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Call Me Catholic!

God sends flowers to every funeral

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Be they yellow, black or white
All are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

by Michael McGirr

You can't call yourself a Catholic until you've been saddened by a death that few others have noticed, until you've been filled up by a funeral where there were hardly any others present.

Cardinal Shallots is in mourning.

One of the lesser lights of Inner Springs has faded.

For some years, Matthew Finnish was something of a local identity. He left school at the tender age of twelve and became a signwriter, a vocation in which he persevered through any number of crises. One of the difficulties with having traded in his schooling to pursue his trade is that Matt's spelling was never the best. But local businesses were happy to support the young fellow and before long we became the only community in the country to have a Farmercy, a Buttcher Shop and Green Grosser. Many of us felt that Matt's mistakes brought a deeper level of truth to the surface: the chemist did deal mainly with farmers, the saw dust in the butcher's floor was once the burial ground of dozens of cigarette butts and the fruit shop could also be pretty gross. Then the times, like Mrs Poole's hip, went out of joint and we became a community without a Farmercy, a Buttcher or Green Grosser.

In a long career, that Matt Finnish was often embroiled in controversy. At one stage, the local council managed to lure an Indian doctor to town to bolster our tottering health services which were falling more and more, in the absence of alternatives, into the hands of the local vet. The council promised rent free accommodation as well as to lift the unwritten but strictly observed ban on the consumption of rice anywhere within the shire boundaries. It also promised that the general store would stock Bollywood videos which, as it turned out, became a hit with visiting shearers who started to emulate some of the dance routines in the sheds.

The doctor was an excellent fellow who did a great deal for our health because, despite being fluent in English, he couldn't understand a word most of us were saying. This is because in Inner Springs, it is considered poor etiquette to open your mouth for any man other than a dentist, an event which, in these enlightened times, may occur on as many as three occasions in a lifetime. Since the doctor was unfamiliar with the nasal dialects of English, he didn't have to listen to us and could treat our symptoms without having to wade through six feet of bulldust to get to them. Furthermore, once we realised that there was no point in complaining to the doctor, we stopped complaining and a good many symptoms relieved themselves.

Nonetheless, it was unfortunate that Matt Finnish was engaged to do the signage on the doctor's surgery. We knew the doctor's days among us were numbered when he arrived at work to find a large board advertising his 'consultasian hours.'

Matt was also a little on the lazy side and cut a few too many corners. Both the newsagent and the real estate agent refused to pay his bill because he squibbed and used a cheap plastic 'Gents' sign as part of their signage, turning them into newsaGENTS and real estate aGENTS respectively. They soon tired of travellers turning up intending to spend no more than a penny which, even in Inner Springs, does not go as far on the property market as it used to.

There was a further controversy when Tuesday Mundi, the chief pastor at Big Bible Barn, asked Matt to paint a board for her advertising her wares. It wasn't simply that Matt was a loyal Catholic, which he was, up to a point. That point was very clear. He was steadfast, even dogmatic, in his beliefs. He was a fervent admirer of the pope. But he drew the line at any suggestion he might ever attend church.

The problem was more that Mass was easier to spell than Service. Matt had already done a sign for the Catholics advertising Mass Times and became the Lions Club Tradesman of the Month when it was realised that the sign was free of error, both doctrinal and typographical. It was, indeed, a sad day when Fr Thong tore down the sign, Matt's masterpiece, and took it to the tip because he insisted people access Mass Times on the internet. The funny thing was that if you did access Fr Thong's parish website, the Mass Times were presented in a photo of Matt's old sign. 'People should read the signs of the times,' said Thong with authority. 'And not waste their time with signs out the front of the church.'

Tuesday Mundi was horrified when she arrived at the Big Bible Barn one day to find that Matt had created a sign advertising Mass Times rather than Services Available.

As Tuesday would tell you herself, she offered an impressive range of services. She did Bible Shui for those who wanted to embrace a new mortgage in a spirit of faith. She used Bible Tarot for those wanting to know if God had a special word for them. She used all sorts of beads, with the exception of rosary beads.

But her special gift was ministry to petrol heads. She had a special blessing for those buying new mag wheels and a separate one for Christians upgrading to a chrome exhaust. She had prayers to ward off hail damage to bodywork, prayers for the safe garaging of vehicles, prayers for the successful delivery of a new car, prayers for protection from rust, speed cameras, worn seat covers and unjust defect notices. She turned the parable of the lost sheep into the parable of the lost car keys. But she would not countenance the idea of saying Mass. No way. There was to be no Mass at Big Bible Barn. Never. Mass was idolatry. If Jesus was alive today, he would have come into Jerusalem on the back of a Harley. End of story.

Pastor Mundi told Matt Finnish that there would be signs in heaven before she required his services again. Matt looked skywards, thinking she had a joint business venture in mind. She didn't.

It is with sadness that I note the death this week of Matthew Finnish.

Matthew died of a terrible wasting disease, one that took years to run its course. It was the kind of illness which never had any drama, no occasion for the blokes down the pub to raise money for an operation or a funeral or to help pay the rent while he was off work for a few weeks. At first, Matt had visitors. But gradually, one by one, they told each other that there was nothing they could do and they stopped coming. They were busy with other things. They were good folk, but wanted to give their time to things that would make a difference. They weren't even sure that Matt could understand them any longer. Even if they cleared their noses so they could speak more clearly.

By the end, the only person who came was Cardinal Shallots. Shallots brought comfort to Matt's last days by searching the tip until he found his masterpiece, his Mass Times Signs. Shallots promised to have it restored. He also suggested that Matt might like to do some special artwork for his grave for when the time came. Shallots was not afraid to talk to Matt about dying. Matt promised to send a sign from heaven. Shallots said he would try to decipher it if he did.

Matt wanted to die at home and asked, if the cardinal didn't mind, if he could be on his own when he did so. In an often lonely life, he had become rather accustomed to his own company. Now he was going on a blind date with God and he didn't want anyone else lurking in the background, seeing how the two would hit it off with each other now that they were finally going to meet.

So Shallots kept a candle lit vigil on the paved BBQ area outside Matt's house, a concrete piazza surrounded by a ring of piles of old paint drums which looked a little like columns. Shallots prayed quietly until, with his sixth sense, he knew that the bird had left its cage and that, upstairs in his room, Matt's body was finally vacant.

On his tombstone, Matt had left one word. But, he'd managed to get it wrong and everyone laughed. It said FINISH. 'It's not just the wrong spelling,' said Shallots. 'It's the wrong word.'

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
  • Issue 40: God stops to buy bread and milk on the way home
  • Issue 42: God does not pay for TV
  • Issue 44: God hides Easter eggs

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