“I just came from a client nearby, Lorenzo…”
He left to his suite for a shower. Veitena, as planned, used those minutes to inspect the apartment in search of signs of women. Mary, the cleaning woman indicated to Lorenzo, claimed to be unfit, reducing hours of work. It was how Mary escaped the requests of Veitena to spy on Lorenzo, reporting findings.
Veitena found no evidences. Toothbrush, clothes, women’s products, hairs, the place was clean. She did not dare to enter Lorenzo’s suite. When he returned to the living room, Veitena appeared, coming from the guest room:
“I congratulate you again for the decoration, Lorenzo!”
“Thanks.” Lorenzo made a huge diplomatic effort to talk to her, uttering a minimum of words. It had become a serious issue for him not to know where were the boundaries between extreme selfishness plus religious extremism and mental health problems. Days ago, she pointed scissors to her own neck and now she was there, normal. She can either pretend normality or sickness, depending on her purpose…
Lorenzo felt that those minutes with Veitena until the arrival of Father Joseph would last an eternity.
Father Joseph was close to his thirtieth year of priesthood after overcoming the loss of his fiancée one week before the wedding in a car accident. Despite the tragedy whose pain nearly destroyed his life, two years after the accident he knew he would love no one else. He decided to offer his life to help other people. Initially, it had been problematic to convince the priests to whom that extraordinarily handsome young man asked for advice. All of them advised him to wait some more time, maybe to know someone else, to marry and, if he still felt the calling, he could become a future deacon. The Catholic Church increasingly recognized the value and the need of alternatives to the lack of priests. Permanent deacons seemed to be a good option. Parish churches in populated areas could have one parish priest and many deacons, instead of assistant priests. Although deacons could not entirely replace priests, they were allowed to celebrate marriages, christenings and even Celebrations of the Word using hosts already consecrated by the priest, once deacons were not allowed to consecrate them.
The handsome Joseph was considered a potential loss of time and resources of church over the eight years needed for a young man to study in the seminary before receiving the sacrament of orders. They feared that he might not resist temptation by women in love with him. But young Joseph insisted and time has shown that his calling had been solid from the very beginning.
Almost thirty years later, Father Joseph was an extraordinarily handsome sixty-two year-old man.
The wealthy churchgoers of the Parish of Candles in Green Palms, finally got used to the procedures Father Joseph implemented in that parish to which he was assigned thirteen years before. Those believers capable of observation not only deemed his measures correct, but also valued him more each day due to his spontaneous demonstrations of fortitude. At first, they did not understand why he did not accept any invitation to parties or dinners at parishioners or local politician houses as many did before him; he employed that time in more visits to those in need, such as families undergoing personal tragedies or serious problems, sick people at home or hospitals to give them the anointing of the sick. Priests were lacking. He had to make good use of his time.
In that wealthy parish, he requested the renovation of the room where he received several people hours long every day, replacing the heavy crafted wooden door, with a wide double glass one with view to/from the church assistant’s office. The privacy of the talks was guaranteed by the sound-proof double glass. He was the first to let clear his mission as a priest, inhibiting any married or unmarried woman who tried to seduce him during private meetings in the attendance room. In those first months as the new vicar, the number of women choosing the Parish of Candles to attend service rose exponentially. Many found pretexts to be alone with him, even if for some minutes. The new glass door, however, destroyed the plans of the malicious ones. For Father Joseph, if they did not respect the environment of the church, he would not be a victim of them. He reduced almost to zero undue advances. There were female believers that he considered dangerous, even after such measures. He was used to being constantly careful.
The glass door ended up being useful also when families asked him to talk to their kids amid moments such as the death of a beloved one, marriage crisis or serious diseases. If the kid was under twelve years-old, one of the parents would remain in the room with them. If, for any reason, such as suspicions of physical violence or illicit drug use, the kid or teenager was alone, the glass door was the assurance of the possibility of anyone to view the environment of the talk, although not listening to or lip-reading its content due to the positioning of the chairs. Father Joseph could not simply close his eyes and ears to the mistakes of some inside the Catholic Church, affecting it as a whole. He believed that along with the much stricter directives from Vatican, the everyday life in the parishes should be conducted in such a way that the own community could verify the fortitude of their spiritual leaders. He could even be the first to accomplish such understanding materially in the Catholic Church.
The number of churchgoers in the Parish of Candles nearly tripled under the command of Father Joseph. Many homilies in the now very crowded Sunday’s services led people listening to him to tears and it was common to see people in a queue specially to greet him for the beauty and impact of his words after the services. In his homilies, firmly and yet tenderly, he demanded that each one there started a new week as a better person than the one that entered his service in the hour before. He had talent to touch whole families, husbands and wives, young people and people in general, including atheists attending marriages or funerals, whose admiration, with time, he gained.
Father Joseph always succeeded in dealing with female churchgoers who tried to seduce him. However, Veitena Marces presented a different kind of challenge. At first, he considered her another middle-aged woman that abandoned her husband with a crush in the priest, like many. She attended church service every single day, as well as all workshops, activities and study journeys for laypersons. She served in the church twice a week distributing basic foods for the poor. But no undue advance had ever been made on him by Veitena Marces. On the contrary: from what Father Joseph in his humanity heard, protected by the secrecy of confession, she aimed to reach a state of sanctity, well beyond being a good person under the Catholicism. He had wondered why she did not choose to become nun to accomplish it. Over thirteen years, the humanity in Father Joseph enabled him to correlate confessions: of women who named Lorenzo Marces as target of their sins every Sunday, of the extreme sanctity project of Veitena Marces and Lorenzo’s confessions telling the priest he feared to not endure anymore loneliness, how his confessions changed, not long ago, into feeling guilty for appreciating the attention of a woman who answered his professional e-mails with palpable serenity and tenderness, how Lorenzo kept sending her e-mails opening himself more and more, how he suddenly felt happy as never before, whenever there was a reply to him filled of her tender, long, caring and philosophical answers.
Well before the separation of the Marces, Father Joseph talked with Veitena, worried with possible consequences of her extreme dedication to the service of God. He said how thankful he was to her services, but it was important not to rob Peter to pay Paul. He would also be glad if she stayed more at home because a husband might miss his wife. She limited to answer that Lorenzo Marces was blessed for having a wife like her.
Veitena Marces was a true believer, undoubtedly, despite her extremisms. When she begged him to visit Lorenzo Marces for a matter of life and death, he had to help them, somehow.
One year after the separation whose inception he slowly witnessed from the very core of the couple, for no marriage ends from the outside, he parked close to the elegant building where Lorenzo lived alone and headed to the doorbell panel.