Well, i’m back from my retreat – turns out I am in fact a 46 year old Geography teacher from Belfast. However, it also seems that i’m actually ok with that. It was a wonderful experience and I game back genuinely enriched and relaxed.
Unfortunately, all that silence also left me a lot of time for observing my fellow retreatants. After a very sort time it became clear that even people of a journey to their essential selves are as competitive as the general population!
For example, when teachers get together the competition usually rages between who has the crapest timetable and the fewest resources. As we were allowed to speak at mealtimes the stage was set for some hardcore ‘Out Jesusing’
Once everyone’s bona fides had been established – who was at school with your cousin etc – the conversation slipped seamlessly into ‘what priests do you know?’ (not in the Fleabag, sexy priest sort of the way) and the game begins. It could be compared to a very delicate game of Top Trumps. For example:
- ‘Spiritual not Religious’ – no points for the liturgical lightweights
- ‘I heard at Mass on Sunday…..’ ohhhh good opening – regular attender
- ‘I find morning Mass a great way to start the day’ – now this is really upping the ante
- ‘ She sits beside me at the Rosary after morning Mass’ – points here for doing something extra
- ‘ I love the Holy Hour’ – now this is hardcore holiness – for the Holy Hour you have to go back to church
- ‘Holy Hour is lovely but I prefer the peace of Adoration’ (Adoration is spending time with the blessed Eucharist – it’s lovely)’I go every Thursday Morning’ – now this is big – a regular slot at a ceremony which is optional
- ‘Oh, I love Adoration – I do the 2-3 am slot on a Saturday night’ – and we have a winner!
A subset of this competition runs around the theme of Pilgrimages. Like most good church stories – there’s a schism. Is it better to have visited more shrines e.g. Lourdes, Knock, Fatima….. or visit the same shrine many times? This is a picture I took on one of my nine visits to Lourdes so far, so my thoughts are pretty clear on the matter.
Later on in the evening – once the ‘silence’ was over for the day, the tone of the competition changes and a new theme is introduced.
This is a good one – the closer you can link your life to a character from ‘Riders to the Sea’ or ‘ Les Mis’ (though not your dame who married Eddie Redmayne with his rich Granda), the better. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that the last year alone would get me straight to he semi-finals. Add to this the long dead Da and the sick child and I could have started engraving my name on the cup there and then. In a departure from form I avoided all of this and went to bed and read my book.
This diffidence was particularly out of character as we are a family of ‘speaker outers’ and we all learned from the Master – Patsy.
Patsy is my Maternal Grandmother she died a few years ago and this week would have been her 101st birthday. She styled herself on the late Queen Mother (this is her 90th Birthday photograph) and was an absolute legend with an opinion on EVERYTHING
Patsy was not a woman to allow anyone’s sensitivities or indeed Canon Law to get in the way of her thoughts.
She felt that I got married far too young (I was 23 – I told you she was a wise woman). On the morning I was leaving for my honeymoon, I called in home to say cheerio. As I was walking out the door she called me back – a hug? Nope. Some important marital advice.
‘The Pope (John Paul II, known for his conservatism and hard line on contraception) said in The Universe (ultra right wing Catholic Newspaper – big fans of the Pope – read by Patsy and definitely not me) that you can be on The Pill for two years after you get married (bollocks).
When, two years later (I know!!) my son was born naturally I called home to share the good news. I had taken care to register his birth before I phoned – this is because the name my parents chose for me was not in fact ‘Patricia’ it was something quite different. However on the arrival of Patsy to see me and in response to her wobbly voiced request (she was a master) about my name – suddenly I was Patricia.
So, having registered my precious bundle I made my was to the payphone (this was 20 years ago before we all had mobiles). In Craigavon Hospital the phones were along way from the single rooms (Patsy had organised a private birth and single room). After a C – Section there is a very special walk which prepares you for the multi tasking ahead. It’s a slow, painful shuffle – made more difficult by the fact you are trying to see over your enormous swollen boobs. One hand is occupied literally holding your guts in while the other is holding the wall because you are wazzed on painkillers. Add to this that there is oozing from every orifice and the smell of gently cooking cabbage, if you have chosen to cool your boobs with their leaves, overall its a good look.
Having completed this odyssey I put my coins into the phone and dialled home. Mother answered and after the initial – weight and wellness questions we got round to the BIG QUESTION. I had chosen a very Catholicly name for my son – not Emmanuel but to be honest not far off. It’s a beautiful name and it really suits him. However, Patsy was not initially a fan.
Once Mother shared the news I could hear Patsy screeching from the other side of the room (and it was not a small room).
‘ ********* (insert name) ********** (insert name again). The last *********** I heard of was getting let out of Long Kesh, he’ll never get a job!!!!!!!!’
Well, that was me told – but ahh ha – he was already registered so it was too late.
As soon as Patsy met the baby they both fell in love. They had a beautiful relationship and all the children miss her very much.
A few days before she died she spoke to EC (Don Corleone style [definitely not like Tony Soprano – Patsy would never go to a therapist]) to make him the ‘Head of the Family’ completely ignoring the fact that she had a daughter and granddaughter!!!!
Next week I shall tell you all about how my children have happily assumed the mantle of Patsy’s forthrightness.