March 17, 2017
“I’m an atheist and I thank God for it.”
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright
One Sunday afternoon, while on holiday in Ireland, I enjoyed a chat with an Irish fisherman. After some idle conversation, he began weaving a story, fondly recalling the image of his childhood priest, Father Joe. “Oh, he was a funny, that one, a real performer. We kids couldn’t wait to go to mass to see what outrageous thing Father Joe would do or say. I’ll never forget one Sunday when it was time for the offering. Father Joe came down from the holy altar and stood at the front pew looking at a sea of faces, mostly women and children. He was really looking at us. No one was invisible.”
This is how the story goes. Father Joe spoke with authority when he said, “Look at all you good people. You’re here, on holy ground, on the Lord’s Day. God loves you!” He then ordered the passing of the offering baskets among the pews.
While altar boys took over, Father Joe called out to the men standing at the back of the church, most of whom were husbands of the women in the pews. Now he spoke a little louder: “Now, to you good men in the back of the church. You, too, are standing on holy ground, on the Lord’s Day. God loves you just as much!” He made sure an offering basket passed through the hands of the standing men.
But Father Joe didn’t stop there. He looked again at those in the pews, primarily the women alone. He said “To the misses here, whose husbands are not standing in the back of the church, I believe I saw your good men in their cars outside waiting to give you a lift home. Now, they’re not in the church, but they are parked on holy ground, on the Lord’s Day. God loves them too!” Then he asked that an offering basket be passed from car to car.
And still Father Joe’s inspiration continued: “Now, I suspect there are people in cars waiting at the other end of the bridge. They are close to holy ground, and aware of the Lord’s Day. God loves them, too. But for those fecken’ bastards at the pub, well, there’s no hope for them at all. Thanks be to God. Let us pray for their evil ways.”