The Code of Genius
Chapter 7: The unpretentious residence within the Church of Saint-Sulpice occupied the church’s second floor, situated to the left of the choir balcony. Comprising two rooms, the suite boasted a stone floor and minimal furnishings, serving as Sister Sandrine Bieil’s abode for more than a decade. While the nearby convent was her official dwelling as far as anyone was concerned, she personally favored the tranquility of the church environment. With essentials like a bed, telephone, and hot plate, she had managed to create a comfortable space for herself upstairs.
In her role as the church’s conservatrice d’affaires, Sister Sandrine bore the responsibility of overseeing all non-religious aspects of church affairs. This encompassed tasks such as general upkeep, the recruitment of support staff and guides, ensuring the security of the premises after hours, and procuring supplies like communion wine and wafers.
On this particular night, she was asleep in her modest bed when the strident ring of the telephone roused her from slumber. Groggily, she reached for the receiver.
“Hello, Sister,” a man’s voice spoke in French.
Sister Sandrine sat up, her mind racing to comprehend the situation. What time was it? The voice was that of her superior, but he had never before disturbed her sleep in the fifteen years she had known him. The abbé was known for his devout nature, retiring to rest right after the mass.
“I apologize if I’ve awakened you, Sister,” the abbé’s voice sounded both groggy and tense. “I have a favor to ask. I just received a call from a prominent American bishop. You might be familiar with him—Manuel Aringarosa?”
“The head of Opus Dei?” Sister Sandrine’s awareness sharpened. Of course she knew of him. Who within the Church was not acquainted with him? The Opus Dei, with its conservative prelature, had witnessed a surge in influence recently. Their rise to prominence began in 1982 when Pope John Paul II unexpectedly elevated them to a “personal prelature of the Pope,” effectively endorsing all of their practices. Curiously, this elevation coincided with the sect’s purported transfer of nearly one billion dollars into the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works—more commonly referred to as the Vatican Bank—thereby rescuing it from a potentially damaging bankruptcy. In another eyebrow-raising move, the Pope expedited the founder of Opus Dei’s path to sainthood, condensing a typically lengthy canonization process into a mere two decades. Sister Sandrine couldn’t help but sense a shadow of doubt regarding Opus Dei’s standing in Rome, yet challenging the Holy See was not an option.
“Bishop Aringarosa called with a request,” the abbé’s voice wavered with anxiety. “One of his numeraries is in Paris tonight…”
As Sister Sandrine absorbed the peculiar request, a perplexed expression crossed her face. “I’m sorry, did you say this visiting Opus Dei numerary cannot wait until morning?”
“I’m afraid not. His flight departs very early. He’s always dreamed of visiting Saint-Sulpice.”
“But the church’s allure is far more captivating during the day. The play of sunlight through the oculus, the intricate shadows cast by the gnomon—these are the unique features of Saint-Sulpice.”
“Sister, I concur, and yet it would be a personal favor to me if you could grant him access tonight. Can he be there around… let’s say one o’clock? That’s in twenty minutes.”
Sister Sandrine frowned, contemplating the request. “Certainly. I’ll be happy to oblige.”
The abbé expressed his gratitude and ended the call.
Perplexed, Sister Sandrine remained seated on her bed, attempting to shake off the remnants of sleep. Her sixty-year-old body did not rouse as swiftly as it once did, although tonight’s call had undeniably heightened her senses. Opus Dei had always caused her unease. Beyond their adherence to the archaic practice of corporal mortification, their treatment of women was medieval at best. She had been taken aback upon learning that female numeraries were compelled to clean the male residents’ quarters without compensation while the men attended mass. Women slept on hard floors, whereas men had straw mats. On top of this, women were subjected to additional demands of corporal mortification—adding to their penance for the original sin. It seemed that Eve’s bite from the forbidden fruit condemned women to an eternity of atonement. Sadly, while much of the Catholic Church was gradually progressing in terms of women’s rights, Opus Dei threatened to reverse the momentum. Nevertheless, Sister Sandrine had her directives.
As she swung her legs over the side of the bed and rose slowly, the coldness of the stone floor sent shivers through her bare feet. With each passing moment, the chill climbed through her flesh, accompanied by an unexpected sense of apprehension.
Was it women’s intuition?
A devout follower of God, Sister Sandrine had learned to find solace in the soothing voices of her own soul. Yet tonight, those inner voices were as silent as the vacant church that surrounded her.
The Code of Genius
Native Language: English