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Call Me Catholic!

God stops to buy bread and milk on the way home

Cardinal Shallots explains the economic basis for the re-introduction of married priests and ponders the possibility of a papal bucks night

by Michael McGirr

You can't call yourself a Catholic unless you're glad when St Valentine's Day has come and gone for another year. Most of know that there is more to love than flowers and chocolates, although, of course, there is always room for an outlandish romantic gesture. But it's no coincidence that, much of the time, St Valentine's Day falls during Lent. It keeps things in perspective. For every day that love expresses itself in champagne there are thirty nine other days when it expresses itself in folding the laundry, putting out the garbage, buying the bead and milk, stopping to fill the car with petrol and turning down the volume on the TV.

My neighbour, Cardinal Shallots, is wont to say that that if you're not prepared to wash the glasses afterwards, then even the best champagne loses its fizz. And if you don't take turns to make the bed, then anything that may happen in the bed loses its bubble. I've sometimes wondered how a former Vatican bureaucrat manages to know such things. Especially one who has now taken to sleeping on an old door which he salvaged from the tip and brought back to his vacant block. The door has been installed in the discarded water tank which, lying on its side, has become his bedroom. He calls it the cistern chapel. There are enough holes in the corrugated iron to let him see the stars at night, a view, in his opinion, to match anything Michelangelo may have painted.

One day last week, I happened to raise with Cardinal Shallots the issue of the forthcoming marriage between Prince Charles and Consort Camilla. He said that, like the vast majority of people, he couldn't give an altar boy's fart what they did. But the situation did make him hanker once again for the days of mantatory celibacy for Catholic clergy. The reason was simple. One of the unforeseen consequences of the relaxation of the rule of celibacy was the prospect of a papal wedding. A papal wedding would present unprecedented challenges to the Vatican media office and, in his time, the Vatican media office ran the Vatican. Following the death of Pope Pepsi Max, Cardinal Melson Gibb, a former filmmaker and now head of the Vatican media office, turned down the papacy on the grounds that it would mean a marked loss of influence in the church. Cardinal Melson Gibb was not interested in covering a papal wedding unless a blood bath could be guaranteed at some point in the service. It was Pope Microsoft, the predecessor of Pope Pepsi Max, who finally bowed to pressure and allowed Catholic priests to marry. This was despite the strenuous efforts of the lobby group Former Wives of Former Priests which wanted priests to be kept to themselves. Just as celibacy had become compulsory for economic reasons, to stop the children of priests inheriting church property in the middle ages, so too did the tradition end for economic reasons. A more cynical soul than Cardinal Shallots might conclude that, in the history of the church, economic arguments have always been more powerful than theological ones.

The issue that eventually brought matters to a head in the issue of celibacy was the high cost to the church of fixing photocopiers. One Lent, Pope Microsoft decided to set an example to his clergy of prophetic managerial practice. He wanted to run his office the way Christ would run an office. So he undertook to photocopy his own encyclical. The result was a paper jam of unprecedented severity. Eighteen cardinals were called to assist, but none could end the jam. The theme of the encyclical, Arbores vobis dabo, was the need to preserve the natural environment. It is a pity then that so much paper was wasted trying to promulgate the instruction before one of the cardinals thought to call a repairman.

Just as Pope Nike was unfit and Pope Pepsi Max a secret drinker, Pope Microsoft had great difficulty with technology. He intuited, not without reason, that if he was having trouble with his photocopier, the same was doubtless true of presbyteries throughout the entire church. He realised that the cost of all those paper jams and all those afterhours repairmen had to be enormous. Then it dawned on him that if the cost of fixing photcopiers was high, the cost of having someone set a DVD or Video player must be even higher and the cost of getting people to sort out the mess on the computers of the clergy must be incalculable. There were only two possible solutions. The first was to establish a new order of nuns and brothers with the special ministry of fixing parish office machines. But the second idea was brilliant in its simplicity. If priests coulkd marry, then soon enough they would have six year old children. These six year old children would be able to fix any photocopier, DVD or computer without trouble. Besides, they would be available free of charge, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. And, unlike an order of brothers and nuns, you wouldn't need to invent a spirituality to justify what they were doing. It is in the nature of kids to be able to make computers work. It is an expression of natural law.

There was never much prospect of a papal wedding under Pope Microsoft, a shy man who never recovered from the great paperjam surrounding Arbores vobis dabo. It was his first and last encyclical: half a page of crumpled smudge. But it was a different story with Pope Pepsi Max, a gentleman who loved nothing more than a good party. Cardinal Shallots knew that, if ever Pope Pepsi Max decided to tie the knot, then, he Shallots, would have to organise the bucks night. You would have to go back to the Renaissance to find a precedent for a papal bucks night and a number of the venues used in those days had since closed down.

Shallots is enjoying a quieter life now and I am the beneficiary of his observations on life and all its attendant ironies. He has very little to say about weddings but a lot to say about love. A week or so after St Valentine's Day, I was walking around town with him when he started to point approvingly to the slack nature of much of the laundry hanging on lines around out streets. He told me that, in his experience, there was an inverse relationship between the quality of the lingerie on a washing line and the quality of the relationship in the house to which the washing line was attached. Daggy smalls can be a sign of true love, a sign that a a couple are comfortable with each other. I don't ask what personal experience he may be referring to but there is wisdom in what he says. There isn't much spring left in the elastic on the washing lines of Inner Springs. We have learnt that it is ourselves that need to be able to keep our shape, to offer support and to stretch just a little.

Previous Columns:
  • Issue 1: The Catholic Fold
  • Issue 3: The Fridge Door
  • Issue 5: A Call to the Faithful
  • Issue 7: Liturgy of the Story
  • Issue 9: God goes swimming in Winter
  • Issue 11: God drives slow
  • Issue 13: God runs in bare feet
  • Issue 15: God does not send spam
  • Issue 17: God has better things to do
  • Issue 19: God washes on delicate cycle
  • Issue 21: God puts ads in lost and found
  • Issue 23: God builds houses with stuff from the tip
  • Issue 25: God does not need sponsorship
  • Issue 27: God swats flies
  • Issue 29: God makes his own bed
  • Issue 31: God is present under the tree
  • Issue 36: God buzzes soft like a mosquito
  • Issue 38: God has traffic rules for Lent

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