Friday, November 04, 2005

Unholy Orders

Following the statistically improbable discovery by a wayward parachutist of Aunt Myrtle's mortal remains at the bottom of the disused well which had lain hidden for years beneath what I'd considered hitherto to be the impenetrable tangle of brambles which formed my back garden, I was ordered by the court to submit myself to a lengthy and rigorous psychiatric evaluation and subsequently informed that I could either undergo an innovative programme of socio-psychological realignment at the recently opened Institute of Experimental Rehabilitation in South Wales or spend the rest of my life in solitary confinement within the walls of the Rampmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Berkshire; the choice, I was told, was entirely mine. After much consideration and ambivalent coin flipping, I opted with grave misgivings for the former.

Some years later, I emerged shakily from a dense haze of chlorpromazine and unspecified neurological interference, my head ringing with liturgical gobbledegook, to discover that for me experimental rehabilitation had included not only my ordination as a priest in the Church of Rome but also an appointment as curate to Fr. Finbar O'Eucharist at the church of St. Benedict in the parish of Clapham. Most worryingly of all, I appeared to be in love with a man called Jesus.

I remembered precious little about my period of theological training, indeed initially assuming it to have been a rather terrible dream, and whether through a process of industrious application combined with a natural aptitude for the subject or a simple administrative error, I really cannot say, but I must somehow have been adjudged to have reached the required standard and passed the necessary examinations because I duly reported to Fr. Finbar, proudly brandishing a seemingly authentic Certificate of Priesthood.

"Father, Father, come in, come in." His welcome was warm enough but contained nonetheless a sinister undertone of sly complicity in some baneful practice silently presumed to be shared by all fellow priests. Restraining my curiosity concerning his dark secret, though having a shrewd idea as to its nature, I threw myself enthusiastically into my new parish duties.

I celebrated mass in English and in Latin; I joined happy couples in various acts of holy matrimony; I committed the dearly departed to the cold earth and the sacramental incinerator, and I baptised their descendants in the name of the father, the son and the good old spiritus sanctus.

Best of all I listened in rapt fascination to the full and frank confessions of the incorrigibly dissolute young housewives of the parish, eyes closed and cassock rustling as I pictured their frequent immoral transgressions of the Lord's sacred word. On His behalf I was authorised to bestow forgiveness upon them and absolve them of their filthy sins, thus providing them with a clean slate upon which to chalk a new catalogue of iniquity for my private pleasure the following week. It was a curious system of self-perpetuating circularity but it seemed to suit all concerned quite admirably, though I could never quite rid myself of the feeling that a loophole was being shamelessly exploited.

As if all this were not sufficient diversion for a young man, at the express behest of Bishop O'Herlihy I was tasked with visiting the homes of the wealthy widows of our flock for the sole and cynical purpose of influencing their last wills and testaments in favour of the Church and found to my delight that many of them preferred to make immediate and generous cash payments in return for my privately administering to their earthly needs for succour and solace.

The horizon, for once in my troubled life, appeared for a short and blissful time to be bright and blue and sunny, but on rare days of relative lucidity I realised that a cloud was looming within; a distant speck for now, I sensed it would grow in darkness and magnitude with the rapid and inexorable progress of a winter nightfall, blotting out the light for many years to come.

How burdened by prescience I proved to be.