In the spirit of the season, I drove an elderly neighbour to mass this morning after she knocked on my door claiming to need a lift due to the icy weather. The Church of St Mary Magdalene (didn’t get that memo) is a local Catholic landmark conspicuously situated between the Women’s Health Centre and Darth Vaper’s E-Cig Emporium about half a mile from where I live. As we pulled up to the entrance Mrs Malarkey gently enquired, “Are you coming in? You can send a calendar back home to your mother. I’m sure she’d love to hear what’s going in the parish.”
The old clam had me. At 85 she didn’t miss a trick and knew I hadn’t been to mass since my parents’ last visit.
“Of course,” I stated coolly, looking her straight in the eye. “It’s Christmas. Are you alright managing the steps while I park the car?”
“I’ll just wait for you here,” she parried, then thrust, “and it’s only the Fourth Sunday of Advent.”
“I know it’s still Advent. Hey, I think they’ve spread some salt,” I pressed on. “Try the steps and see how you go.”
“No, I’ll wait for you, then we can go in together.”
Entering the church brought back a load of memories. I was an altar boy right through high school and much more sanguine about the role the Church might play in later life. Uncompromising and unafraid to challenge the moral turpitude swirling all about me, from an early age I had developed a low tolerance to riff raff. After all, I’d been named after John XXIII and unlike a lot of 12 year olds, I’d written my own encyclical:
- If you overhear your parents choosing your school, ask them to aim higher than one simply called St Richard’s or St Agatha’s, guiding them instead towards spiritual heavyweights like Our Lady of the Blessed Annunciation or St Anthony and the Holy Infant. This will disarm any cynics questioning the fact your parents stopped attending mass years ago.
- When strangers read your school name across your baseball shirt and ask what a Blessed Annunciation is, let out an audible sigh and look upon their children with pity. As you walk away rolling your eyes, ponder the fact they can read at all.
- Wonder why all the nuns at school have names beginning with Mary and ending with a male name, such as Sister Mary Edward. Believe your older sister when she tells you they all used to be men until God changed them into nuns as punishment for a crime only the Pope knows about.
- Think it a shame that priests can only wear black because it shows up dandruff and means they can never shop at The Gap.
- When a pretty young nun starts teaching at your school, fall in love with her and tell your mother if you were older and she lived next door you’d marry her.
- When a cool young priest starts teaching at your school, agree with your friends that if he grew his hair longer and learned how to play the electric guitar he’d be the most famous priest ever.
- When your father informs you he saw your parish priest swimming lengths at his health club, ask yourself if priests are permitted such indulgences, then check if his bathing suit was black.
- When your teacher warns that thinking impure thoughts during mass will get you an extra year in purgatory, decide it’s worth it.
- Ask your RE teacher if Eve really looked like the woman in the Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo commercial.
- Ask if Jonah crawled out of the whale’s spout or got pooped out.
- Ask if, after turning water into wine at the wedding in Canaan, Jesus then made chocolate milk for the children.
- Ask your parents a million times if you can go to midnight mass this year because you’re now an adult. Reassure them that you no longer believe in Santa, elves and reindeer, explaining that you only wish to fulfill a religious obligation. Don’t tell them your older sister reliably informed you that this is the mass in which God appears.
- Tell all your friends you were allowed to go to midnight mass. When you’re sure none of them attended the service, lower your voice and inform them that God appeared. When they inevitably ask you what He looked like, whisper that you’re not allowed to tell.
- Turn to your Dad during midnight mass and insist you just heard sleigh bells outside. When he chides you, wonder how he can seriously expect an 8 year old to think about God and not presents on Christmas Eve. Hope that Rudolph drops a big steamy one on his new Ford Bronco.
- Point out your neighbours during mass and say out loud, “Hey, Mom… you’re right! The Espositos only DO go to mass at Christmas and Easter!” Then report back each time they sit down when they’re supposed to kneel.