Tag Archives: mass

Triduum Fail.

1950s church family

As you may know, if you’ve been reading my constant bragging, I’ve been doing a little work lately for Jesuit Publications (bear with me, I’m going somewhere here). One of the pieces I wrote a few months ago for Australian Catholics was a sort of how-to guide for taking children to Mass. Words can’t describe how smug I felt writing that article. I was the guru. I had all of the answers. I had finally made it and could now dispense wisdom for the masses (‘Masses’?).

I did not yet have twin toddlers.

Over the past several Sundays, my complacent words have been echoing in my ears as my husband and I have struggled to grapple with two rowdy little people who seem to have a liturgy allergy (sorry). They are so noisy. And they’re always making bids to escape. And they conspire against us.

Daisy and Poppy also have their own language that they’ve settled on between themselves. For example, they don’t call Christopher Robin by his actual name. Christopher spent so much time trying to get the girls to say ‘bum’, that they have decided that this is his name. We’re all kind of used to it. But when the altar servers process in to church and Daisy and Poppy see their brother solemnly carrying the candle, it gets a little awkward when they start shouting “BUM! BUM! BUUUUM!!”

Things were at their worst last Thursday. It was Holy Thursday Mass, which started at 7:30pm, which meant I had to get the children fed and dressed and into a crowded church at a time when everybody was tired and cranky, especially me. We were all squashed in together at a pew up the front, near the side door. The twins were fairly well behaved (though not completely silent) throughout the Blessing of the Holy Oils, and the Liturgy of the Word, and the special-edition homily, and the rather ponderous Washing of the Feet (since when was Holy Thursday Mass so LONG?). But when it got to the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, Poppy decided she’d had enough. For a while now, Poppy had been making bids to escape and I had been stopping her. I knew from experience that if I let her go, she would dash out of the church, or go dancing around the aisles, or dart into the sacristy and emerge, beaming, from the side door out onto the altar, like some special guest on This is Your Life.  Poppy was making her indignation loudly known.  It was time for me to scoop her up and take her out.  As I stepped into the side room of the church, I noticed the neat, fortysomething man who had been sitting behind us at the beginning of Mass.  Had he moved here to escape us?  He did not return my rueful, apologetic smile.  As I remonstrated with Poppy, I could hear Daisy’s loud proclamations from inside the church.  I winced.

We managed to survive the rest of Mass, but it was a slog.  Daisy also had a turn in the room next door.  Neat Man was still there and still unsmiling.  By some miracle, my husband and I managed to keep our faces straight when Annie constructed DJ headphones from her Alice-band and two Project Compassion boxes and pretended to spin discs.  But it wasn’t until afterwards, that my husband filled me in on what happened when I was in the other room.

While I was having stern words with Poppy and sharing awkward space with Neat Man, Daisy was chattering loudly in her dad’s arms.  Neat Man’s wife (who is also very neat and who looks like Sarah Palin) tapped my husband on the shoulder.

“You will have to take her out.  I just can’t concentrate!”

My husband remained where he was.  He wasn’t going to leave the other children by themselves and he knew that the Consecration happened by virtue of the Holy Spirit and not Sarah Palin’s brain power.  Later, at the Sign of Peace, Sarah Palin turned her back abruptly on us and only shook the hands of the people behind her.

I must admit I felt a little heartbroken when I heard about this.  I didn’t know Sarah Palin that well, but I had always imagined she was my ally.  She was a mum, after all.  Didn’t she know how hard it was to raise children in the faith?  Did she think I brought my children to Mass on purpose just to mess with her?  All of a sudden, I didn’t feel welcome at the Lord’s table.  Perhaps Mass just wasn’t supposed to be for young families.  Or perhaps it was only for families that had it all together.  I decided in that moment that we wouldn’t go to the big Easter vigil Mass with the fire and the candles and the incense and the bells, but instead attend the more subdued Sunday morning Mass.  I didn’t want another run-in with Neat Man and his Alaskan wife.

1950s Church Family

I might also mention here that we got through the Good Friday service without too much trouble, because the twins slept through most of it.  The family behind us had small noisy children, however, and, while I felt deeply for them, I was also acutely aware that Neatman and Palin (who were sitting further away this time) probably assumed it was us making all that noise again.

Anyway, on Sunday morning, we tumbled into church, almost on time, though Poppy was still in her pyjamas.  I was working so hard at focussing on all the nice parishioners who smile and look dotingly at the twins that I didn’t notice that NeatPalin were standing rigidly at the other side of the church.  When Poppy let out a yelp towards the end of Mass, Neatman turned and looked right at us.  EEK!

Sarah Palin's Book:

I’m feeling better now for telling you about it, my blog friend.  And I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the family who was really upset by it.  Mr Knightley takes all things in his stride.  Daisy and Poppy continue to run things their way.  Annie is stoked with her charity-box headphones.  And as for Matilda, Bum and Harry, they couldn’t be happier.  They’ve discovered a new recruit to work at the Barbara Feeney Shush Helpline!

Meanwhile, I think I need to contact the Australian Catholics editor.  I want to add a footnote to my article: “Please note: if you have toddlers, none of these rules apply.  All you can do is pray for God’s sweet mercy and wait for the storm to pass.”

The Holy Family

Icon of the Holy Family

Although it might be later by the time I actually publish this post, as I write, today is the Feast of the Holy Family.  I always find going to Mass on this Sunday a bit of a rude shock.  I mean, we only just went to Mass on Chrismas Eve, three days ago.  I can clearly remember acting as a human straitjacket for my five-year-old in a stifling heat that no number of ceiling fans would dispel.  The time that followed was filled with sugar and excitement and late nights and tears and tantrums, and, what’s more, the children have been misbehaving too.

It felt like a bit of a stretch to get everyone out of bed this morning to go to Mass.  I know it’s wrong to feel that way.  I do love Mass more than anything, deep down.  Really, I do.  I just don’t enjoy putting clothes on children and saying ‘shush’ for forty minutes.

I know some of you will be thinking “Why are you so strict on yourself?  Surely God will understand if you don’t go just this once?”.  This is a good question with a long answer, so perhaps it’s a conversation for another day.  The short answer is that I know myself well enough to realise that the moment I start making excuses for not making the effort, it becomes a whole lot easier to not make the effort the next time and the next until I find I’ve stopped going to church altogether.  I’m the same way with exercise.  Plus, the children are watching (that sounds like a good title for a horror movie, don’t you think?  The Children Are Watching…)  and it’s important that they know that going to Mass is a part of who we are.

I just wish I could have called these noble principles to mind this morning as I tried to prise my reluctant three-year-old out of bed and convince my eight-year-old that ‘glacial’ is not the best speed-setting for his morning weetbix consumption.  Mr Knightley had taken Matilda to 9am Mass early so that she could be an altar server, and it was up to me to get the remaining children clothed and in the car and to Mass on time.  Harry was dressed and ready like a champion, his methodical nature is a godsend on mornings like this.  I was even willing to overlook the fact that his outfit was the same  one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days.  Christopher Robin, as I mentioned, was performing some sort of tai-chi inspired slow dance with his bowl and spoon, but was dressed at least.  Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her breakfast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword.  The twins were asleep in their cot.  And it was five-to-nine.

So I started my sheep-dog routine, gathering bags and babies, rounding everyone up into the car.  I had already decided that the pyjamas Annie had been wearing (a plain pink t-shirt and black Star Wars shorts)  looked enough like regular clothes to get away with.  There was no time.  It was only later I noticed that she’d somehow managed to get vegemite stains down the front of it.

I read a lot of blog posts about the importance of dressing your best for Sunday Mass.  I’ve written before about this desire of my heart.   My children were not looking well turned-out this morning.  Even the babies’ jumpsuits seemed grubby.  Nothing about their clothing expressed respect for this blessed institution.  But there was no time; there was no time.

Annie and Harry were putting their seatbelts on in the back of our van as Christopher and I organised the twins.  “Annie, are you wearing shoes?”  I call back whilst grappling with a four-month-old in a five-point-harness.  “Yes, Mummy”, Annie responds in her sweetest voice.

And we were on our way, but we were oh-so-late.

As I was pulling into the church car park, I made some quick decisions.  Unloading the pram and strapping the babies into it would take too much time.  Christopher and I could carry a baby each.  Let’s go, let’s go!

I pulled back the middle seats to let Annie and Harry out.  Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like it was the punchline to some wonderful joke.

I’m not sure I can properly describe the full extent of shouting and searching that followed.  Annie alone remained calm and unruffled.  We found one shoe hidden in the car.  There was only one.  I think this was a million times worse than if there had been no shoes at all.

25-clarks-1

I had two options.  I could rush home to get shoes for Annie.  This would make us abysmally late for Mass.  We would achieve nothing more than a Drive-Thru Communion Service, if that.  Or, in another failed attempt at ‘Natural Consequences’, Annie could attend the Holy Mass barefoot.

The Gospel reading had just finished as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children and slid into the pew next to Mr Knightley.  Annie remained unshod.  If we kept a low profile, we might just get away with it.  In a quick series of whispers and a fair bit of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought Mr Knightley up to speed with the situation.  His response was devastating, his expression deadpan:

“We’re on Offertory.”

In theory, being invited to bring the gifts of bread and wine to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I really should have felt honoured that somebody had tapped my husband on the shoulder before Mass started and asked him to participate with his family in this special way.  Unfortunately, the idea of parading my dirty, barefoot, misbehaving children down the aisle for all to see was not altogether a tempting one.  The corner of my husband’s mouth was twitching ever so slightly.  But I didn’t punch him.  I had other problems.

When I took the babies out of the car, I forgot to grab their bunny rugs or wipes.   I was a little distracted, you see.  Now Daisy was in my arms, forcing her fingers into her mouth wrist-deep and bringing up little pockets of spew, like some deranged supermodel (I’m sorry.  That joke is inappropriate, I know.  But it’s been a long day for me).  I only had a couple of tissues to work with and those tissues had to work very hard.  I could sense the people in the pew behind me silently promising themselves not to shake my hand when it came time for the Sign of Peace and I didn’t blame them one bit.

When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression.  Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, people might not notice that my three-year-old was sans footwear.  That aisle seemed a lot longer than usual.  Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another altar server were miles away.  After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl of communion wafers to Matilda and not the priest.  Father Jacob seemed to be struggling to suppress a snort of laughter.  I didn’t punch him either.

The rest of Mass passed smoothly enough apart from the following:

  1. Annie and Harry had a rowdy disagreement as to who got to complete the maze on the parish notices helping the Wise Men to find Baby Jesus.
  2. Daisy got bored of trying to swallow her knuckles and decided to wail enthusiastically instead.
  3. Annie announced, for the benefit of all parishioners: “I’m hungry!  I haven’t had any breakfast!”
  4. Poppy, well, Poppy made use of her nappy.  She was, well, she was very thorough in this endeavour.

The final hymn was Joy to the World.  I joined in lustily.  As we prepared ourselves for a swift exit, I felt somebody grasp my elbow.  It was Mrs Price Who’s Ever So Nice.

“I just wanted to let you know how much joy it gave my heart to see your beautiful family bringing up the gifts,”  she said with genuine warmth.  My heart melted a little bit.  Mrs Price is almost old enough to be my grandmother.  She has raised six children herself and is still grieving her beloved husband who passed away last year.  Mrs Price chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style.  She saw a family trying their best despite all their imperfections, and loved us.  In that moment, Mrs Price was God to me.

I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a loud yowling.  Annie, it would seem, had stubbed her little toe on the kneeler.

And that, my friend, is why you should always wear shoes to church.

Barbara Feeney

pop art design - close up of a woman gesturing "shhh"

I’m not sure I should be telling you about this.

It started innocently enough, but now it’s spinning out of control.

You see, it’s like this.  Our local parish is pretty much run by old people.  The women tend to be named Pat and the men are all Grahams and Bills (except when they’re actually Brian, but I digress).  Some – like my hero, Pat Baker – are warm, giving folk, full of wit and wisdom.  Others can be rather narrow-minded and fiercely opinionated: what our late PP referred to as the ‘Parish Antiques’.  Many have a good measure of both these aspects, and all are hard-working souls with deep parish loyalty.

The person I want to tell you about today is a formidable lady by the name of Barbara Feeney (well, OK, not really.  I had to change her name.  But we can all pretend.)  Barbara Feeney is a sacristan (she gets the church ready before Mass) and a special minister (she helps to distribute Communion), and her facial expression of choice is a disapproving frown.  Barbara would best be known to the parish school children as the lady who stands near the door of the church aggressively shushing them as they file out after a school Mass.  Unlike her duties as a sacristan or special minister, this policing of juvenile noise-making is a self-appointed role.

Barbara is also very strict with the young altar servers, pulling them into line for spilling wax when they walk with candles and fidgeting in their seats during Mass.  There is a person in the parish who is in charge of training the altar servers.  It isn’t Mrs Feeney.

In the sacristy (it’s like a ‘green room’, but for priests) after one particular Mass at which Matilda was serving,  Barbara descended upon the small knot of altar servers with another Stern Parish Lady (SPL) to back her up and launched into a tirade about their terrible behaviour (The altar servers’ behaviour, I mean, not the angry ladies’).

I must have missed it, but apparently towards the end of Mass, some of the altar servers had been fiddling with their tassels and giggling.  Mrs Feeney berated them for ten minutes and SPL nodded grimly at intervals for good measure.

Had I been nine years old and in the sacristy at that time, I would have fallen to pieces, become a quivering mess.  Matilda, however, is nothing like her mother and I think this is where the trouble started.  To be fair, Matilda listened demurely enough to this post-liturgy tirade and did not answer back in any way.  But the seed had been planted.

It started small.  When Annie and Harry were chatting animatedly after lights-out, I overheard Matilda calling out a warning: “You better be quiet or Barbara Feeney will come and shush you!

Before long, Matilda and Christopher Robin had developed an advertising jingle:  “Barbara Feeney’s Helpline says ‘Shush!  Shush!'” (to the tune of Motor Finance Wizard).  In retrospect, I should not have giggled at this.  Nor, I suppose, should I have fallen about helplessly with laughter when Matilda used Microsoft Power Point to devise a full-scale advertising campaign for said helpline (Noisy neighbours ruining your life?  Barbara Feeney can help!  Call now and get your first shush free!).

You see, it’s hard to explain to your daughter that it’s not at all respectful to refer to dignified SPLs as Barbara Feeney’s ‘sidekicks’, when you’re focussing so hard on stopping tea from pouring out of your nose.  (Do you know where Barbara Feeney got her qualifications as Chief Parish Shusher?  It was at Monassshhh University.  She got a double degree in Stern Lectures/Finger Wagging).

It’s getting worse.  All of Matilda’s friends know about her hero, Mrs Feeney.  At a party recently, several children were jumping on the trampoline at once lustily singing the helpline jingle.  This wasn’t even at our house.  And Matilda’s friends live all over the place.  Slowly but surely, the Legend of Barbara Feeney is spreading all over Victoria.

I’m scared.  It’s only a matter of time before Barbara Feeney herself finds out.  More than once, in the middle of Mass, little Annie has called out “Oh no!  Look, Mum: it Baa Baa Fee Nee!”.  I try to make her be quiet.  I try talk to my children about ‘respecting your elders’, but Barbara Feeney is their favourite topic of conversation and I don’t know how to stop them talking.

If only there were a helpline I could call…

Soul Diet

So I’ve been thinking.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people lately about food.  It seems everyone is on a special diet to help them feel better.  So we go gluten free, low FODMAP, cut out milk, limit caffeine, cut out processed food, go organic free range, eat brown-not-white, and avoid flavour enhancer 621 (it makes me hyper).

I suppose it’s all about looking at what we put into our bodies and how it affects our wellbeing.  As far as conversations go, it can be a deathly boring subject, but it got me thinking – what kind of diet is my soul on?  What do I watch and read and do that is healthy for my soul?  What do I watch and read and do that is toxic?

pizza

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Catholic.  One of the – I don’t know – “membership requirements”? – that we have is that we go to Mass once a week on a Sunday unless we’re really sick or something.  Please wait a minute whilst I shudder inwardly at the abysmal grammatical mess I just created.  I don’t even know where to begin fixing that sentence.  Please forgive me.

Maybe a new paragraph will help.  A lot of people I know take issue with this obligation and think my church is a cranky parent who likes to make rules and boss people around, as if the church itself is somehow separate from the people that form it.  These people say things like “it doesn’t really matter if you go to church or not, so long as you are a good person” (because it’s one or the other – take your pick) and “you don’t have to go every week – it’s too hard.  Just go when you can – God will understand” (because parties, sport and wandering around Bunnings should always take priority over your spiritual health).

The thing is, Sunday Mass is supposed to be the minimum I do to look after myself and my community spiritually, and if I commit to it regularly, it becomes a part of who I am.  It makes me think of something my friend did the other week.

I had some friends over at my house to watch the Grand Final / gossip and eat food whilst the Grand Final was playing.  My friend, whom I will call Lydia, turned up with bags and bags of fruit (and a cask of delicious vodka cranberry, which counts as a fruit), which she then proceeded to transform into healthy fruit platters.  As we munched strawberry and pineapple and felt very virtuous (and drank vodka cranberry and felt rather tipsy), we praised Lydia and her healthy generosity.   It was at this point that Lydia made a sheepish confession: she had eaten KFC for lunch and the fruit was part of a rueful attempt to get back on track.

I feed my soul a lot of junk food.  Every day I feel like I battle an onslaught of Buy-Now-Pay-Later, Post-Baby-Bikini-Body, Give-Your-Little-Precious-a-Head-Start-in-Advanced-Calculus, Kim Kardashian, First-World-Problem-Facebook-Rant, What-Does-Your-Loo-Say-About-You, Miley Cyrus, She-Bought-a-Jeep, Seven-Signs-of-Ageing, What’s-Hot-and-What’s-Not, Who-Wore-it-Best, Adultery-Dot-Com.

One hour a week feeding my soul fruit in the form of Sunday Mass doesn’t seem like a big ask.  I need to be challenged on the way I treat those around me.  I need to be reminded that what I buy really isn’t that important, it’s who I am that counts.  I need to love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength and love my neighbour as I love myself and all that.  And it’s the minimum, it really is.  And sometimes I only do the minimum.  Far too often I turn up at Mass only to realise that the last time I spent in prayer was a week ago in Mass, whilst holding a wriggling baby and saying “Shush”.  I need more wholefoods in my spiritual diet.  And I need to cut down on the junk.

fruit

So what does this mean?  Here are some things I need to work on:

  • I’m cutting out the sort of radio where the announcers make a career out of being cruel and then cut to a song extolling the virtues of anonymous sex before half-an-hour of blaring ads.  Light FM might be a little daggy, but it’s got my vote.
  • I’m not ready to cut out TV completely, but I want to cut right back – especially the sort where I’m just staring at the screen for the sake of it, to ‘relax’.
  • If I were to spend as much time catching up with those friends who give me joy as I do fiddling about on social media, I would be a much happier person.
  • I need to stop reading the sort of magazines that teach me to hate my body and feel depressed and wrinkled and fat.
  • I need to spend more time with God in prayer.

I had a plan for that last point this morning.  I set the alarm for six o’clock and snuck downstairs for some quiet prayer time and maybe a sneaky bit of blog time as well before the rest of the family got up.  I started digging around in search of the nifty devotional I’d recently purchased when I heard the distinct clomp-clomp-clomp of a small person making his way down the stairs.  There stood Harry, tousle-haired and bleary-eyed, wearing only his night-nappy (he’d thrown a tantrum the night before and refused all pyjamas that didn’t have Batman on them.  His Batman pyjamas were in the washing machine.).

“I want a cuddle, Mum.”

I tried to patiently explain to Harry that it was “still night time” and that he could “go back to bed had have a bit more sleep”.  Harry shook his head.

“I just want a cuddle, Mum.” and settled himself on the couch.  I sighed and continued my search for the devotional.  Harry giggled, “I’m right here, Mummy!”. He thought I was looking for him.

And so I made my prayer whilst holding my three-year-old third child, feeling his small heart beat in his narrow chest and smelling his golden hair.  I gave thanks for him and his healthy, sturdy little body.  In a few short years, he won’t want to be held like this.  Last night I was short-tempered with him.  He kept climbing on me in a bid to win my attention.  I’d had enough of being a Mummy for the day and I just wanted five minutes with NOBODY TOUCHING ME.   So I prayed that God’s grace might enter my life, that His light might shine through all the cracks of my shortcomings and imperfections.  Most of all I prayed that I might remember to pray when I needed to most.  It was beautiful and profound, it really was.

Then Harry dirtied his nappy and woke his baby sister and poured cornflakes all over the floor.

But I picked up the broom with a serene smile (after changing two nappies and fixing two breakfasts).  I felt peaceful and recharged.

It’s amazing what a healthy diet can do for you.

PS: After I was halfway through writing this, I discovered The Simple Italians at Simple Living ABC’s had written an excellent post on this very topic.  You might think I copied their idea, but I didn’t, I promise.   And it’s definitely worth a read.

Church Fail.

I would really love to get to the stage where I sail into church on a Sunday morning with four children all clean and combed and beautifully turned out in their Sunday bests.  All with shoes on and with a good amount of cash for everyone to put on the plate.  I will get there one day, but in the meantime, the best I can claim is that we turn up and that most of the time they behave themselves.  On this particular occasion, the best I can claim is that we turned up.

While we were in the process of turning up, as we were driving to the church, it dawned on me that the school term had started and I had not checked the roster for Children’s Liturgy (I help out once a term).  I pulled out my phone and jabbed away at my email until I found what I was looking for.  Here’s what I figured out:

  1. I was on duty
  2. I would have to present the gospel to a group of impressionable youngsters
  3. I had prepared nothing
  4. Mass would begin in one minute.

Thankfully, the gospel was one I had presented before and could talk on without too much trouble.  I dashed inside, grabbed the book, threw the cloth and candle on the little table, forgot the matches, and told Father I was there, thirty seconds before he processed into the church.

I managed to muddle through the Children’s Liturgy program without imparting too much heresy, I hope.  We had a good discussion where I told them all about shepherds in the time of Jesus and they told me all about lizards, chocolate, Roary the Racing Car and why Thomas is the best of all the engines.  After this, the children brought the gifts up beautifully in the Offertory Procession, even if half of them bowed backwards and sideways and one of them fell over,  before dispersing back to their families at top speed.

Now that the panic was over, it was gradually dawning on me that:

  1. Harry’s face was covered in Vegemite.
  2. I didn’t have any wipes or facewashers on me.
  3. Well-turned-out children do not attend Mass with Vegemite on their faces.
  4. I did so want to have children that people would describe as well-turned-out.  Especially Mass people.

I considered giving my thumb a swift lick and using it to mop up the offending stain, but then I remembered that the Sign of Peace was fast approaching and I decided that the people around me might prefer to behold a dirty-faced little boy than to be forced to shake a hand covered in a mix of spittle and salty yeast extract.  Besides, I had bigger problems just now.

Annie must have disapproved of the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayer, because she started voicing her protest at the top of her lungs.  I tried all my usual tricks, waved little toys from my handbag at her, but they only made her angrier.  Then Father said “let us offer one another the sign of peace”.  Annie abruptly stopped shrieking and solemnly offered her small hand to the people standing behind us.

Now that handshake time was over and Annie had stopped crying, I set to work cleaning Harry’s face.  Accordingly, the quiet solemnity of the Liturgy of the Eucharist was punctuated by a loud shout: “No!  That’s MY VEGEMITE, Mummy!”

After Mass, Mr Knightley and I staggered with Annie into the gathering area for morning tea (the children had already raced there and were smearing biscuits across their faces).  Here we faced a gauntlet of opinionated old men which our late priest called the Parish Antiques.

First up, one of the Bills, Who’s as Old as the Hills, hobbled over for a grumble about the noisy baby.  As Bill is getting a little frail and senile, and is usually rather kindly, I let him have his rant in peace.

Next I stumbled into the path of Neville McKinnion, Who has Strong Opinions.  “You’re very courageous to be coming to Mass with the children” he smiled condescendingly, then added, with the air of one dropping a gentle hint, “when our four were small, Mavis and I would come to Mass separately and only bring the older ones.” As Neville raised his eyebrows impressively, I bit back the urge to enquire how many of these grown up children still went to church, as I knew it was a sore point for him.

I returned my tea cup to Barry O’Shane, Who Likes to Complain.  He was having a rant about how so few of the parish school families come to church on Sunday.

“They wouldn’t dare!” I snapped, and stalked out the door.

Except that that only happened in this blog post.  In real life, I smiled weakly and saved my angry rant for my wearily sympathetic husband in the car on the way home.  And in the two hours that followed.

I guess I’m not being entirely fair to my parish in this post.  I could have mentioned that Patricia Baelyn, Who Looks Like Sarah Palin, took Annie for cuddles and politely contradicted Bill for the parts of his rant that were readily coherent.  Or I could point out that most of the time people are warm and welcoming and that the Grumpy Old Men do have kind hearts and don’t shrink from hard work when it needs to be done.

All the same, we went to the neighbouring parish on the Sunday that followed.   Sometimes it’s good to go to an anony-Mass…

Kate is Special

Just thought I’d share:

In the ‘recently deceased’ section of the parish notices last week, I read that longstanding parishioner Karen Appleby had died and there was a big funeral for her this week.  I didn’t know Karen at all but I knew Bill Appleby to be a tall, older fellow who I’d often see about the place.  I would nod at him and say “Bill.”  and he would nod back rather aloofly and this was the full extent of our relationship.

When I spoke to another parishioner about Karen and Bill, she said that they had lost a child many years ago and did a lot of ministry for parents who had lost children.  My heart went out to Bill and I realised why he sometimes seemed rather distant.

At Mass this morning, I saw him.  I always feel awkward in this kind of situation, but I know Mum’s always said it’s better to say something than to avoid the person and make them feel even worse.  I also knew from experience that it’s better to say something sooner rather than later because it will only get more awkward.

At the morning tea after Mass I found myself side by side with the man in question so I seized my opportunity.  I turned to him, gave him a little hug and said “Bill, I’m so sorry about Karen”

In the moments that followed, I discovered the following useful facts:

  • Karen wasn’t actually his wife
  • His wife is still alive and at home at the moment
  • This man was not Bill Appleby
  • This man’s name was Brian

I also discovered:

  • There may be another reason why this man was so unresponsive when I called him ‘Bill’ all these years
  • Sometimes ‘sooner rather than later’ does not avoid an awkward situation if soon is too soon to confirm a positive ID

He was really quite gentle and lovely about it.  It was like he wished he could be Bill for my sake but he could not escape the fact that he was in fact Brian and he did indeed have a live wife.

Whatever.  Just tell Bill I said hi.