Monday 2 June 2008

Priestly Hankerings

Nothing particularly enlightening in this post. This post is more about where my own thoughts about MY life and its relevance are right now.

If you want something slightly less about me staring at my own navel, come back later. After nine o'clock tonight, say.

It must surely be abundantly clear I have in no sense lived the life of a saint.

Far from it.

And yet.

There is a long tradition of priestly service in our family. About the only well known relative I can claim will be totally unknown to most of you, unless you follow the Irish Media. In which case, you will have heard of Father Colm Kilcoyne. I have no real idea quite how closely related to me, but related he is- related in the sense that when people in Ireland talk about cousins, they can be talking about second, third, fourth, or fifth cousins. It has been suggested, as a priest who writes in the press, known to scriptwriters and suchlike, that he was one of the models used for Father Ted.

But the clergy have always been represented well amongst my cousins. There was my Great Aunt or Great-Great Aunt, or maybe she was my Great-Great-Great Aunt, in fact I think she was, I think she was my grandmother's Aunt, Auntie JP, who was certainly alive long enough for my mother to have met her AFTER she married my father. Auntie Joseph Patricia. Don't ask. It's an Irish thing. Only in Ireland, can Joseph Mary be a BOYS name.

Auntie JP was a nun. She came to visit the family from to time and my father recalls how amused he was when, as two dogs copulated in front of her, she said 'WHAT is that dog DOING to that little dog?'
She really did have no idea.

There was always a tradition in Ireland, if any of your children had anything about them, the clergy was where they should be directed. What a waste, you say.
Not really. The tradition dates back to the days of British rule, when the Irish Protestant minority in practice formed the ruling class. Catholics were treated with distrust- they were they potential traitors. There was a sense that the institution which stood for Ireland, which could best protect the interests of ordinary Irish people, was the church. And so, the brightest and the best were encouraged to go in to it. To be not only the spiritual, but also the moral leadership of Holy Catholic Ireland.
There is a strand of Irish nationalist thought which certainly links true Irishness to Catholicism, and also true Catholicism, to Irishness. The rest of the Catholic world, aren't as good Catholics as the Irish.

Irish Catholicism IS different. It's very ritualistic, we're pre-Vatican II at heart. Certainly, this affects me. I love the incense, the saying of the creed, the intonations, etc. I drift off during the readings and the sermon. Most Irish Catholics know their Rosary and the Confiteor. Most Irish Catholics own a MISSAL, but NOT a BIBLE. I do, but I'm probably a minority. My grandmother has never owned one, and never read any of it, but has been to mass every week for eighty five years.

Anyway, I grew up with all this in my blood. I spent my teens reading Fiesta and then feeling guilty that the Virgin Mary had seen my one handed reading. And I always had a funny relationship with the church, Yes, I was a fair teen tearaway. But I still made Mass every Sunday.

And I guess there was an image that stuck in my head. Most girls visualise their wedding, the moment when he priest says 'I proclaim you man and wife'. Well, I wanted to be in that vision. Just not as the groom.

I remember a dream I had as a late teen and waking up feeling Euphoric. Who was I in that dream? I was Pope Innocent XIV. I actually got up and checked- yes, there had only been THIRTEEN Innocents. My sixteen year old brain took this as a portent.

My grandmother always encouraged me in this. She had always wanted my father to be one, but he had proved stony ground. She fervently hoped I would prove more fertile. And there was good grounds, in some ways for her thinking that. I spent a lot of time talking to priests about theology. It was something I showed an interest in.

Of course, there was the reality that sex, drink and increasingly drugs, were becoming part of my life and that really, these weren't things compatible with being a priest.
By my early twenties, whenever my grandmother raised the topic 'You should at least think about it. The Church NEEDS people like you.', I'd groan in reply 'Look, it's not for me. I couldn't do it. The job, yes. The upright behaviour, no.

And that basically was what it boiled down to.

I'd have loved it, loved to be one, hell, it's essentially a sales job, with a huge amount of philosophical speculation and a lot of public relations thrown in. My gran was right when she saw in me EXACTLY the sort of person, who, in her youth dominated the Irish church.
Thing is, back in those days, those types of priests, due to their charisma were shagging half the congregation and eveybody turned a blind eye. Because you didn't criticise the church. It was THAT church, the church of De Valera's Ireland she saw me in. And that's not the church of the twentieth century media spotlight.

My friends always said if I was to be a priest, I'd start as the Reverend Christopher Brain and end up as Father Jack.

But my gran always said 'Look, spread your wild oats now, then come back to it. By the time you're thirty, you'll be bored of parties and women. It wears off. Then you'll make a good priest.

So I kind of always had that in the back of my mind. Party up my early twenties, then face my calling. Because a part of me always saw it that way.

What really kind of finished it, was falling in love with Joanna, at 19. Don't get me wrong, it was a mindbender for me. In fact one weekend when she was away (We were at Uni at Aberystwyth, remember), I even considered heading down to the monastery on Caldey Island to seek spiritual advice.

I didn't. Ideas of being a priest fell by the wayside. I loved Joanna so much, I wanted to be with her. And after I'd lost her, of course, I went into the cycle of sex and drugs that characterised my twenties.

And after a time, I tended to see the priestly life as something I'd rejected.

But do you know what?

I never stopped hating myself for that.

Because a huge part of me sees NOT being a priest, as making me a second rate human being.

Claire- the girl I was engaged to at 22- often said I had an almost priestly attitude to religion, that I loved the church more than I loved her. It was a strange insight, because on the face of it, my list of vices was long. But what she meant, was that I'd tackle most discussions from a theological angle. I think she could see the fixed expression I would have on my face during mass, a kind of mesmerised awe in the ritual.
But it was more than that. I can't even put my finger on it myself all the time. I'm not that obviously Catholic in my actions, or even in my opinions, but I know what people mean when they say 'Sometimes you think like a priest.'

Sex, you see. Sex has always been the problem. Ah, you say. That's the Catholic church's fault. Not allowing priests to marry.

Not quite it, though. My twenties has been a battle against a huge tendancy towards extreme hedonism, yet also a belief that asceticism is an ideal worth striving for.

It's been hard, because I suppose at the back of your mind, you always think that one day you'll find love and all that stuff. Or at least you might settle down.

I think part of the problem is, I've not REALLY been inlove with anyone PROPERLY, since Joanna.

It was only recently I started to realise some things.

Firstly, it is true, the novelty of sex DOES wear off. You CAN control your sex drive, once you get to thirty. I'm not sure you need to give it up, but it is possible to keep it to convenient no strings attached occasions.

And more importantly, I think I've finally realised the honest truth. I think if someone was to show up in my life who actually was EXACTLY my dream woman, I'd back away. Several people have said this in my life before 'If a woman showed up who you really could love, you'd run like the wind'.

I realise that's right.

And if I actually found myself in a situation where I really did feel those butterflies and knew she did too, I really would find myself in a panic.

Because I realise, I've not felt that sense of panic since I was 19. That was where I kissed goodbye to my desire to be Father Crushed, because I loved a woman.

And I can't help feeling deep inside that the key to my ultimate redemption is when I make the right choice this time.

I will never now be a priest. Too much water under the bridge. And truth be told, my own theology has departed so radically from orthodox Catholic teaching, it wouldn't make sense. But I've kind of developed my own life cause, my own set of beliefs, rooted in Catholicism it is true, but bigger than that, which I still feel the fervour for that any religious person feels for their beliefs.

In other words, I'd die for what I believe in.

I can't help speculating that rejecting your only chance of finding true love is the true proof, the ultimate test.

I sometimes wonder if passing that, is the real key to enlightenment. That you can never truly achieve enlightenment, unless, of your own free will, you have rejected that for yourself.

But there is of course, the huge possibility I'm totally wrong. It's just that this line of thought has dominated my thinking since October last year, and I can't seem to shake it.

I'm not offering any profound truth here. Just ruminating really. Don't take anything in this post as having too much meaning. It just gives you an insight into how I look at things, I guess.

If I was one of the Three Musketeers, I guess I'd be Aramis...


Anonymous said...

I read the whole thing and even though it was just a post about you 'thinking out loud' and putting stuff down in print, I thought it was interesting.

I bought a book about Nuns when I was author went around and interviewed about thirty religious women and asked them what their motives were and if the religious life had given them what they expected.
Very interesting.

And good post too btw

Anonymous said...

The heart has its reasons that the mind cannot understand. We all are searching for something, but the problem is, most of us don’t know what that is. We may call it love, sex, career, power, status, but there is an inner drive in us wanting something perhaps even grander than life.

The road to enlightment isn’t easy, and not all of us make it. But I wish you a safe journey and truly hope that you get what your heart desires.

Oh, btw:

“Aramis seems to be followed by luck, but it is never enough; every step forward must be used to climb to even greater power.”

That’s how your chosen musketeer is described – does that ring a bell?

Anonymous said...

Fine post CBI (do you ever write crappy ones I wonder). You're dead right about Irish Catholicism: my household always had missals and missals but only one Bible which my father only really started to read in his fifties and which he only started to discuss with me when I was off to uni. I suppose that was right, in its way: but central to the being RC was mass, always mass: no mass ever missed. I think I missed my first mass at 17 when I was in hospital! It weighed so heavily on my mind that I never wanted to go and stay with friends.

So I found it a relief and a renewal when I went to Australia and missed months of it, and found myself then enjoying and appreciating it so much more when I returned.

I like your thoughts on the priesthood: I appreciate your honesty about your attitude to love; but also your theology. I don't see how any thoughtful religionist could fail to have their own theology: you'll always think through doctrines and teachings in ways that make sense to you - it's what being an individual is about. For me the wrestling with conscience hasn't always been positive but it has been worthwhile, and has forced me to examine myself far more than if i had believed nothing. I think.

Anonymous said...

I think you would be a wonderful Pope. Really I do. You could form a rock band and have raunchy backing singers and call them the Popettes.. I think I have stolen that from The Goodies vintage c. 1975...

Anonymous said...

Kate- It's always kind of defined my outlook, in a sense. That and a huge marioalatry complex.

I think to be fair, it's more the ideals of the Jesuits that always appealed to me.

Crashie- Yes, I think I'm still searching, but I think I'm on the right lines.
Of course, people play a part in that as much as simply reading and thinking.
And it's only fair for me to acknowledge the role people like yourself play in my journey.

Aramis was always my favourite of the Musketeers. I guess eve when I first read the books, I kind of saw myself. Of the four, there is always a sense in which he and D'artagnan never quite click, because they are the cleverest of the four, but dissimilar in many ways. Characterwise, Aramis is VERY similar to me, when I read the books again, I often remark how he is the one I closest identify with.

The last line of the books is so sad 'Farewell Athos, Farewell Porthos, Aramis, goodbye forever!'

What does that mean? That only aramis is left and that D'Artagnan will see the others soon? Why forever? Does he see Aramis as heading towards a different destination?

Gtear series of novels, though. Especially the last ones. Great chracter study of the Sun King.

TD- That's pretty much how it was for me. I had a missal given me at my First Holy Communion. The one I have now, is much bulkier. I don't take it with me, but my Gran always used to carry hers. Even my Dad hangs on to his, and he's a born again Atheist.

For me, HOW he mass is done is very important. I can't stomach priests who try to 'modernise'- though often it's not the priests, it's the congregation. If I fail to get up on Sunday for morning mass, there's no way I'll endure the evening mass, with it's troupe of guitar playing happy clappies.

I think my theology has moved quite a way away from traditional thinking. Of necessity. I've studied quantum mechanics and evolution theory in depth- and my conclusions are that Catholicism DOES express the truth far better than most other religions- and CERTAINLY more so than Protestantism- which I refuse to accept as being remotely the same religion. Catholicism is partly rooted in Greek scientific thought- Protestantism is a throwback to Phrasaism.

There are in fact, for example very few cases I would disagree with Richard Dawkins. In my view, all he and I disagree on is WHAT we call things.

But I also accept a few beliefs from other faiths- such as Karma, for example.

None of which, in my opinion, detracts from me being Catholic.

Mutley- Yes, I think I'd be a good Pope too.
That Vatican was just built for parties...

And it is it's own country as well!

I like the rock band idea- The Pope on tour... Yes...

Anonymous said...

For me, HOW he mass is done is very important. I can't stomach priests who try to 'modernise'- though often it's not the priests, it's the congregation. If I fail to get up on Sunday for morning mass, there's no way I'll endure the evening mass, with it's troupe of guitar playing happy clappies.

Couldn't agree more. I loathe and despise such attempts. Wotsisname - Graham Kendrick is it? Who writes all those ghastly acoustic hymns? yuk!

Anonymous said...

Ah those Jesuits again.

Oh and the Irish priests went to Australia spreading their different view of things, teaching the young Catholic children that all the Protestants were going to hell which they gaily told them.