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I have a message to my dear friends and colleagues who are women religious in the United States: “You are in good hands!”
Thursday evening, I had the privilege of serving as MC with Archbishop Joseph Tobin, the new secretary for the dicastery formerly known as the Congregation for Religious (now officially the Pontifical Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
In many ways, the liturgy was filled with minor disasters, from an MC’s point of view. I am a little out of practice, despite the last 20 years spent in some form of liturgical ministry, most of that as a server, MC, and/or liturgy coordinator. We had only two servers (we could have done with 4-6), not enough ushers, no time for a rehearsal, no stand for crozier or processional cross, an unfamiliar worship space, and when it came time for the collect we discovered the book at the chair was an old lectionary rather than the new translation of the Roman Missal (did I mention this was our first large-scale mass in the Vox Clara translation of the Mass? I even blurted out “and also with you” instead of “and with your Spirit” to the first greeting, right next to the Archbishop!) I could go on. Thankfully, all these little things went largely unnoticed by most, or were overshadowed by the big surprise that went off beautifully well.
Through it all, Archbishop Tobin was gracious, generous, and understanding.
Even after the mass, there was some confusion, leaving the Archbishop and I stuck waiting for his coat and bags to arrive while the reception went on without us. Instead of displaying any annoyance, he sat down and played a tune on the piano in the Passionist student chapel where we were waiting.
It is amazing what a difference such things make. He was the quintessential non-anxious presence the entire night. Where others I have known, of lower position than he, would have had an anxiety attack (myself possibly included!) he took it all in with good grace.
It is a small thing perhaps, one experience of only about two hours. But it says a lot about how the man handles stress, details not going well, and his attitude toward those who are not his peers or superiors in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Based on that experience, and with advent hope, I can say to my sister friends in the States, who have been given a hard time of it lately, “you are in good hands!”
… As a post-script, at one point in the evening I accidentally refered to the Passionists as the Paulists. I caught myself, and added that that had happened a few times, and he chuckled, responding that he had done something similar himself not long ago. It occurred to me to ask a question of the one man who probably knew the answer to one of the great Mysteries of Faith: Exactly how many religious orders are there in the Church? He laughed again, “Between 2000 and 2500… Over a million members worldwide, however.”
So now we know the answer to my question: God only knows!