Call Me Catholic!
God builds houses with stuff from the tip
by Michael McGirr
You can't call yourself a Catholic until you've had your share of trouble with the next door neighbours. It's lucky that Jesus broadened the definition of the word. He said that our neighbours could include foreigners, strangers and other people you might never meet. This is good news if your track record of getting along with the people you do meet is a bit shaky.
We used to have a vacant block of land next to our place with a couple of venerable eucalypts of the Nicholii variety, also called the Willow-leaved Peppermint, standing sentry over it. The Nicholii is known as the 'widow maker' because of its tendency to let heavy branches fall without so much as a cough or groan in warning. The Nicholii suffers from what botanists call irritable bough syndrome. It can drop its branches faster than the National Bank can drop them from a country town.
Despite this, the block was a nice place to gather whatever was left of my thoughts after another day of dissipation on the red cordial of life's unending party. I would stand under one of the Nicholii and, when a branch failed to fall on me, console myself that, for reasons known only to the genial host of life's party, my services to the human family would be required for another day. Perhaps there was an uninflated metaphorical balloon somewhere that was waiting for my lips to seal its fate, a sausage roll which only I could introduce to the tomato sauce of its destiny. One needs a large block to gather thoughts of this calibre.
Then, to my surprise, the block was bought by Cardinal Shallots. Shallots (pronounced Shallows) has moved to our town after falling out with the Vatican when he ventured to suggest that Jesus had more on his mind on the night before he died than the gluten content of the bread being served at the Last Supper. He was clearly wrong on this point but Shallots has already established to our townsfolk that he has a stubborn side. Of course, the Vatican published other reasons for the sudden disappearance of one of the last remaining fathers of Vatican 2.1. Shallots had occupied a powerful position as head of philately at the Vatican Post Office. A slow turnover of recent times in the occupancy of the chair of St Peter had greatly diminished the need for new postage stamp designs. People overlook the hidden costs of a long papacy and this was one of them. Shallots was retrenched. At least this was the official story.
Shallots spent his first few nights on the bush block in a tent which he had picked up cheap at the annual half yearly clearance at Tent City. He looked a little awkward camping in his red soutane and asked for help lighting a fire. I told him that fires are not allowed in the open in our part of the world and that, every year, we need a special permit even to light our Easter fire. The application for such permits asks the name of the person who will be responsible for extinguishing the fire, which does detract from the symbolism to some extent.
I took Shallots into our place and fixed him a toasted cheese sandwich. Cardinal Shallots likes cheese. Indeed, he is sympathetic to dairy produce in general, a factor which did not endear him to a Vatican increasingly beholden to the forces of carbohydrate.
Shallots told me the true story of his demise. He fell foul of some powerful factional warlords within the Vatican. You'd need a form guide to work out who they all are. There is a group of English speaking cardinals, led by Cardinals Pontiac, Sebago and Kiffler. The Italians are led by Cardinals Fettucine, Tagliatelle and Rigatoni. Then there is an emergent group from Asia led by Cardinals Basmati, Jasmine and Arborio. These groups are all deeply divided about what they consider to be the one true and authentic source of carbohydrate. But they do at least agree on the primacy of carbohydrate. Christ, they maintain, is to be found nowhere in the absence of carbs. Least of all in the Eucharist.
This is where Shallots came unstuck. Along with Cardinals Zuccini and Aubergine, he was labelled as one of the 'vegetables', an increasingly marginalised group which still flirts with the new age pagan idea of a balanced diet. Shallots overstepped the mark when he suggested that Dr Atkins, the apostle of low carb food, had been assassinated by Vatican extremists, desperate to protect the orthodoxy of the Eucharist, or what they understood as the Eucharist. Shallots also publicised the existence of a secret new ecclesiastical movement called the Neo-atkinumenate, or neo-ats for short. This group wanted gluten in everything. They could permit gluten free substances only if they contained gluten. Shallots resigned when he was asked to prepare a special release of postage stamps to celebrate the church's first inverse canonisation. An inverse canonisation, sometimes known as a canoffisation or a can'tonisation, is a solemn declaration that someone is in hell. The churches first non-saint was to have been Dr Atkins, the man who refused to give bread to the hungry. He even refused to give it to the rich.
I told Shallots roundly that I was having nothing to do with his Marxist left wing trendy conspiracy theories. I could see from the outset that our neighbourly relations were going to be strained.
The funny thing is that Shallots came back the next day to ask for my help. This is a disarming way to respond to someone with whom you have argued. It is, after all, what God does. You pick a fight with God and think to yourself that God is never going to speak to you again after that little spat. But then the next day, God asks for your help with something. This is God's approach to reconciliation. God keeps you on the payroll regardless of your refusal to turn up to work. Then, eventually, you stop sulking, start doing what God suggested and suddenly you feel a whole lot better.
Shallots said he wanted my help to put up a hut on the block next door. I was reluctant at first. I liked the block in its natural state. But I thought that, if I helped, I might have a say in recommending the location of the hut and that could mean having it built under one of the gum trees of the Nichoili variety which might then oblige by dropping a branch on the hut when Shallots was inside.
So before long, we found ourselves at the local tip looking for second hand building materials. Picking over the rubble in his red soutane, Cardinal Shallots looked like he was on an errand of mercy at the site of an earthquake. He was on an errand of mercy of sorts. He told me that his dream was to find enough stuff to erect a Corrugated Iron Oratory. His eyes filled with the enormity of his vision. He wanted to create a house of mercy for theological prostitutes. I told him that was fine but I didn't want it next door to me. I didn't want theological prostitutes hanging over my back fence.