Dirty Catholics, Smelly Nuns, and Yoda

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As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post,, I attended a funeral this week. It was held in a catholic church and was a full catholic mass. While I am not a catholic now, I was brought up as a catholic. So on the odd occasion when I do attend a catholic mass, purely for funerals, weddings or christenings, I can easily slip back into the swing of things. I remember all the various responses that the congregation say and the words said as part of the service. After all, I used to hear and say the same things week in week out from being a baby up until my teens.

This gives me a feeling of slight superiority. I am not a Catholic, yet I am familiar to their ways. If I am sitting next to people who aren’t aware of the responses, I would be the only one in the group who knew what to say and when to say it. They would look at me surprised, and after the mass they would say, “I never knew you were a catholic”, and I would inform them that I am not a Catholic. They then ask how I know all the words, and I will simply nod and smile sagely as if to suggest that I am just the kind of person who is very wise and widely educated, and just knows these things. As you’d imagine, this kind of thing really impresses the ladies, and it has led to many erotic encounters post-service.

Unfortunately, my pulling technique did not work on this particular day (which is a shame because I always do especially well at funerals).

“The lord be with you,” said the priest. Well I didn’t need prompting twice. The response was ingrained in me from childhood, and three years of absence from the church had not been enough to dislodge it from my memory.

“And also with you” I responded loudly and confidently.
But the rest of the congregation did not respond with “and also with you.” They had all responded by saying, “;And with your spirit.”

What was going on? I was sure I had responded correctly. But my response did not match the response of my fellow church goers.

Quickly, I began to run through the service in my head, checking to make sure that I’d definitely not misremembered, but I was certain that I hadn’t. As the gospel ended, I braced myself, mildly trepidatious, as the priest said the familiar words, “this is the word of the lord.”

“Thanks be to god,” I responded, as I had done all those many years. But again, I was flummoxed to find that my response did not match the response of my fellow church goers.

And this continued for the rest of the service. I would say the traditional response that I remembered from my childhood, and the congregation would say something similar but nevertheless different; certainly different enough to make me conspicuous. My confidence ebbed and by the end of the mass I had given up trying. I was even afraid to join in with the Our Father, in case they’d changed that too.

I was confused. I’d attended a catholic funeral service about three years ago and the responses were exactly the same as I had remembered them. Upon asking a member of the congregation, I was told that the service had been reinterpreted to have a more precise translation of the original latin. This happened in 2011, which explains why I’d been fine at the funeral three years ago.

I find it a bit strange that they’ve changed the words of the service, especially when it seemed that some of the changes are very slight. From what I remember, in some cases the words had just been swapped around a bit, to resemble what might happen if the catholic church appointed Yoda to help with the translation. Also, given that a large number of catholics and priests are quite old, it seems a bit cruel to change the familiar pattern of words that’s been routine to them for forty years.

Being blind, I went to a different school to my brothers. They attended the local Catholic school, but I attended another school with specialist prevision which was not a Catholic school. Therefore, I did not get a catholic education at school. But my dad, keen that I shouldn’t miss out on the fun, decided to book me in to see a nun once a week who would give me my catholic education.

It is probably a great sin to speak ill of a nun, but I’m prepared to be damned to hell for all eternity if it means being able to produce a mildly interesting blog post, so here goes. Sister Bernadette was a lovely woman. Let me start by saying that. She was a kind, loving and devout lady. However, she did smell faintly of poo. Cleanliness might be next to godliness, but this particular nun was evidently so consumed by godliness that she’d not left any room for cleanliness to get near to her.

Don’t worry, Sister Bernadette died a few years ago, and so she won’t be reading this. Although, I’d assume that if she had “ever started reading my blog then she would have given up along time ago, probably as soon as she read blog post titles such as: “Fuck All Bus Drivers”, “Crazy Frog Porn” and Sir Patrick Moore and Lesbians.”

I saw Sister Bernadette weekly between the age of seven and ten. I used to get frustrated during our meetings because I felt she wasn’t really taking my questions about what she was teaching seriously. I’d interject with a question along the lines of: “If god is so loving and forgiving, why did he more or less flood an entire planet. Isn’t that a bit over-the-top.” To which she would respond, in what I remember to be a fairly supercilious tone, “God works in mysterious ways.”

I tried this once with my parents when I was misbehaving and they asked me why I had done what I had done. They didn’t seem to be amused when I responded by informing them that “their son, David Eagle works in mysterious ways.”

Her other favourite retort to my questions about God or Jesus and their actions was, “Don’t question, just have faith.”

A part of me is quite hostile about this kind of teaching. We should be encouraged to be curious and to question, and in education we often are given permission to explore and question, but when it comes to the word of God we are taught to blindly accept. I think that this is quite damaging for children. In fact, I think it’s damaging for adults too.

Sister Bernadette told me about the importance of praying. She said that she prayed daily for guidance from God and that God gave her advice about how she should conduct herself in life. I couldn’t help wondering why God couldn’t have told her, just once in all those years, that she might want to wash herself a little more thoroughly.

I remember her telling me that she and her fellow nuns made the wafer breads that we ate in church at holy communion. After learning this, I felt sick every time I took communion and was convinced from that point onwards that the wafers had a taste of poo about them. It was bad enough that we were apparently chewing on bits of christ’s flesh, without having poo added to the mix. Meanwhile, the adults drank Jesus’s blood from the one same
cup. What a dirty, unhygienic business Catholicism is, I thought.

On Good Friday, we all had to process down the church, to take our turn kneeling in front of a large wooden crucifix which we all kissed. All those mouths kissing the one same bit of wood.

On Holy Thursday the priest would walk up the church with a bowl of water and wash our feet, as Jesus did to the disciples at the last supper. What a dirty business.

One other thing that I particularly recall about my time with Sister Bernadette was when she chastised me for using a “big word.”

“Jesus didn’t use big words David. He used simple language so everyone could understand and get his message.”

This seemed a bit of a ridiculous statement, considering that Jesus would have probably spoken some form of Hebrew, and he has had to rely on a multitude of human translations and interpretations to get his message across to people. If only the all-loving all-forgiving God hadn’t been so rash and callus during the tower of babel incident, then we wouldn’t need to translate the word of God into all these different languages, and we might have a . better chance of actually understanding what his son was trying to say.
Still, we shouldn’t expect too much. He’s only an all-knowing all-powerful Deity.

I wonder how Sister Bernadette would have reacted to the Catholic Church’s new interpretation of the service, given her distain for big words and complicated language. FROM what I can see, big words and complicated language is precisely what this new interpretation involves. The holy creed for instance, which is said in nearly every catholic service by the entire congregation, was always a lengthy bit of prose to remember and recite. But after forty years it has been given an overhaul which I believe makes it even more confusing for people to understand. Plus, they’ve got to learn the damn thing again, and unlearn forty of years of weekly repetition.

The creed used to state that Jesus was: “begotten not made, in one being with the farther.” However, this particular passage has been altered, and now reads: “begotten not made, consubstantial with the father.” “Consubstantial?” That’s quite a big word, and a great deal more complicated a concept to understand.

So it’s evidently not considered catholic policy to avoid using complicated language and verbose phraseology; that was merely the opinion of one nun. Yet she used God and Jesus as a means to vindicate her argument. Then again, when have we seen that before? So it is just her interpretation and idea of Jesus and the catholic religion. It is not a universally agreed concept. And it is this ambiguity and disparity of ideas among the teachers, nuns and priests of the catholic church that vexes and annoys me. There are all these people with all these different opinions, and their all telling us how Jesus was and thought. But none of them really know, even though they act as if they are a direct mouthpiece to the lord.

A perfect example of this in motion is the Sunday Sermon, where the priest interprets the gospel in his own unique way. When our regular priest retired, there wasn’t a direct replacement available, and so we had a number of
priests on rotation. During these years I became increasingly more confused and disenfranchised with the catholic church. The reason for this was because all these different priests held a variety of conflicting and contrasting views and ideas about God. Therefore, each week we were given a different idea of who God is, and what kind of a god he is.

There was one particular priest who held the view that God was a vengeful God who
would punish none believers. Another priest believed that God was All-forgiving, and so long as people lived a good life then they would be bound for heaven.
And another more down-to-earth priest who fancied himself as a bit of a comedian, and regaled us with Christeaan-based jokes, and claimed that God was a Newcastle United football fan. Needless to say that this particular priest also just so happened to be a Newcastle United football fan.

It became clear to me that essentially all these people were giving their individual beliefs. I didn’t get a universal truth from the catholic church; I got a confusing carousel of conflicting opinions.

Well, as you can see, I’m really bringing the Christmas spirit to this blog. I shall be back next week to inject further merriment into your lives with a new Young’uns Podcast.
π

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Why Funerals Are Better Than Weddings

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I went to a funeral this week. Obviously it was the funeral of someone I know. I didn’t just wake up in the morning and decide on a whim that I was in the mood for a funeral. I am not about to confess to you that the reason I’ve not blogged for a while is because I’ve been too busy attending random people’s funerals, and that it was this, not the Young’uns, that was the reason why i quit my job. I did however used to work with someone who, when he’d retired, spent his time going to random people’s funerals. I never quite got to understanding why exactly he felt compelled to do this. He said it had something to do with finding funerals a very spiritual experience and it reminded him of his own mortality, and the importance of living life to the full and not wasting precious time. I thought that this was more than a little ironic given that he was the kind of person who wasted a great quantity of his precious time attending the funerals of complete strangers. To be honest, I suspect that all this spiritual and mortality claptrap was a smoke screen, and that the real reason he went to all these funerals was for the free buffets. He always was a tight-arse and a glutton for a bargain.

I often find funerals to be more spiritually enlightening and more uplifting experiences than weddings. On the surface this may seem like quite a morbid and unusual statement to make. However, at weddings there is lots of stress and obligation on people: the best man, the bride and groom, the family. There is so much to organise: the venue, food and drink, the guest list, speeches, the cake, decorations, the service, the dresses. This can take up so much time and stress, and often I think it becomes very easy for all this stuff to detract and distract from the actual real and most important point of the day.

With a wedding there is all the stress about who to invite. You can only invite a certain number of people due to the size of the venue and cost. This inevitably leads to upset and falling out. With a funeral there are no invites. Everyone and anyone is free to turn up. It’s a mass assemblage of friends and family who have all come together to celebrate the life of someone they love.

The only time I ever get to see certain family members is at weddings and funerals. And there is little chance to talk to them at a wedding because of all the formalities, photos and the like. Then during the meal there is a seating plan. Then on the night there’s a bloody disco going on, and the music is far too loud to have a meaningful conversation. And so you end up making meaningless small talk as you lacklusterly traipse around a dancehall to shit music, tread on each other’s feet and dresses (and I absolutely hate it when people stand on my dress).

But at a funeral you go back to a house or the pub and talk about the person we are all there to remember. We share memories and stories and remember the best of a person. Plus, as my forma work colleague said, it does remind us about our own mortality and to value what’s really important to us in life. And so we talk, and we laugh, and we may cry, and we drink, and make merry in each other’s company, glad that we have it. And we’ll get granddad drunk again in the hope that he’ll regale us with some outlandish stories about his youth, or how he met nana.
And nana will blush, and giggle like a little school girl, and she’ll forget herself and her aches and pains and infirmity, fling down her walking stick, and they’ll both dance in each other’s arms
as they sing some old love song that takes them back to when they were young. And they are lost in a moment, more alive than we’ve seen them in ages.

So I don’t think it’s morbid to say that I find funerals more spiritually uplifting than weddings. I do like weddings as well, but think funerals have a real life giving power, even though they come about as a result of a life ending.

Join me tomorrow, when I talk about the catholic church, smelly nuns, and Yoda.

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