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Call Me Catholic!

The fridge door

by Michael McGirr

You can't call yourself a Catholic until you have pondered the religious significance of your refrigerator. It is a strange object of worship. People who have long since given up genuflecting in church, either because their knees are a bit tired and cranky or because they always run into friends before they reach their usual seat, still manage to kneel before the fridge. Kneeling is the only way to entice a fridge to disclose its inmost secrets, the suspicious containers of leftovers which have been jostled to the back of the bottom shelf where they have been sulking for a bit too long. You only ever find these relics when you are wondering if there is enough in the fridge to save you having to cook tonight. But the fridge is a stern spiritual master. It nearly always sends you back to the stove to make a proper effort.

Jesus said that the kingdom is like a 'householder who brings from his storeroom things both old and new.' If he were teaching today, he might have said 'consider the fridges of suburbia.' The fridge meets our daily needs. Most refrigerators, for example, tend to keep the milk close to the front, even if, these days, most Catholic households buy as many types of milk as they used to buy raffle tickets: fat, low fat, skinny low fat, calcium low fat, dairy free low fat, low fat soy and so on. Near the door you will also find items such as 'I can't believe it's not butter' which, thankfully, has a use by date, a reminder that every crisis of faith will pass in time. Fridges are also the scene of occasional miracles. A priest was once astonished, on St Patrick's Day, to find that his yoghurt had turned green. Families are more likely to be astonished by miracles of sudden disappearance.

Fridges understand that our needs are subtle and unruly. That is why they are often overloaded and have to work hard to keep up with us. When Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer, it is likely that his audience thought that their daily bread was an upwardly mobile aspiration. There are now many people in the west who, when they pray for their daily bread, are asking God to limit their eating. Please give us a day's bread and no more. These people will say that chocolate cake is sinful even though Jesus probably had other things in mind as well when he talked about 'trespasses' in the rest of his prayer.

Apart from storing fresh things for our daily needs, the fridge also holds onto memories. Eventually you will find half a piece of fruitcake you brought home from a birthday party at work, the remainder of a bottle of wine opened late in the evening by guests who didn't have children and hence didn't know when it was time to go home, a plastic container of jelly which the next door neighbours child made when you were minding her, the last few doses of a medication which had to be kept cool. Like the rest of us, you will have decided that you had recovered from the condition before the medication had run its course. All these things, none of which can last forever, come with stories. They are the tradition of our lives. The lesson of the fridge is that the longer you hold onto some parts of your tradition, the more likely they are to turn against you. The fridge itself is important. It is a structure within which things have to keep changing.

Every fridge understands liturgy. The inside is a liturgy of the Lord's table. We are fed, sometimes nourished, often wonder why things need to be quite so chilly but also admit that certain things, like curry, improve their taste with age.

The outside is a liturgy of the word. You can learn a great deal about people and their interests and values from what's on their fridge. You can see their bills, discover from their fridge magnets who they do business with and who their local member of parliament is, even work out from which Thai take away some of the leftovers in the fridge originated. There will be children's drawings and hurried notes about what time someone will be home. Among all the litter, there will be signs of love: a postcard, a photo or even three quick kisses at the bottom of the homelate note. And there will be signs of faith. Often, if you dig deep enough, you will find the words of a prayer snipped from a parish bulletin or a magazine. Or a cartoon which, perhaps long ago, lightened a heavy day. Maybe there will be a figure of Jesus on the cross with a magnet in his back hanging between two other magnets, one from a bank and the other from a real estate agent. It's a rare fridge where you won't find something that sticks.

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