Darkness enveloped the city. St. Mary Madeline’s Church was consumed by the night. The parishioners were all gathered outside, huddled together to stay warm in the cold late March air. A fire formed before their eyes, and Father Luke lit the Easter candle while he talked about new beginnings and rebirth. He then turned and lit the small candle one person was holding. That person in turn lit his neighbor’s candle.
Darko felt a sense of awe as his own candle was lit. It was a symbol of new life. He turned and lit Cynnie’s candle, and she smiled at him. In this way, the church was lit as everyone walked back inside. Darko found it wonderful. The lights of Christ in their hearts were all that was needed for them. The Easter Vigil was a truly amazing Mass.
Darko had gone to confession with Fr. Luke the day before. He already knew that God had forgiven him for all of his sins, but there was still something especially powerful about hearing it from the mouth of a fellow human being. It somehow seemed more real and concrete. Fr. Luke’s consoling words even made Darko cry, and the priest even welled up a bit himself. It was a great moment of reconciliation for both of them.
Darko found it especially satisfying to watch new members be accepted into the Catholic Church and receive some of the sacraments for the first time. He felt connected to them. He had been born Catholic, but he had been away from the Church for so long that he identified himself with them. He had found the truth. He was finally home.
He received Holy Communion for the first time since being in prison. He had never really understood the significance of the action, but now he could truly feel Christ’s presence inside of him as he walked back to his pew. He would never take any of this for granted again. He was where he belonged. It felt great to have Cynnie and his friends with him. He no longer felt isolated and alone.
The Vigil ended very early on Easter morning before the sun had even begun to rise. Darko felt almost uncontainable joy as he walked out into the commons with Cynnie and her family. “That was incredible,” Darko said.
Cynnie smiled. “I know.”
“I’ll be right back,” he said, and he headed straight for Fr. Luke.
The priest appeared more exuberant than usually. He was laughing and shaking hands with parishioners. He turned and smiled at Darko when he approached. “Hello, Darko,” he said good-naturedly. “How did you like the service?”
“It was amazing,” Darko said earnestly. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
“I feel the same way.” Fr. Luke paused. “It’s always nice to welcome new members into our faith.”
Darko nodded. “It was great to witness that. I hope they find everything that I have. Thank you for what you’ve done for me.”
Fr. Luke smiled. “I was thinking, Darko, how would you like to help teach next year’s catechumens?”
Darko started, surprised. Catechumens were people studying to become Catholics. “Shouldn’t you give that job to someone with more experience? I’ve been away from the Church for too long.”
“You may have been away from the physical church, but you have had more faith through all of your trials than most of us who have been diligently attending Mass every Sunday.” The priest chuckled. “Your story is amazing. It could be a powerful tool to help others along their own journeys of faith. After all, if a sex offender can be saved, can’t anyone?” He winked.
Darko smiled, feeling more at ease. “I see your point.” He looked thoughtful. “You know, I think I would like to give that a try.”
Fr. Luke grinned. “Great! I’ll see you later.” He patted him on the back before turning to talk to someone else.
Darko was thinking about what the priest had said as he walked to find Cynnie. He had never thought about telling his story to others, probably partly because it had never seemed complete and he did not think anyone would listen to him.
He then thought about all those sex offenders who were continuously being forced to endure torture because of unjust laws. He knew many of them would give up hope and even go back to crime. They did not have the faith he had. He felt a sudden sense of duty towards them. He knew what they were going through. He had to help them. He had to give them a reason to try.
“Cynnie,” he said, wrapping his arms around her from behind. “Happy Easter.”
Cynnie turned around and smiled at him, hugging his waist. “Happy Easter, Darko.”
“Fr. Luke wants me to teach the catechumens next year,” Darko said. “I think I want to do it.”
Cynnie’s eyes brightened. “That’s wonderful!” She hugged him once more before letting go and stepping back. “I’m sure there’s a lot you could teach them.”
Darko nodded. He paused, wondering how to explain to the idea that had been forming in his mind ever since he had been released from jail. “I think I also have a lot to say to those who have not yet found faith. Sex offenders, others who have committed crimes, and those who have just given up hope. I want to write a book about my experiences to help them.”
Cynnie was listening to him attentively. When he had finished, she smiled widely. “I think that’s a great idea, Darko.”
“And you would have to help me out, of course,” Darko said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Your perspective is important too.”
“Of course!” Cynnie said happily.
Darko felt a yawn coming on, but he covered it up with the back of his hand.
Cynnie smirked at him. “Tired? Go home and get some rest. Then you can come back to my house for an Easter party!” She grinned. It was a plan.
The party consisted of everyone in Cynnie’s family. Darko enjoyed seeing everyone again, especially his godson, baby Brett. He was light and happy as he went around talking to everyone in turn. Molly served a great brunch. The house was fully of joyful, laughing people.
It was warming up outside. Darko never thought he would view 40 degrees as being warm, but it was true. His appreciation for spring had grown, and he was eagerly anticipating summer. He wondered what exactly his new life here would bring. He knew where to start.
When he found Cynnie alone, he grabbed her hand and pulled her into an empty hallway without an explanation. She giggled when he spun her around to face him and dropped her hand. She watched him curiously. “What is it?” she asked.
“This party is great,” Darko said, “and I’m not usually much of a party person.” He paused. “I think Easter is now my favorite holiday.”
Cynnie grinned. “It is a good one. I’m so glad everything has been working out.”
Darko nodded. “Me too. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“Thanks for not giving up on us. We’re not so bad after all, huh?”
Darko chuckled, remembering his initial impression of Green Bay residents. So much had changed. “I love you.”
Cynnie smiled at him. “I love you too.”
Darko felt a strange calmness. He took Cynnie’s left hand in his right and brought it up to his lips, kissing it. Then, still holding onto her hand, he bent down on his right knee and pulled something out of his pocket. It was a ring. Cynnie let go of his hand and gasped.
Darko smiled nervously as he looked up at her. “Cynnie, will you marry me?”
Cynnie let out a shriek of joy. She seemed to be bubbling over with excitement. “Yes, Darko, I will!” When he stood up again, she flung her arms around his neck.
The other people in the house started to come into view, probably curious about the noise. Darko barely noticed them as he pulled away from Cynnie so that he could put the ring on her finger. He smiled in satisfaction. Now everything was perfect.
“Kiss her!” Ben called from the “audience.”
Darko did not usually listen to these kinds of commands, but this time he obliged. Everyone cheered when he kissed Cynnie passionately. For the first time, he saw his future brimming over with potential.