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A sealed envelope shows up in a church collection with “The Pope – Personal” written on it. It’s known by the parishioners that the offering will be delivered to the Pope personally by the Bishop. So not knowing what is inside this particular envelope puts Father Udovic in somewhat of a dilemma: open the envelope and dismiss the wishes of the donor or don’t open the envelope and risk something less than appropriate going directly to the Pope.
With whom did the envelope originate is the central mystery surrounding J. F. Powers short story “Dawn”. As trite as the problem may seem in the grand scheme of things, Powers manages to turn it into an odd little “who done it”? The most intriguing aspect being Father Udovic’s imagining of all the different people who might be responsible and for what reason.
Father Udovic (and the reader) eventually discovers the donor’s identity; however, the lesson the priest would like to extend to the “culprit” is a lesson that could easily be extended back to the priest, himself, and the church in general – kind of a spiritual catch-22:
It seemed to him, sitting there saying nothing, that they saw each other as two people who’d sinned together on earth might see each other in hell, unchastened even then, only blaming each other for what had happened.
This is the third story I’ve read by Powers. This one and the baseball story “Jamesie” are well worth reading. However, for a truly great Powers story, I would recommend the feline-narrated “Death of a Favorite” .
I read “Dawn” this week when I selected the Nine of Clubs for Week 30 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.