Time has a way of weaving ironies. Fifteen years after he left the seminary, Paul Hendrickson found two classmates in the coal field of Kentucky. One is a resigned priest; the other the only member of his original class of '58 who is a priest now.

THEY ARE older, bulkier now, though much else about them seems remarkably the same. We are what we were, but not quite. Roger still chews his nails and paces a room and curses infernally. Bertin pushes up his glasses with his index finger they way he did 22 years ago when we first met, on a train platform in Chicago. We were 14 then and headed for a place called Holy Trinity, Ala. Neither the train nor the platform exists anymore.

Time squeezes, flattens, like something you've left in an old book. Bertin Glennon, 36, Catholic priest, stands behind a table in a purple gown. A chasuble, the vestment is called. Bars of leaden winter light angle in. In is a little after 8 a.m., St. Ann's Church, Manchester, Ky., coal country. I got here the evening before, arriving in a Cumberland blackness. I am sleepy now, glazed with a dream and memory.

"This is My Body," he says in that same, high, schoolboy voice I remember as clearly as if it were talking to me, for the first time, yesterday. He raises a round wafter of bread, holding it in his fingertips. Heads bow. Somewhere beyond the window a dog barks. Rain pounds lightly on the roof.

"This is the cup of My Blood," he says, raising a chalice of wine. The chalice bounces light. I am not looking at the cup, though. I am fixed on a rollaway barbecue grill out on the sodden lawn. From where I stand, I can see the grill perfectly. It is green and gathering rust. What is a barbecue grill doing on a lawn in Feburary? my brain wonders, maybe so it doesn't have to wonder on something called transubstantiation, whereby bread and wine, in an old friends's fingers, somehow become the body and blood of Christ.

"It's never like you thought it was going to be, the priesthood," Bertin says later. "But it's not really different, either. It's nothing I didn't expect. Maybe it's not what you schemed and plotted and fantasized."

That evening, talking by phone to my wife, I try to recreate the emotion I had felt at mass. "It was hitting me in such a profound way," I say. "Transference," she explains.

Transference. It is there: He turned his head to the cassock and cincture hanging from a nail in the middle of his door. The cassock needed rehemming badly, and in several places the heavy black cloth had gone thin and shiny, like an old man's shin. He remembered what it was like, sliding into that habit, snapping the three buttons at the shoulder as he walked down the hall, holding the belt in his teeth until in one smooth swirl he would gather it around him and whisper that his yoke was sweet, his burden light.

A day and a half later: I am sitting in the glow of a fireplace across from Roger Recktenwald, former priest, former classmate. We are talking seminary times. Roger -- shoes off, shirttail out, hair wild -- is propped on the sofa in his living room in Prestonsburg, Ky. He has had an 11-hour day. His children, Adam and Rebecca, play at his feet. We have dined on homemade chili. "Say grace, 'Becca," Roger had told his daughter. "God is good, God is great . . ." she began, giving it up for the chili.

Prestonburg is maybe 80 miles east of Bertin's parish, deeper into mountains. It takes three hours of driving -- past dark, lamplit places named Hazard and Hyden. Roger is a community organizer, working to build rural water systems that aren't criminal with pollution. He lives in a region where 25 percent of the population exists below the poverty level. "i don't think I'm one bit different now in what I'm trying to do than when I was a priest," he says.

He built this house, jacked up the two-room, slab-board place that stood on the lot, widened it, raised the roof, put in a kitchen, bedrooms, beams, making things mitered, mortared, tight. In the seminary once, Roger took a cheap motor and a tin can and some crinkly red wrapping paper and made a fake glowing fire for Christmas. We were all a little homesick. He hammered together a mantle out of scrounged plywood. "I remember I cut my hand four times trying to get that damn thing to flicker. Practically had myself mesmerized by the drone from a motorized fire. Thought I was going to warm my hands on it."

For an instant, he glistens. So do I.

Adam is wrestling for his father's attention. The son seems a wondrous, eerie reproduction of the father, down to temper and manic energy. Suddenly Adam cocks a leg and kicks hell out of the chair beside the sofa. He is barefooted. He howls with pain. He starts to cry, choking back tears of laughter. Roger encircles him with his arms, pulls him to his chest. The father, too, looks bridged between hilarity and pain, trapped in a middle distance of ironies. "Son," he says, "You're a crock."

A few years ago, Roger's priesthood looked caught. The institutional church had begun to fray for him like a rope. A bishop had taken away his priestly faculties for alleged disobedience. Among other things, Roger says, he had participated at the marriage of a priest and appeared on a television show in a suit and tie. Without faculties, he could say mass -- but not preach or baptize or anoint the sick. He was a "closet priest," he says. Then came another irony: He fell in love.

"I knew when I went to tell them I was getting married, my priesthood was finished," he says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. "But it didn't have to be, not really. At first I wanted to stay and fight. But it was too big. The problems were all-inclusive . . . pervasive." He makes a sweep of frustration. His wife, Eileen, watching TV on the floor across the room, looks over. She says nothing. Though later, when he is on the phone she says quietly: "We loved each other. I watched him struggle with it."

MY LIFE PARTED from Roger Recktenwald's and Bertin Glennon's one placid summer afternoon in 1965. Vatican II had just then begun to slap at the seminary walls; in the next five years would come floods of change. When I left, the choir stalls weren't bare and ruined yet.

I took off my religious habit that afternoon and folded it on a chair. I put into a suitcase my five or six pairs of black straight-legged wash pants, my white cotton socks, my T-shirts I owned. bI combed my hair and put on the $100 shiny black suit my parents bought me at a department store the summer before. And then I got on a train and went home to Illinois.

I was no longer Brother Garret, M.S.Ss.T., student for the missionary priesthood. I was Paul Henderickson again: 21 years old, a virgin, scared stiff. I had never met a Jew, I had never dated. I tried to pick up a girl on the ride home. She thought I was an undertaker.

Sometimes it almost seems like a dream. There were maybe 120 of us and two years of college. We came from Catholic grammar schools in places like Bayonne and Dubuque. We were altar boys, daily communicants. We belonged to the only "the" church, as Lenny Bruce once said.

Our mail, both incoming and outgoing, was censored. Certain days were set aside for the family visits. Three times a year we were allowed to go in to town; the more adventuresome of us went to dirty bookstores. We slept in creaky dormitories, in metal bunks, on rude wooden floors. Our classrooms were converted army barracks. The gym was an old roller rink.

In my first years, the seminary was located in rural Alabama, out 20 miles from Phenix City, near the Chattahoochee River. The place had been an old plantation till the '20s. When I got there, you could still see chain gangs from the county in striped suits working in ditches along Guerry Pruett highway. The year before I came, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the lawn in the middle of the night. The place was full of sweet pine and red clay. The moon would come up like alabaster.

Our bathrooms consisted of long rows of hoppers on cracked, concrete flooring. we called them "jakes." The hoppers had flimsy green plywood dividers, no doors. The students who had jake duty would come along with mops and buckets full of ammonia and swaab the place while you sat there. You could raise your feet or get your socks disinfected.

We rose daily at 5:30 a.m. to a fire bell; I never got used to it. On Sundays there was a "sleep-in" till 6. We went to morning prayers, meditated for half an hour. Then mass and communion row by row. Then breakfast in the refectory at long wooden tables covered with oilcloth. Miss Katie and Miss Marie, two old-maid sisters from Wisconsin, put out watery scrambled eggs in white rectangular Melmac dishes. If it was Sunday, you got shredded pieces of bacon in the eggs; you lived for Sundays. (The guy at the end of the table dumped the entire bowl on his plate, sent the waiter running for seconds. Seconds only lasted so long. To this day I still eat like the house is afire.)

Afterward: class, where we crammed Latin and geometry, biology and Gregorian Chant. Galia est omnis divisa in partes tres. Before noon we were back at chapel -- "hitting the kneelers," we called it secretly -- murmuring in unison prayers like thisd "Oh, most precious blood of Jesus/Oozing from every pore/Grant us the grace to love thee ever more and more."

There was a loving, willing witchery to those prayers, and, in fact, to all of it. At 9:30 p.m., or at least until we were "college men," the lights went out. Then it was Major Silence. To break it was a sin. To get caught breaking it could mean three "gigs" which you would work off on Saturday with a swing blade in a field down below the gym we called "the swamp." You could earn a trip to the swamp in a lot of ways -- if you fell asleep in chapel, or maybe if you gassed a frog in bio lab (one of the larger dares), or if your bed and locker didn't pass inspection a couple mornings in a row. The blankets were to be folded, military style, at the foot of your bed, the sheets ready to bounce a prefect of discipline's coin. If you had committed an "impurity" the night before -- and that presented a whole other dread in the confessional box -- you were liable for the smirks of your peers. We all got smirks.

If it was a strange kind of greenhouse, if there were vague, dim sexual and homosexual innuendoes and stirrings, I knew and wanted no other. I loved the place. In an odd way, it was like year-around camp. It was alive with spirit. It still storms my dreams . . .

When he was 11, his mother had given him a card with a quotation on the back. The quotation was from a Frenchman named Lacordaire. It wasn't really a prayer, though he often said it as one. He had it memorized.

"To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasure; to be a member of every family, yet belonging to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds; to teach and instruct; to pardon and console; to bless and be blessed forever. Oh, God! what a life and 'tis thine, O priest of Jesus Christ."

It was better even, he thought, than playaing for the Yankees.

Eventually the seminary moved up to central Virginia, and we with it. New land had been secured in the Blue Ridge, near Lynchburg, in the curving folds of Tobacco Row Mountain. A $2.5-million building, all brick and glass and native stone, opened neatly with the new decade in September 1960. The place was topped by a soaring cross above a campanile filled with 5,900 pounds of bells. They also had the water tank hidden in there: a machine in the garden. A magazine article on this new terrarium said this: "In the spirit that popes commissioned da Vinci and Michelangelo, distinguished artists from all over the United States were commissioned to create statuary, altars, tabernacles and glorious stained glass to make a living entity of contemporary beauty in which the young seminarians develop."

No one could hear the distant thundering. Thousands of young men hungry for Christ and souls and "orders" would pass through these glass breezeways in decades to come, it was dreamed.

Only it didn't turn out that way. The dream ceased working. Or maybe we did. Vatican II and a spiritual restiveness and the '60s themselves suddenly seemed to change the rules, though in this case I think the eventual disarray had also to do with our move from Alabama, with the transition from wood to brick. A certain missionary fire was lost. We couldn't see it then. w

The center didn't hold, just as it wasn't holding in other seminaries. By the close of the decade, my seminary was effectively dead. In 1973, it locked its doors. I was long gone by then, married, filing for divorce, killing off everything around me that hinted of church or religion.

Today my alma mater is a Job Corps center. I stopped by to see the place one Sunday afternoon a couple springs ago. I had to climb over a gate and walk in half a mile to the school grounds. There was a security guard sitting at the front desk who told me I was trespassing. I said I once went to school here, could I look around? He led me through the empty building suddenly wide awake with questions. He was a Baptist and wondered what the symbols in the stained glass meant, what the statues standing dusty and stony signified. In the library, in a drawer, I found a couple of old book cards, with signatures. I wanted to feel more for the place, but somehow it was like a cut that had thickened over.

AND YET . . . a few persevered. Bertin and Roger went on to the major seminary in Winchester, Va., and eventually were ordained priests. It took an additional six years of philosophy and theology to the seven years of study we had invested by the summer of 1965, when I quit, six weeks before finishing novitiate and publicly professing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

"What you do," an upperclassman had told me years earlier, "is slur the middle one so it comes out charity." I never got the chance.

Twenty-one boys from maybe half as many states began their first year of studies at St. Joseph's Preparatory Seminary in September 1958. One, Bertin Glennon, is an active priest today. Most of us dropped out somewhere along the way, as did most of the classes above and behind us. Maybe 5 percent of the student body was destined to make it. The cost accounting seems brutal.

We have since fanned out across the world, teaching, writing, building rural water systems, maybe even robbing banks. Somebody is an Ecuadorean rug merchant. Somebody installed a phone system in Egypt. Somebody heads an FBI SWAT team in New York City. Somebody is gay, and somebody won the Congressional Medal of Honor in Vietnam as a chaplain. He was older than us.

For me, and I suspect most of us, the seminary comes softly quacking along behind, wherever I go, like a child's duck dragged on a string. I have twice married. I have left more cities and jobs than maybe I should have. Sometimes I think all of us who went through are bound to one another by mysterious "fibres," filaments of interconnecting energy that run from a center I'm still trying to find. That is a Teilhard de Chardin idea. I can't prove this invisible network. But I feel it. Especially when I find an old classmate.

Roger -- angry, disillusioned, radicalized by the '60s -- left the priesthood two years after his ordination in 1971. It had taken him 13 years to become a priest, and in a sense he had outgrown the traditional concept of it by the time he got there. So he resigned, though maybe that is just semantics. Because when he was chrismed with oils on ordination day, when the bishop placed his palms on his head and said, "Tu es sacerdos in aeternum," he was saying, "You are a priest forever." Until and beyond the last ringing, ding dong of doom. You couldn't grow up Catholic in the '50s as we did, without feeling the finality of those words. Even at the turn of the decade, when priests in America were going over the sides of the boat in gangs, abandoning your "vocation" was still a little like murdering your father. Roger is aware of the irony. It's his tightrope.

"some of these mountain people I work with are really anti-Catholic historically," Roger says, heaving into a grin. "I always want to say, 'I know, kneel down and I'll give you a blessing.'" He doesn't parade his past, nor does he hide from it. People who work with him know. At first his mom, who lives in Louisville, couldn't understand what her son had done. And for a time, Roger refused to submit the official papers to Rome to be "laicized." aHe still despises the word, considers it a condescension, a reduction. "Reduced to what?" he says angrily. "It was half belligerence and half indifference," he says now of his refusal to submit papers.

The rope unraveling: In the major seminary, Roger's superiors were always on him to wear clerical dress. "I figure we only had it for symbolic value anyway." In '69, he and a few others from the seminary went to the Moratorium on the Mall. He wore his collar. "We stood there and passed out Oreo cookies like hosts." He giggles, half sheepish, half delighted.

A new superior came to the seminary. He summoned Roger. "You have broken two of my predecessors. You won't break me." He left the priesthood before Roger did.

A year before his ordination, Roger worked on a road gang in Russell County, Ala. It was not the textbook way to spend your deaconite summer. He made $1.22 an hour. The blacks rode in the rear. "There was a guy there who could use a grader like a hand trowel. He'd been there for years. He was making two cents more an hour than I was."

Outrages were spreading in his head. There was another idea, too: worker-priest, though he couldn't articulate it. But the notion of the old sacramental priest, the cleric who waited in his rectory for baptisms and marriages and funerals ("hatch, match, dispatch"), had gone obsolete for him before he even tried it.

In his final year of study, Roger did his thesis on the theology of priesthood. He was nearly feverish in his research. He could find no rational reason for celibacy -- other than church sanction since 1139. He had met Eileen by now. "Maybe I was trying to prove what I already felt." He was, in a lot of ways, a tortured saint, a holy devil, full of ice and fire, his devil the measure of his angel.

He got ordained. He was sent to a mission in Kiln, Miss. "If I had a collection on Sunday, I'd give half to the pastor and maybe the other half to move some poor old woman who had lost everything. I was constantly ripping the collections and slipping people rent money." Yes, he knows about means justifying ends. It didn't matter.

Two kids in the parish were getting married."We figured, what the s---, both of them didn't have two pennies to rub together." So he and a co-conspirator nun took the collection baskets that Sunday and headed out for New Orleans: a clerical Bonnie and Clyde.

"Right on the outskirts of town there's this great big discount house. We went through the appliance section of that place and bought it out. We bought toasters, this thing, that thing, the other thing. And then we gift-wrapped them and sent them from Pope Paul VI, one from the bishop, another from the pastor. We signed names on those things till 3 o'clock in the morning."

In May 1973, Roger went to Washington to see Fr. Stephen, the custodian general of the community. "I said, 'Stephen, I want to get married. I want to stay in the community.' He didn't bat an eyelash. He said, "That's impossible, you know that." I said, 'No, it's not impossible, it really could happen. I'm not talking about getting assigned here in Washington. I want to be assigned to eastern Kentucky.' Well, he did not buy my line."

Roger got married by a justice of the peace in the Rockville courthouse on May 26, 1973. On the following Saturday, under gray skies at 11 o'clock in the morning, he and his bride had their own ceremony in the back yard of her apartment in Silver Spring. A priest-classmate was supposed to witness; he backed out. But another priest from the seminary, Fr. Eric, brought his trumpet, and other friends came with covered dishes. Father Roger Recktenwald himself, fallen priest, consecrated a few loaves and passed them around. Afterward he and his wife drove to Kentucky and began jobs.

TIME TELESCOPES, strangely compacts. Bertin Glennon, the kid I met boarding the "the Seminole" on track nine at the Illinois Central station on Michigan Ave. two decades ago, stands in his own rectory in eastern Kentucky, 1980. It is after midnight. We have been talking nonstop since I arrived.

He is in a blue captain's cap with gold braiding on the brim, a collarless priest shirt, work boots, a goose-down vest. The vest only makes him look rounder, more affectionately hapless. A pipe is clenched in his teeth. A silver pocketwatch, umbilicaled to a chain in his belt loop, makes a small buldge in his right front pocket. The nuns at St. Ann's gave him the watch. bHe had another one, but it ticked so furiously at mass it drove one of the sisters nuts.

At his feet is a setter named Boo. Bertin's had Boo nine years, since ordination. At night, Boo climbs in bed with his master.

He is showing off his prize hunting gun. (The rectory is piled high with outdoor magazines.) He loves to go hunting with men of the parish: grouse, deer, fox, not that he's ever gotten much. He's a lousy shot, and besides doesn't know if he could pull the trigger on a deer. "Fox hunting," he says. "You know what fox hunting down here is? You sit around a fire all night, drink and lie."

Somehow I feel as through I've stepped whole into a J.F. Powers comic short story bingo and irony at the foot of the cross.

We wander upstairs, to his hide-away, where he makes his tapes for his Sunday radio show. His show comes on at noon. "I get them coming home from church." He plays religious folk music, sermonizes in between. One Sunday he hit on the hostage situation in Iran: He bombed. On a speaker cabinet there is a photo of himself, Roger, two others, taken on ordination day. Rogers collar is different.

We go back downstairs to his office. Behind him, on the wall: "Bless This Mess." He lights a different pipe, knocks back. We have seen each other once in 15 years. "It isn't awkward, is it?" he says.

The temptation is to say Bertin Glennon glided through, while Roger Recktenwald always carried fire. But is anything monolithic? I learned tonight that in his fifth year of studies, Bertin had secretly packed his bags, put them in the bottom of his locker, and went to see the prefect about getting a ticket home. He was determined to sneak out while we were at lunch, so he wouldn't have to attend his own wake. Leaving the seminary was like that: funeral and awkward and somehow a bit shameful. You never quite knew what to say. A trunk on the front step was the equivalent of a hearse. I was Bertin's roommate that year. My bed was three feet from his. I never knew.

"I went to see Fr. Terrace. He said 'You have to have a reason.' I couldn't give him one. I just wanted out. He made me agree to wait a week.It passed.

There were other moments, too. They passed.

Looking back, Bertin figures he wanted to be a priest nearly all his life. "When I was in second grade, the nun I had, Sr. Apollonia -- what was I -- seven? -- told us to put our heads down on our desks. It was our First Communion. She said, 'This is a very special day in your lives. Anything you ask Baby Jesus for, if it's good, He'll give it to you.' And she came up to me and whispered, 'You ask to be a priest.' So I did. I was seven years old. I'd just made my life decisions. I went home and said, 'I'm going to be a priest.' My dad was on the sofa reading the paper. He said, 'Oh, that's nice.'"

He is smiling: All the ironies. All the years. "You know, my whole eighth-grade year, I don't think I went home from school once without first going over to the rectory to help monsignor. I used to sweep the parking lot for him. I had a special room in the rectory set aside where I did my homework. I think I went into the seminary out of priest hero worship."

One of the priests Bertin worshiped in grammar school was a Father Adrian Doherty. Father Adrian was mid-west vocation director for the seminary Bertin, Roger and I would eventually enter. He came to Bertin's sixth-grade class and showed a film, "Going His Way." Bertin was stroked. He filled out a card saying he wanted more information about the prep seminary in Alabama.

"I helped him pack up the projector. I carried it out to his car and just stood there. I wanted him to take me with him right then."

A year later, in Minnesota, Fr. Adrian was on his way back to Chicago from interviewing a seminary candidate. It was late at night, a lonely road. The car went out of control, overturned. Doherty was crushed beneath it. In one of the dispatches on his death, there was this: "A trail of Roman collars spilled out of the careening car pointed the way to the body . . . The scene of the accident was about 30 miles from a town called Adrian."

For years, that story was told in the seminary. The inexplicability of it only made the ways of God more absorbing.

Hero worship passed, of course. As did other schoolboy notions of what priesthood really is. But that is just process. Bertin went into the seminary at 14. He was ordained at 27. And now Bertin Glennon -- a priest for nine years, all things to all men, Christ's earthly anointed -- ministers to a coal county where 63 percent of the families are on welfare, where nearly half the roads are still unpaved, where some people live in hollows in shacks they rent for $10, maybe $15 a month.

"The social concern is so apparent," he says. "You can't turn around in Clay County without meeting somebody who's hungry or wants you to pay their light bill. I bet I get five requests a month to pay a light bill. pThe culture of poverty is strange.It's not unusual to see somebody with a Monte Carlo sitting out in front of one of these pineboard shacks. That's the way poor people adapt. They have a real sense that everything's fleeting."

There are 800 square miles in Clay County, maybe 24,000 people. Bertin has 10 families in his parish. This is still the frontier of the faith. "If I collect $50 a Sunday, it's a big deal." Except once a month when a woman doctor kicks in $100. Then he feels rich as cream. The mayor of Manchester, a Baptist, refers to Bertin as "Manchester's priest." At Christmas time, he slips Bertin a $500 check. Bertin still hasn't been invited to join the local ministerial society.

Batting around town in his snappy compact (he used to have a pickup), clad in a Greek fisherman's hat and civvies, introducing you to Wanda, the town clerk, jawing with a postman, pointing out the spanking new swimming pool and rec center, the new jail, showing off the city park he helped build his second year in town, allowing as how he's chairman of the transit authority (no buses yet, but they're working on it), chairman of the zoning board, chairman of the RCIP (Regional Capital Improvement Program), my old classmate is a picture of Rotarian, spiritual pride, a priest who has found his flock, his place, his stake. Manchester, Ky., depresses hell out of me -- and I am flat envious.

"People come to visit and they say, 'But how do you adapt?' Adapt? I love it here. This is me."

The next day we drive up to Hector Hill, past a pawn shop ("Anything of Value Bought or Sold"), past Lochards Creek, where tire rims and scrawny chickens go with every front yard, past mares' tails of smoke curling from crumbling chimneys. "This is the metaphysical essence of poverty." He climbs the car up a rutted path to a fire tower. We get out and begin our own climbing. He is puffing before I am, though it is nearly a tie. We make it halfway up. "Look at it. Isn't it something?" he says, pointing. It is: inky-blue whale humps marching off in every direction. Streaks of sky the color of canvas. Beauty a mask for all the ugliness.

"I find it strange for people to come out and say, 'This must be very depressing for you to be working here.' I think this is the starkest, fiercest beauty there is. You've got to fight it, sure."

I tell him I must leave soon to go see Roger in Prestonsburg. Roger and Bertin, though 80 miles apart, don't see one another. They both turned up at an area development meeting awhile back. It was a little stiff. They both tried.

"You know, when Roger and I were in the seminary, I always felt inferior to him. He was so terribly talented. He could do anything with his hands. Once, when he and I were on a summertime mission down here, he took a plank and told me to hold it. He built a bathroom around me while I stood there."

I remind Bertin he is the only one of us who made it. What did he know back then we didn't? He shrugs. "Maybe it was the luck of the draw." He doesn't believe it.

THE DAY I left the seminary, I took down from the wall over my bed a quote from Cardinal Newman, the 19th-century English theologian and humanist: "To grow is to change, to grow perfect is to have changed often." At the time, the quote meant much to me. I was too young then to know Newman was a utopian.

I asked Roger if he thought he had changed much. We were standing outside his office, beneath sun glinting off new snow. It was raw and cold, but somehow a day not without promise. Roger had on a tie and sleeveless cabled sweater that didn't quite cover his paunch. He stood rattling the change in his pocket, scuffing at an air-conditioning unit with his squeegee-soled shoes. (He's always walked duck-footed.) We had been talking furiously for two days.

"I think I've given more thoughts to my actions these last couple years. I've witnessed this phenomenon a number of times: I'll place an action, then try to figure out later what it was I did." He hestitated. "I don't brandish the sword as much now."

Roger, like me, doesn't go to church much now. But he frets about his salvation, he still prays. There is a non-traditional parish he visits when he and his wife are in Louisville. When I asked if he thought the climate might ever change so he would be tempted to take up some kind of active ministry again, he yawned. Didn't guess so, he said. We let it drop.

"I don't think I would have survived the '60s had not the basic questioning happened," he said. "If the '60s hadn't happened, I might still be a priest today. And I probably would be celibate."

He looked up then and cuffed me lightly. It is impossible to know all he meant, but I think the slap had to do with camaraderie and sadness, with bad times and great times, with a sense of transcendency, with a certain funny history of the distance between two points.

We shook hands and I left. I could see him in the rear-view mirror, diminishing only in my vision.