Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Can't help thinking of "Little Becket" :)

Today is one of my 'pining' times, since I wish that I were in Canterbury (as I often have been on the 29th of December.) Don't mind me - I'm going to have to include the canticle which mentions "cold and chill, bless the Lord" in my Offices at least till April, since winter is a time when I would be very much inclined to hibernate.

With its being Thomas Becket's feast day, I cannot help but remember a Franciscan friar who was a friend of mine (he died in 1993). He alternated between being exceedingly shy (he once admitted to me that, were there reincarnation, he'd return as a hedge-hog, so he could crawl into a hole and hide) and inclined to the flamboyant. (Indeed, sometimes the two were an amusing combination. I well remember one parish social where Tom was too shy to raise his eyes, but, head bowed, grasped a microphone and sang all 168 verses of "Come back to Erin, Mavaurneen.") He was the size of a jockey, and the only priest I've known who stood on a stool in the pulpit so his head could be visible. Somehow, he reminded me of James Cagney - only shorter, less graceful, and, of course, with a charming brogue rather than the rough tones of New York.

Tom was a choleric man, dramatic in speech and gesture, and inclined to think of himself as Thomas Becket (surprising, I suppose, since those from Kerry generally are not inclined to things English in any sense... I imagine that pre-Reformation images are acceptable to some extent.) When he believed (accurately or not) that those in his congregation were against him, it was inevitable that his next sermon, whatever the gospel text for the day, would include shades of Unam Sanctam and 'lay control,' of how Thomas Becket was executed for not permitting lay control even from a monarch (yes, that's a stretch, but Tom's images tended to the pot-pourri), and a stern repetition of the ominous words, "Will...no one... rid me... of this meddling priest."

Brilliant though he was, Tom could have a thought which made little sense except in his own mind, and suddenly address this as if the hearer knew exactly what he meant. He was avidly Roman Catholic (in the militant version developed to perfection in southern Ireland), and not terribly tolerant of my enjoyment of Anglican scholarship, much less my conviction that it would be a miracle indeed were the ICEL to ever match Cranmer's prose. Tom would use various and vivid metaphors, derived from everything from scripture to history to US baseball.

It was a morning in the early 1990s, and Tom, with a wrath of all the gods, suddenly, without preamble, burst out with, "There are limits! I cannot believe what he has done!" I expressed a bit of puzzlement. Tom continued, "I know a pope can dispense himself from anything he likes, but there are limits!" (Dispense himself?... Well, let's not get diverted here...)

Searching my mind for whatever John Paul could have dispensed himself from which would be particularly abhorrent to a Kerryman, I asked, "Are you referring to the pope's meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury?"

Little Becket naturally bristled at his title's being usurped, and stormed, "There is no Archbishop of Canterbury! There is only a Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster! That character in Canterbury is not a bishop! He is not a priest! (Crescendo) I suppose you think that Anthony Quinn was the pope!"

Becket suddenly was replaced by Pius V, and, in what I assume was a reference to Canterbury and the ordination of women (a very controversial topic at the time), Tom ominously declared: "There is but one holy, catholic, and apostolic church! And there are no Bo Peeps in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church!"

Pius then was superseded by, of all people, I assume Babe Ruth, as Tom began swinging a huge bat (fortunately imaginary). "In our Holy Mother Church, it's ONE strike, you're out! And it does not matter that you are a much better Christian, than I am! One strike, you're out! And you may not, under pain of mortal sin, answer me with saying you have never denied anything! " (I may be no authority on baseball, but know enough to be glad that I refrained from commenting that I intend to "walk," which shouldn't be difficult, considering I have more balls than many a bishop I could mention.)

I, of course, needed to summon every speck of my previous theatrical experience not to laugh aloud at this commentary, the more since it was delivered with such righteous thunder. However, I made a 'fatal error.' Tom, waiting for some humble response (though he should have known me better than to expect just that), finally said outright, "Well! Is it not true that there is ONE holy, catholic, and apostolic church?"

I answered, "Have I ever denied that?"

May Tom rest in peace and rise in glory... even if heaven is quite crowded with all of those Anglican saints. :)

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