, before a mass of other boys ready to jeer, heckle and remember any fumble he'd make for years to come. Freshmen and sophomores act as acolytes during daily mass, juniors and seniors serve as readers. None gets a pass, and now it's his turn.
He swallows hard, then opens his mouth. "The first reading is taken from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel." Can that strained, high-pitched voice be his? Did I pronounce it right, Ee-zee-kiel? His throat feels parched, sandy. His white polo shirt and black pants seem terribly warm, and he can feel his armpits steaming up.
He plows on. The lines are a blur. He tries to go faster, but then remembers the priest's admonition. It's the Word of God, give it respect, read it slowly! So he enunciates his words, never looking up from the book, determined not to get distracted by the funny looks on his classmates' faces.
Last two lines, yes!
Finished. The end. Wow, he's done it. Read right up to the last period without a hitch. Success! Must breathe easily now, wrap it up, wrap it up. A pause, then one more thing left to say: "This is the Word of the Lord."
His mouth says: "This is the end of the world."
A second of shock, then pandemonium in the chapel. Even the priest starts giggling.
He looks up, startled, realizes what he has just said, then stares horrified at the laughing mob. Nothing left to do now but trudge back to his pew, face all crimson, his future flashing before his eyes. He'll never outlive this, he knows. From this day forward, at least among his peers, he's toast.
Our 25-strong high school seminary batch is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Since our graduation in March 1987, four have become priests, many more have gotten hitched, a few now live abroad, and one has passed away. But we remain extraordinarily close to one another, and have enlarged the friendship to include the wives and kids. All first-borns in the circle automatically get a ninong in the other 24. Getting gifts on birthdays and Christmas is another story. When we hold reunions, which is often and irrespective of a quorum, we always end up killing ourselves with the same old stories. God willing, we'll never stop laughing. The anecdote above is a perennial. Yep, it's a true story.