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Call Me Catholic!

God is a friend of long standing

by Michael McGirr

You can't call yourself a Catholic until you have wondered how young you have to be to qualify for World Youth Day.

For those of us afraid of missing out, perhaps the Holy Father might consider endorsing a World Middle Age Day. This would not necessarily be a day celebrating a return to the beliefs and practices of the Middle Ages. The burning of heretics, for example, is no longer acceptable. John Paul II called the church to 'environmental conversion' and the burning of anybody, heretic or not, releases toxins into the atmosphere.

World Middle Age could be a wonderful gathering of all Catholic baby boomers, especially members of that versatile generation which knelt devoutly in pews for their First Holy Communion and then sat on bean bags for their high School liturgies. These are the adaptable souls whose religious instruction began with a fear of touching the sacred host with their teeth and went on to include cooking classes for making altar bread. Church authorities sometimes fail to appreciate that having changed so much in one lifetime, we are a little reluctant to change back again.

The soul, like old knees, gets a bit stiff and sore. It starts to hurt to use it. But even in middle age souls are still getting a regular workout in life's gym where we find that some pains are signs of life and others, like a toothache, suggest there is something we need to be doing.

Of course, many of us who will be attending World Middle Age Day will be worried about where we are going to park our cars and whether or not we will have to share a bathroom. But we will also have stories to tell. Many of us were scared of God on first acquaintance. Then we thought we knew all about God and that God, far from being frightening, was actually a bit of a bore. Finally we grew up a bit and found that it was we who were boring. We wasted years in the search for new and exciting ways to be boring.

God, to our amazement, turned out to be a friend whom we never expected to be so loyal and compassionate, often turning up with the right word at the right time when other friends and colleagues just wanted to dump on us. Now, in middle age, we have reached a stage where we are starting to bury a few of our friends who have died too soon. We need to keep the friends we have. We'd be thankful if the church bore that in mind when it asks us to return to a more formal relationship with the creator.

When he meets with us at World Middle Age Day, the Holy Father will have plenty to criticise, not least the appalling fads in fashion and music which we have supported in the cause of relativism. But he might also be surprised how many of us have kept in touch with God through years of study, travel, marriage, mortgage, children, second mortgage, career highs, career lows, ageing parents, sibling rivalry and the strange ways of love. Most of us have done a lot more than exchange Christmas cards with God.

Nobody gets to Middle Age without a good few pages they'd like to rip from their diaries. There are plenty of us who have reason to be grateful that God doesn't just think of us on our worst days. Lots of us have found prayers stirring in the pit of our stomachs late on a Saturday night when our teenagers haven't come home. Or on a Monday morning when our twenty-somethings won't leave home. These are not the sort of prayers that are easy to translate into Latin. They tend not to make pronouncements about Man with a capital M. As we have mellowed, the prayers we have left are more likely to reflect humility with a small h.

The ideal venue for World Middle Age Day might not be Sydney. But nor would it necessarily be the Gold Coast. A series of backyards, all half owned by the bank, might be better. With BBQ's owned by the neighbours. And children, pets, crockery and glasses owned by a list of people we'd have to sit down to properly remember.

Organisers might think they are being helpful when they put on a workshop in the Spirituality of Superannuation or a Retirement Planning Retreat. But most of us are weary of the stuff the demographers tell us we are supposed to be interested in. Most of us would really like to talk about honesty but, to be honest, we don't find this easy. We know the Holy Father will talk about Truth with a capital T. But honesty has an even smaller h than humility. A lot in our culture has asked us to inflate our own significance, to pump up our egos, to generate a long CV, to fill our houses with trophies of achievement. But, on World Middle Age Day, a few quiet words about being small enough to fit through a certain narrow gate might not go astray.

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