Lawyer in Heaven

Legend has it that in the past the Lord would never look very kindly upon lawyers because whenever a lawyer appeared at Heaven’s doors, his passport was seldom if ever in proper order.

One morning at daybreak, someone knocked at the celestial gates. St. Peter jumped from his bed and, sticking his head out the little window of the entranceway, he saw at once that the source of the commotion was an old man accompanied by his cat.

“This one is indeed an early riser,” the apostle muttered. “What can I do for you?”

“I wish to come in, obviously,” answered the recent arrival.

“And just who are you, little brother, to show up here so cocky?”

“My name is Ibo, a citizen of Rome, at your service.”

“Fine, then. Please let me have your papers.”

The old man was carrying his document in a tin tube, which he handed to the saintly doorkeeper. The latter closed the little window and disappeared.

St. Peter went off in the direction of the office, where those who are in charge of examining passports congregated. Since the new arrival’s papers appeared in perfect order, St. Peter was advised to open the doors and invite him in.

“Come in and welcome to Heaven,” urged Peter.

At once the old man and his cat entered the gatekeeper’s lodge. The tabby was a quiet, good natured animal, not given to causing disturbances. The morning proved extremely cold, and the newcomer, who paused a moment to shake off the dust from his travels, sat down close to the hearth. Drawn by the warmth, the old man rested, his pet at his feet. St. Peter, whose courtesy is legendary (except when he becomes furious, at which time he might slash off ears), offered his guest a glass of wine since beyond the pearly gates you can never manage to get hold of a drop of tea, even for medicinal purposes.

As he sat warming himself, the old fellow struck up a conversation with St. Peter.

“And how are things going in your gatekeeper’s job?”

“Not too badly,” St. Peter replied modestly. “Like every public position, it has advantages and disadvantages.”

“If you’re not content and would like to better yourself, just let me know. I’ll be more than happy to repay your kind hospitality by doing my best to make sure you receive a promotion.”

“No, please!” Peter cut him short. “In my post as gatekeeper, I enjoy respect and peace of mind. I’d not exchange it for all the gold in the world.”

“Fine, then. We’ll forget all about it. But are you certain that someday there won’t be someone intent on snatching your job away from you? Do you have a legal title, written on stamped paper as stipulated by law? And have you paid the treasury the required fees?”

St. Peter scratched his bald head. He’d never for a moment imagined that simply to keep his position he would be obliged to obtain a particular document. Taken back, he confessed his surprise to the old man.

“Well, friend, if you don‘t keep a sharp eye out, they’ll grab your job from you when least you expect it. You ought to be glad I came by. Find me some stamped paper, a pen and ink, and before you know it I’ll make out an application form demanding the issuance of said title. In addition, we’ll ask that they recognize job seniority, so that when eventually you get bored with gatekeeping—because in this life anything can happen—you’ll be able to retire.”

Five minutes later St. Peter delivered the request to the Lord.

“What’s this, Peter? Why do you want a title on official paper? Surely my word is more than sufficient.” With that the Lord tore up the request and added gently:

“Peter, Peter. I see you have been careless with your duties as gatekeeper, and now we have a lawyer among us.”

Ever since that day, the lawyers who dwell on earth have had up in Heaven a member of their profession. He is St. Ibo, a celestial resident serving as their protector and usually portrayed with a cat lying at his feet, as if the saint were telling us that whoever gets involved in lawsuits should expect at the very least to emerge with a few scratches.

Even the Romans, upon discovering that finally a lawyer had succeeded in entering the heavenly halls, could not help but express astonishment. And on the feast of St. Ibo’s canonization, the children of the streets would sing:

A lawyer and a saint?
To people everywhere a most
surprising combination.

Contributors

Ricardo Palma

Although decades have gone by, RICARDO PALMA has retained his position among Latin America?s most respected writers. He is still widely read in the Spanish-speaking world. His works appear on a regular basis in anthologies of Latin American prose.

Thomas Feeny

THOMAS FEENY has taught Spanish literature at North Carolina State University since 1970. Among the Latin American authors whose work he has studied and/or translated are Marco Denevi, Alfonsina Storni, Amado Nervo and Ricardo Palma.

ADVERTISEMENTS