That night Antonio dreams of three people. At first he thinks that they are his brothers, but actually they turn out to be Lupito, Narciso, and Florence, the three people he has watched die and said Acts of Contrition for "in his innocence," even though they were outcasts. Antonio begs to know why he has to see so much violence, and a voice answers that creation is born from violence. Antonio watches as a priest defiles an altar by pouring pigeon blood on it, Cico defiles the river by spearing the golden carp, and Tenorio murders Ultima by killing her "night-spirit." Antonio cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" The three dead figures tell him that they live only in his dreams.
This last dream portrays Antonio's inner religious doubt in the form of the people he has acted as priest for, as he wonders if his prayers had any effect at all. The voice speaking about violence relates to much of the novel's plot – violent acts have been a part of most of the major changes in Antonio's life, and his biggest experiences have involved witnessing death or frightening magic. Ultima's "night-spirit" foreshadows her death and the owl's role as her spirit. Antonio cries out with Christ's words from the cross, and capture Antonio's own confusion at the seeming invisibility and absence of the Catholic God.
Antonio wakes from the nightmare and Ultima gives him a potion. She says he has seen too much death for his age and perhaps he should go stay with his uncles, the Lunas. His parents agree, and they all decide that he will go to El Puerto for the month. He is sad to leave Ultima, but she says sadness is part of becoming a man, and he must gather strength from his experiences. He must also expect things to be changed when he returns, as he is growing up fast. María and Ultima both bless Antonio and he leaves with Gabriel. He realizes he will never see his home the same way again.
Ultima's advice here is also Anaya's advice for his readers – change and tragedy are inevitable, but one must accept them and make them a part of one's individual strength. Growing up is about gathering experiences and an understanding of both good and evil. The blessings here echo Antonio's blessings as "priest" and the novel's title. Antonio starts to accept change and can step back and see that he is growing up.
Gabriel and Antonio talk on the drive to El Puerto. Gabriel says it is good for Antonio to be on his own, and that Gabriel left at that age to live alone in the llano. He tells Antonio that he must choose from all the old dreams or make something new. Gabriel admits that the old llano and vaqueros are dying out, so perhaps Antonio should follow the Lunas, or at least give up the conflict between wind and earth, sea and moon – but Antonio wants to be both Luna and Márez. He wonders if a new religion could be made from the old ones. Gabriel says the first Luna priest had a family (forbidden for priests). This gives Antonio hope that religion could change.
Gabriel and Antonio have both grown and can look past rigid worldviews and accept the inevitable changes of life. Gabriel is still proud of his heritage, but he now sees that it is not the only way. Antonio's questions and resolutions here are basically Anaya's thesis for the novel – he must embrace all the aspects of his culture and childhood—Luna and Márez; Native American, Spanish, and English; Catholic and pagan; curanderismo and priesthood – and build his own identity out of them, accepting them all as valid in their contradictions.
Antonio asks Gabriel about evil, to which Gabriel responds that most evil is just things people don't understand. God does not give understanding – only experience does. He adds that much of Ultima's magic is just great empathy with other people and the earth. Antonio is not sure he understands, but he will never forget that conversation with Gabriel.
Gabriel's relativistic view of evil is similar to Ultima's, and directly relates to Antonio's view of Tenorio. Antonio still hates and fears Tenorio, but he can now begin to understand that what he sees as evil is just a lack of understanding and empathy, which is both the opposite of Ultima but also not so dissimilar to how the rest of society acts towards Ultima.
Antonio has a good month working with his uncles and his nightmares do not bother him during this time. He enjoys learning the Lunas way of life, how they are silent and loving towards the earth. As the month passes, Antonio gets a letter that his parents will come and get him soon. His uncle Pedro, meanwhile, is pleased with Antonio's work and also with his learning. He says Antonio will have a place among the Lunas if he should so choose.
Antonio begins to live out Ultima's advice, gathering strength from the earth and processing all the experiences of his life so far. The Luna brothers do not try to force their way of life on Antonio either, but simply offer it as an option if he wants it.
As Pedro is speaking to Antonio, Juan approaches with the news that Tenorio's second daughter has died, and that Tenorio is again drunk and after Ultima's blood. The Luna brothers decide to help Ultima this time, despite their father's wishes, as they owe her for Lucas's life. They decide to drive with Antonio back to Guadalupe after dinner. Antonio feels less anxious and starts off to Prudencio's house to pack his things.
The Lunas have grown as well, as now they decide to stand up for Ultima against Tenorio in the same way that Gabriel and Narciso did. Antonio has gathered his strength and advice, and now it is time for his last and greatest trial.
Antonio is walking Tenorio suddenly rides up, cursing, and tries to run him over with his horse. Antonio grabs the reins and the horse throws Tenorio, and Antonio flees and hides. Tenorio looks for him in vain, but curses him aloud and hopes Antonio is dead. He vows to avenge his daughters, and says he has discovered Ultima's secret – the owl is Ultima's spirit, so it is the owl he must kill. Antonio hears this and it suddenly makes sense. The owl is the spirit of the night, the llano, and the moon – it is Ultima's soul. He is terrified for her.
Tenorio's rage and desire for vengeance makes sense considering the death of his daughters, although his attempts to murder Antonio show his total lack of moral sense. The importance of Ultima's owl is finally explained, and Antonio's description of its spirit – night, llano, and moon – seems to encompass both Luna and Márez, and represent a harmony of the two.
Antonio starts to run the ten miles to Guadalupe, and he thinks of Narciso's last rush to save Ultima. Antonio knows he must defend her because she is a symbol of good overcoming evil. After a few miles it gets dark and he is exhausted. He thinks more about the owl, and remembers how it had protected and watched over them.
Antonio acts like an adult here (although his long run is rash and perhaps misguided), as he has plenty of time to think and reconsider and still he decides to put himself in danger for Ultima's sake. The owl has been like Ultima, watching over him as he grew up.
Antonio runs and thinks about the moments of beauty and grief he has experienced, and wonders if he is becoming a man, and what dream his life will follow. He reaches his home and everything seems calm, but then Tenorio appears with a rifle. He points the gun at Antonio, but Ultima commands the owl to attack him and Tenorio shoots it. The gunshot seems to shatter Antonio's childhood.
Antonio already starts to act on Ultima and Gabriel's advice as he thinks about his experiences and how to build strength from them. The gunshot is another act of violence that means a huge change for Antonio's life.
Tenorio finds the owl's body and holds it up triumphantly, howling that he has had his revenge. Then he aims his gun at Antonio again, but Pedro shoots him in the stomach and he falls, dead.
The cycle of vengeance and pointless punishment ends with Tenorio's death, although Antonio cannot yet appreciate the harmony of it.
Antonio sees the owl is dead and looks frantically for Ultima. The others don't understand what the owl means, so they think the danger has passed. Antonio orders his mother and sisters inside, like a man.
Even at his young age Antonio acts like a man in this situation. These simple instructions are symbolic of the maturity he has gained.
Antonio enters Ultima's room and sees she is dying. He pleads with her to live, but she accepts her fate. She tells how the flying man gave her the owl as her spirit. She has done good in the world, but also meddled with destiny just like Tenorio. Now that they are both dead it will bring balance. She asks Antonio to burn her medicines and bury the owl under a forked juniper tree.
Antonio is understandably grief-stricken, but Ultima again sees the larger cycle of life, and in her eyes death does not have to be an evil. Like the Virgin of Antonio's dream, she asks that Tenorio be forgiven, and Ultima sees that her death and Tenorio's bring about a kind of harmony and balance.
Antonio kneels and requests a blessing. Ultima asks that he have "the strength to live," and she says she will be there in the hills when he is in despair. Antonio runs out and buries the owl beneath a juniper, crying.
Ultima's last blessing echoes the many priestly blessings of the novel, but she asks only that Antonio find his own inner strength. The juniper tree appears for the last time as a symbol of ancient burial rites.
As he buries the owl, Antonio looks at the moonlit town and thinks about building his own, new dream out of the dreams of his past. Later they will bury Ultima with a Catholic mass, but Antonio knows he is really burying her here and now.
This burial is Antonio's own, more personal version of the Catholic ceremony that will take place later. In this last action he is already beginning to build a new identity and system of beliefs from the influences of his past.