Call Me Catholic!
A Call to the Faithful
by Michael McGirr
You can't call yourself a Catholic until you've felt an urgent need to make a phone call during Mass.
Not so long ago, my wife and I were travelling and found ourselves at Mass in an unfamiliar parish. In football, this form of disadvantage is known as playing away from home.
I speak as one who quite likes a friendly Mass where you are greeted at the door and where the celebrant shows a little humanity, especially when it comes to preaching. I don't see why a priest who is genuinely interested in football shouldn't draw the occasional analogy from that form of endeavour, however many times we've heard them all before. But I can't stand it when a priest who has no interest in footy or the races or pop music pretends to be interested for the sake of something to say.
Last year, there was a rash of sermons on the theme of Australian Idol. The positive ones were fuelled by the Christian convictions of the winner, whose name and gender were both Guy. The negative ones were fuelled by a tantalising return to popular culture of one of the Big Ideas of scripture, namely the Idol, a form of seduction which, for good reason, has never been dislodged from the one or two position on God's list of all-time commandments.
The year before last, it was hard to avoid sermons on the theme of Big Brother. The year before that, it was Survivor. None of this would trouble me, in fact I would like it, if the preachers ever watched the programs concerned. As it stands, they often end up preaching about a culture they are not really part of and, as a result, they sound tinny. I'm not saying that preachers should only treat us to insights from their own culture, as that would condemn us to endless sermons on disobedient photocopiers, deceitful computers and dreary meetings. But a preacher does need to spend time in a culture if they are going to lead us on the Easter hunt for God's Spirit lurking there. Besides, if the preachers were watching these shows we could all rest assured that they were doing plenty of penance for us.
On our visit to the unfamiliar parish, my wife and I were treated to an exquisite form of torture known as the four-sermon Mass. This is a Mass where you get a long sermon at the beginning, a longer one after the Gospel (the readings are often cut short to allow time), a sermonette either before the Our Father or the Sign of Peace(sometimes both) and a closing sermon before the final prayer. The gentleman with so much to say did, indeed, strike us as a decent sort of chap. We wondered afterwards if he had nobody to talk to during the week other than the photocopy repair man and maybe this was his chance to catch up. The problem was that, after so much guff, known in the trade as input, it is impossible to remember anything that was said. It's a bit like a form of assault.
A friend of ours suggests a remedy. She swears she has tried it although I am still working up the courage. Every parish newsletter these days includes not just the phone number for the parish office but also the mobile number of the priest. If a sermon feels like it is moving into its second millenium, she recommends taking out your phone and ringing the mobile number on the sheet. Nine times out of ten, a garrulous preacher will have their phone tucked away somewhere under their vestments and nine times out of ten they will take the call. It's another chance to talk. While he is on the phone, the congregation at least gets a few minutes peace.
'Father,' she suggests beginning.