… and the world stretches out before him as a panorama of burning cities. Their names are heavy on his tongue.
The flames lick at the depravities they harbour, devouring the squirming, screaming multitude of sinners. He watches as the brimstone eats away at the hubris of the people who believed they could bring angels to their knees. Before his eyes their proud buildings turn to roaring furnaces, stripping them of the jewels they had decked themselves in. The sensuous silks, the furs, the precious metals, all melting with the rest of their play at dignity, their prideful mockery of majesty. Vanity of vanities.
His eyes tear up from the pure waves of heat and light blazing through the cities, from the sheer magnificence of it. Confronted with the sinfulness of the world, the Lord’s mercy seems to him as immeasurable as his ire, for the sake of ten, I will not destroy it. Yet even in His wrath, He only shows the people their true reflection: a grotesque mass of writhing meat, thrashing its limbs in pain like it once did in the throes of fornication.
The privilege of being allowed to witness his Lord’s justice be done to his creation renders him speechless, overcome with humility. He is loath to even blink or avert his eyes for a moment, for fear the world will no longer be alight, no longer be so bright, a flaming token of God’s raw power. When the screaming fades (the flames still crackling and hissing and clawing to the Heavens), Girolamo finds his voice again, and it is rough and hoarse and it catches in his throat, but he falls to his knees and prays with a fervour that resonates through his entire being: “Lord, make me a vessel of Thy Heavenly will. Burn away my impurities, my doubts, my limitations and fill me with the fury of Thy wrath.”
He waits breathlessly for the answer, convinced it will come, convinced God has heard. Looking up, he sees thick black smoke drifting from the charred ruins, rolling over the plains until it completely envelops him, filling his lungs with the rancid smell of burnt flesh.
A moment of panic when he struggles to breathe and fails, trying not to retch. But then he regains his composure, the perfect serenity of someone who has devoted his entire life to fashioning himself into something that inflicts pain without ever feeling it himself.
Thy will be done, he thinks, whatever it takes.
He closes his eyes and deliberately breathes in what he imagines must be Sin in its most undiluted form, allows it to wash over him. Gasping for air he feels the filth enter his body, coursing through his veins and contaminating his blood until it finally finds his heart and nestles itself there, filling him with visions so terrifying, so pleasurable, that he bites his tongue not to cry out. He is burning up, the heat surging through him like it did through the streets of Sodom and he fights not to succumb. Feverishly he tries to collect his thoughts enough to form another prayer. Purify my flesh and transmogrify my soul to serve Thee, my Lord.
And then, finally, when the pain becomes more than he can bear, more than even he can deal with, he adds quietly, ashamedly, the secret dream he has cherished for as long as he can remember: Make me into one of Thine angels.
It feels like his head is splitting open, like his body has surrendered so completely that he can neither breathe nor die, just lie there in incredulous shock as his nerves are seared numb and his thoughts lose all coherence. He feels his mind leaving his broken body and rebels against his own weakness. It cannot end yet, it is not done! But when he looks back at his own form lying on the plains of Canaan, when he sees the outstretched wings, dark as pitch and still smouldering, and eyes black and devoid of humanity, he weeps with joy.
He wakes up without wings, but still he thanks God for allowing him a vision of His greatness, for showing him that even one such as himself, who uses the gifts of his mind to manipulate, his tongue to conquer and his hands to kill, can be a servant of the Lord.
He does not sleep again that night.