Wednesday, July 12, 2006

there's no there there

My great-grandmother would talk to - proselytize, actually - the fish in the aquarium at the nursing home near our house where she spent her last days. Damn fish just wouldn't listen to reason, either. Infuriating as it was, Nana's kidneys gave out before her missionary zeal did. She used her last breath trying to convert the insolent little boogers.

My grandmother would wear a pair of dead foxes, joined at the hip, on her shoulders in the dog days of summer. On special occasions. She also learned to swear colorfully from the mah-jongg crowd she ran with for so many years. She spent the twilight of her life praying the rosary, cursing in Sicilian and Yiddish and out-guessing the contestants on The Price is Right.

My mother, well, where to start? The cats... the benign spiritism... the stuff in the freezer.
Don't make me go there.

This background information is merely to highlight my qualifications in dealing with unusual old ladies. I am not without experience in this highly specialized and gratifying field. I have the skillz. I have the credentialz.

So when la señora Nélida dropped in on me at the rectory yesterday I handled it quite professionally.

"I was going to throw it all in the river. But then I thought, the padre he is a man of God. So I bring it to you."

Both garbage bags were full, although the weight was unevenly distributed. Her eyes sparkled victoriously.

What is this stuff?

"Orange. It must be removed. Maybe for someone else to use."

Clothes, toys, jello molds. Crayons, a plastic lamp cover. A bath mat that honestly could have passed for yellow, but one learns early on not to haggle over trifles with a woman on a misson.

You're sure this is all of it. Nothing orange remains in the house?

She hesitated nervously. Her eyes fluttered and her mouth twitched. The man of God, he is testing me maybe? Has he seen?

"This is everything. I am sure. When I was in Cuba I saw many things. I ask myself, 'Where does the sun go when it sets?' It rises in the oriente and then disappears in darkness. So I quickly take the orange things out of my house. You will help me, no?"

Not a problem, Nelly.
Leave your troubles here, whatever color they are.

Monday, July 10, 2006

usted es la culpable...

I probably should have sensed there was going to be a problem going into this. The Exorcist just tends naturally to give folks the benefit of the doubt, that's all.

Never did I imagine that ol' number 1127 would be my undoing.
That's 1127, article 3. Specifically.

I don't blame her, this young latino woman from the parish, for not understanding the why and where-for-all of it. But I did explain it to her to the best of my ability and told her that, regardless, I was as beholden to the rules as she was. The deceptive ease with which she acquiesced to my check-list of conditions should have given me an inkling...

It was a summer Sunday much like any other. The stifling heat of our old, unairconditioned churches turned the morning Mass stretch into a baptism by immersion. The kids were holding a car wash so they were soaked, too. I left at three for the country mansion that was to host the wedding at four. Beautiful place but, man, was it hot. Luckily seats for everyone except the officiant were strategically located in the shade of a cluster of tall oaks. So that worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I get there twenty minutes early to set up. I ask one of the girls moving the floral arrangements if she thought we'd be ready to go at four. She says, "Hopefully. But the first service was over an hour late in starting."

First service? Why, whatever do you mean?

Then I saw it. An ornate gazebo - scarlet, orange yellow and gold - with two stone elephants flanking a long red carpet strewn with flower petals.

"Yessir. That Buddhist ceremony took forever to get rolling. They just barely finished in time for lunch. But I'm hopeful they'll come out soon to get this over with. It's been a long day."



Hindu. Lahar is Hindu. Not Buddhist.

"Oh, yeah. Whatever."

I knew this was to be a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Christian. I signed and sent to the bishop the dispensation form. Maria Carmen was adamant that she wanted to receive the sacrament of marriage, within the Mass, and agreed to everything - even to getting confirmed well in advance of her wedding.

Another thing she agreed to was number 1127, 3. Of Canon Law.

§3. It is forbidden to have another religious celebration of the same marriage to give or renew matrimonial consent before or after the canonical celebration according to the norm of §1. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic who is assisting and a non-Catholic minister together, using their own rites, ask for the consent of the parties.

This is a sticky point, often, in arranging 'mixed marriages'. I know this because Tyler knows this. It all has to do with the very particular perspective of Catholic sacramental theology and the specifically Catholic understanding of matrimony. I tried to elucidate all this to Maria Carmen. I offered her the option of forgoing the observance of canonical form and getting a dispensation for a civil ceremony. She insisted. She accepted. She appeared beautifully dressed in white at 4pm.

Benefit of the doubt, right?

I wonder what happened. Did she never really understand what I laid out for her? Did she think it was unimportant, a formality... or worse, a quirk of the nutty priest she asked to perform her marriage? Was she pressured into the Hindu ceremony by his family and opted not to say anything to me?

Now I lie awake nights with debates about validity and licitness raging in my mind's empty caverns.

Y todo por tu culpa.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

say it with flowers

Not all is quiet in the North End of the city.

All the shooting and fighting that's going on makes a fellow choose the route for his evening walk a bit more carefully. There's distrust between the folks and the police. A new police chief has his hands full. It's a job no one wants.

I hate to admit it, but we've grown perceptibly more cautious at the parish dealing with the people who come to the door looking for help. It's not like we have a new policy or anything, it's just that the environment has grown that tense...

Happily, not everything is violence. The North End still has time for wierd, too.

I opened the church doors at around 7:15 am and found a bundle of flowers carefully placed on the doorstep. Charming... other than the fact that they were taken from the flower beds of the parish's front lawn. In the middle of each of the eight steps descending from the church doors, both sides, was a violet in a small mound of soil. The violets had previously been in large pots on the corners of the church entrance.

But the icing on the cake, the proverbial cherry on the sundae, was the tiny bird - wings, head and feet extended to form a 't' - in the center of the stone bannister that encloses the landing at the top of the church stairs.

The 8am Mass-goers recalled our Valentine's Day beheaded rooster incident. They asked me earnestly, with grave concern, "Padre, what does it all mean?"

It means, my friends, that we need more flowers...