Taking Orders

As Mazy leaves the office, the last show of the Ecclesia network’s afternoon is in progress, called Taking Orders. Carlos goes on sorting things, moving piles off the floor onto newly cleared shelves. Some of the show’s material is familiar to him. It’s about newer orders of priests, that exist along with continuing ones like the Salvatorans, Franciscans, and Jesuits.

Carlos himself is a Salvatoran father assigned to a parish, in his tenth year of priesthood. In two more years his first holy docad of religious life will be up. It’ll be time to decide if he wants to renew his vows for seven or twelve more years. At the chapterhouse of his order they’ll throw a big party for him, and his parents and kid sister and brother and sister-in-law will come. People celebrate the years of religious life already given by the honoree just the same, whether the person is continuing in priesthood, switching to a different order, or transiting to a time of another calling. Carlos is thinking ‘yeah,’ he’ll carry on another sacred seven at least. So far celibacy hasn’t greatly troubled him, and there’s good pastoral literature on how to live it, and signs of when to start another life. If he wants to continue priesthood in another order that doesn’t prescribe celibacy, he can go for that.

The show is telling about orders of priests formed over the past century. The Johannines were named after a couple called John and Ann. They’re married couples who bothe feel called to priesthood and are both ordained. If they are childless, they give their energy fully to the parishes or missions they serve. Or they may have children, since their experience as parents will also help them serve better in certain ways. In liturgies of Ordinary Time their green stoles have, at each hanging end, embroidered intertwining bright yellow and orange flames to show the double fire of their bodily and spiritual love for each other and for the church. One of them is being interviewed. He says they realize that Jesus was not a hermaphrodite, but they think this may be just as well, since even if he had been one, there probably wouldn’t be enough hermaphrodites to fill all the jobs for priests. So they don’t think anyone would have a problem with this in exercising her priestly ministry.

The Hearth Pastors are men or women who combine their priestly service with married life while their spouse has something of a different calling, as have priests in other times of Christian history. There are other orders too, so that people in various life situations can practice special love and institutional support for each other as priests. In many countries, health insurance companies have special low rates for priests. In many countries, health insurance companies have special low rates for priests and clergy of any groups that provide free social services. The government supplements the insurance system that way because the clergy’s work saves the taxpayers money.

The Weavers of Truth (or just “Wearvers”) are an order of men and women scholar-priests, founded in 2001 by the Sri Lankan theologian and oblate father Tissa Balasuriya, who became widely known for his book on Mary and Human Liberation. The two mottos interwoven on their seal are Truth, the seemly garment of the mind and the Pauline saying, “God is not without witness in any nation.” They say the threads of truth must be rewoven in each era, and they wear hand-loomed garment for liturgy.

They run libraries and data centers for studies of faith and culture, and have charge of the Vatican’s ancient and modern holdings, which they keep open to all scholars. They remained a small Asian order for a while. But Thomas of India, the first east Asian pope, who lived to be ninety, expanded their operations through the mid twenty-first century. Many of them are single, though they may have a spouse, often also a scholar or scientist, who shares their apartment in a Weavers living unit, wherever they are assigned. These usually have units arranged around a commons area for liturgical and other celebrations, as well as a kitchen for community cooking for special occasions.

Many of them are anthropologists. They look for touchpoints of recognition for Catholics in the spiritual life of many peoples, and write of these cultures with respect. They are rigorous about accuracy and self-aware critical editing, for the audio-visual and textual materials in their databases. They teach careful study of languages and other aspects of culture. The offices in their Vatican headquarters are often cluttered and unkempt, as scholars’ quarters tend to be. The watchword-logo on works from their publishing house is, Concepts elegant and shaggy, data documented. They have oversight responsibility of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

As the show on priestly orders ends, Carlos finally has his floor cleared enough to pull down the built-in stretch vacuum hose from its corner ceiling tube, and clean up the dust and scraps. They vanish into the tubing leading to the building’s compactor, that packs the waste into cubes to be collected by a recycling truck once a year; they’re used for layering in landfills. He slips out the collapsible brush from its holder on the tube and goes over the pictures and hangings. He hopes his new co-pastor will like the light plum-colored mini-blinds he chose, and the crucifix of pewter and lapis lazuli, sent by the parish’s sister church in Mexico City.

Myra Shaunessy, President of the Altar Society, comes in to check about the flowers for the May processional for the Feast of Mary this Sunday. They’re to be native wildflowers, grown by some of the Catholic Daughters in their gardens and window-boxes. Myra is also planning ahead to the midsummer’s Sacred Heart festival, and who’ll be her committee for the event. She and Father Carlos talk over some new people in the parish with small kids who might take part.

Each year on the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is also the eve of Immaculate Heart of Mary, the parish holds a picnic and mass near Lake Michigan, in the long evening light of solstice. People swim in an inlet recreation area, and eat chilled salads. Quarter life-sized figures of our Blessed Mother and St. John the beloved disciple are placed at one end of the white-clothed picnic table serving as an altar, with her hand outstretched and his holding it. He has a fishing net slung over his shoulder and a loaf of bread held to his chest, inscribed panis angelicus. An inscription on her dress says: Mother, receive your son. People think that when Jesus on the cross gave John to his mother as a son to replace himself, he was giving all of us to her as our blessed mother. Mother of God and mother of us.

As the candles are lit, the children attending bring up flowers and vines and long grasses from home, which they drape profusely on and around the two figures. During the processional two kids bring up a placard and prop it at John’s feet, with a saying from the First Letter of John: See what love the Father has lavished on us–it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we are already God’s children.

Once Myra has said “Goodbye” and headed out with her notepad of names, Father Carlos clears away the last few things from the forgotten corner between old cabinets. In a few minutes there’s a knock. He opens the door and the new assistant pastor walks in. Her tight-woven braids are neck-length, and she’s patting the dark brown skin of her shoulders with a red-checkered handkerchief. She wears a blue blouse with white-bordered neck similar to Carlos’s shirt. Mother Lejuana Godot introduces herself with a big smile, shakes his hand, and surveys the now lightly cluttered office.

“This looks just like what I left!” she says contentedly. “I feel at home already.”