I’ve always enjoyed reading John B. Keane’s Letters of an Irish Parish Priest (or I did until I became one, anyway). One of the letters frequently received by this fictional pastor came from an anonymous parishioner, who always signed herself ‘One Who Tries To Be A Good Catholic’.
This anonymous scribe’s notes were usually of the curtain-twitching variety, as the English press describe today’s ‘Valley-of-the-Squinting-Windows’ types residing in the UK. The version described by John B. Keane gave all her letters over to comments on the moral failings of her fellow parishioners. At one stage in the book, these letters from the one who ‘tries to be a good Catholic’ caused the exasperated PP to comment: “I hope she doesn’t try any harder!”
The pandemic has unfortunately produced a number of such correspondents, trying to be good Catholics (though often simply trying the patience of the recipient). One note that found its way to me was addressed: “To the priest at the church at Templemartin, or any nearby church, Bandon, Co. Cork.” Unfortunately, An Post reckoned I needed it. The unsigned contents provided me with a full acount of the miraculous medal, which attracted the merest glance from me on the way to the bin. (I have learned that correspondents who haven’t the courage to include their name don’t deserve a reading: future correspondents, please note!)
Others who ‘try to be good Catholics’ have found other ways of trying priests’ patience. One common route employed in the pandemic was the interpretation of the virus as God’s comment on the world of today and its supposed liberal excesses. This virus, I was told, would force many to think again: God was not to be ignored, and would always insist on humanity’s bowing to the divine wishes.
In this manner of interpretat-ion, the God who revealed a nature of infinite love and compassion in Jesus was only half the story. On a bad day, the nasty God appeared, flinging plagues and earthquakes and other disasters at humanity, to force us to see things in another light.
Unfortunately, these folks, trying to be good Catholics, were about the best ads for atheism I could imagine. They put about the image of a god who speaks out of two sides of his mouth, all gentle and lovey-dovey some days, and all mean and nasty on others: an inconsistent, capricious and altogether chilling deity. Not my God, anyway.
It was lucky for us that John B. Keane’s fictional parish priest existed in another age, before there were emails and other such intrusions. The email stock of any Irish parish priest could make slaves of any of us over-concerned with speed of reply. The advice of earlier days about ‘letting the hare sit’ has a relevance for today.
A limited ministry of communications, not taking over the whole day, is a sure way to good mental health for the pastor today – that and the avoidance of anyone who tries too hard to be a good Catholic.
Time to smile…
In the spirit of St Philip Neri, who wanted people to become more human rather than less as they became holier, these may make you smile:
-Turning vegan would be a big missed steak.
-I have a chicken-proof lawn. It’s impeccable.
-When the fog lifts in California. UCLA.
-Drink wine. It isn’t good to keep things bottled up.
-Electricians have to strip to make ends meet.
-Our mountains aren’t just funny. They’re hill areas.
-Puns about communism aren’t funny unless everyone gets them.
-Well, to be frank…I’d have to change my name!
-Wishing you a happy whatever-doesn’t-offend you!
St Corona was revealed earlier this year as the patron of pandemics. But could I suggest another: Philip Neri. He is sometimes called the patron saint of joy, because he had a good sense of fun and didn’t take himself too seriously. (It’s said that once, when people were canonising him, he shaved off half his beard, to put people off the scent.) When people are scared witless, a sense of humour can be the best remedy for people of Faith. Or as the Hallmark card people might put it: “Keep smiling, it makes people wonder what you’re up to!”