Thursday, March 18, 2010

another church rant

There has been quite a lot of sin going on in our house recently. The eight year old has just done his First Confession, and at seven months our baby is still teaming with original sin – his christening having been put off until after the First Holy Communion – so as not to steal any thunder. Oh – and it’s Easter so we’re all atoning for Lent.
“You’re so lucky not have sin,” I texted to one my atheist friends, “it’s so much trouble.”
No text back.
Being Catholic is just not funny any more.
I used to enjoy joking about sin. But recently the religion I practice, the religion I am rearing my children in, has become so darkly associated with the very worst kind of sin imaginable. The word “Catholic” itself has become synonymous with the word ‘abuse’.
I want to continue being a Catholic. Although I grew up into a card-carrying skeptic, I got great comfort and security from religion when I was growing up and I want my children to have the same experience.
The older I get the more I enjoy all the pomp and ceremony – and I appreciate the weekly routine of my 8 year old child sitting, for forty minutes, in miraculous silence with me in mass once a week. People say “how can you put him through it?” and I say “It’s good for him! Kids never get the chance to get bored these days and mass is the only excuse I can find to not have him constantly entertained.” For me – it’s yoga. I say decades of the Hail Mary to myself. It might as well be a Buddhist chant. It’s the same thing. When life is tough, it works for me. Plus I’ve started with the kids now, the school, the ceremonies the whole “God” thing.
I don’t know if I’d be able to tolerate being a Catholic if it wasn’t for my priest Father Paddy Hoban. If God had a catalogue where you could order village priests, Paddy would be in the Gold membership version. He has curly, snow-white hair, and is a humble, mild mannered, deeply holy man – who is also fantastically clever, a brilliant liturgist and has something of a dry, measured wit. His sermons are always short, inspired, topical and on the button. His brother, Brendan, the parish priest in our neighboring town, a writer and historian - isn’t far off him. This is part of my problem (and being a practicing catholic certainly is a problem these days – if only a P.R. one). I know so many great priests and nuns. Ok – a few bores certainly, but in the main most of the ordinary clergy I have encountered, certainly in my local parish in Mayo, have been thoroughly decent people.
It is their misfortune to be trapped by and in an organization that has revealed itself as rotten to the core, which has a homophobic fossil as their C.E.O (their Boss being a Deity – and of course we all know how impractical and useless they can be!)
One wonders why more clergy don’t stand up and speak out – but then one only has to look at Father Brian D’Arcy – a natural leader who has “ Cardinal” written all over him or Father Kevin Hegarty – banished to the farthest west point of Mayo after consistently speaking out about clerical abuse long before the press got hold of it. Integrity is not a byword for success in the Catholic Church.

If I didn’t have such a great set up I’d certainly be joining the ranks of the outraged defectors - especially after the week that has been in it.
As an ordinary Catholic mother being outraged from within the cloistered conservatism of the church itself – I feel completely powerless and used.
I’m afraid to ask my priests “What are we going to do?” in case they say “pray.” I don’t want to pray. I want to march. I want to rebel and breakaway and start again. Apart from a handful of died-in-the-wool Holy Mary’s so does everybody. But then, if Catholics broke away from the corrupt evils of Rome we’d be – gasp! – protestants. And what would be the point of that?

It’s a line that the relics in charge are smartly wise to. What are you going to do about it? They are taunting us with their hollow apologies and obvious indifference. You would have thought that they would have considered recent events such as the Murphy and Ryan’s reports as seismic – but no. Thjat was left to the victim and the horrified Irish public. Rome seems inured to the fact that it has been exposed as protecting (and therefore encouraging) child abusers. They survived the Borgias. We are being run by Ancient Rome. Anything goes. The Pope blamed the whole thing on the Irish not training our priests properly. Oh – of course! We forgot to tell them not to beat, interfere with or terrorize children. Sure it was a part of our culture.
We all know child abuse was never part of Irish culture. It was part of church culture. And the church is run from Rome.
This week Brady has taken the biscuit altogether.
Some of his most vigilant defenders have been the leity. People whom I sit alongside in my Sunday pew. They plead for no change, but their arguments are underpinned with the desperate clang of denial. They feel responsible. As their Sunday congregation the church’s crimes are our crimes. We are guilty by association.
The website offering people the chance to formally defect from being counted among the church’s number worldwide ( claims that 7,500 people have downloaded forms – I’m surprised it’s not a lot more. Church and State will continue to be intertwined in Ireland, until our school system stops being run by Bishops.
The truest and most relevant things said this week were by the courageous voices of Fathers Brian D’Arcy and Kevin Hegarty when they said – ‘the hierarchy just don’t get it’. No point in ranting and asking questions and raving on. You only have to look at how watery and terrified poor Diarmuid Martin went after he came home from Rome. The men at the top just don’t get the whole human consequences thing. In their own minds they have risen above us ordinary mortals in both their political and spiritual stature. The opinions and struggles of the ordinary clergy mean little to them. The needs of the laity – even less.
My loyalty towards my priests and my daily experience of the church has been strengthened by three deaths this year. The local priests know where my biscuits are kept. There is no doubt in my mind that the Catholic church has attracted good men. The evil pedophiles were able to exist because of a rotten system. The majority of the priests and nun’s doing God’s good work on the ground have nothing to do with the church hierarchy except for as a kind of laundering service for ordinary parishioners money. And if there is any kind of reform it will not happen by pleading to them on moral grounds, but by refusing to give them money.
If every (good) priest, in every church in Ireland stood up and told his parishioners that he was giving this years collection money to victims of clerical abuse and not sending one single penny of it over to the bosses in Rome – they’d soon perk up and listen!
At the end of Leo’s confession, Paddy invited the children and parents up onto the altar. We stood with one hand on our child’s shoulders as Paddy led us in a prayer of love and appreciation, a public acknowledgment of how precious our children are, how we will always protect and cherish them.
In the light of all that has happened, it would have easy to be cynical – but this is my child and I have promised him God and a big day out in May.

Love's Young Dream - NOT!

Is there a person alive who doesn’t know enough about the egocentric nature of celebrity to realize that it is completely contrary to the idea of marriage. Or more to the point, do we really understand what marriage is any more. Marriage – real, working, stick-it-out marriage has become, like the realities of childbirth, a dark secret nobody ever tells you about until it’s too late. Like meeting “The Perfect One” and pain-free natural childbirth, and working women who successfully “juggle their lives”– Happily Ever After is a fantasy we invented, that has backfired and serves only to make our lives more complicated and difficult than they already are.
While our grandparents groaned and got-on-with-it, taking the whole in-sickness and health thing to heart and staying together for lifetimes - what we have now is a culture where marriage is presented as the perfect ending to the perfect love story. The ultimate expression of love. You love somebody so much that you feel like you want to spend the rest of your life with them. And so you tie yourselves in with a ten grand day out and a legal contract and sit back to enjoy the endless-hot-date you have been promised. Like heaven – marriage is love that lasts forever. When the love goes, or you get bored or fed up – you end the marriage. Unless, of course, your husband is a really good looking footballer, in which case you might let them disrespect you with some topless dolly one more time. Because you love them. And that’s what marriage is all about isn’t it? Being in love.
Except of course, it isn’t. Actually, for most normal human beings, (the honest ones because loads of people lie about being madly in love because there is such pressure, even on oneself, to keep the dream of romantic love alive), marriage is the challenge of living with somebody after the love has gone. The sacrifice of oneself for the betterment and happiness of the other person even – especially – when you don’t feel like it. Marital love is the grown up stuff that happens when the feeling of love has faded and you have to be nice anyway so that the actual love – the results of the hard stuff like dealing with their ghastly relatives, tolerating their annoying little habits, biting your tongue when she gains three stone after the baby, eating the meal he cooked even when the meat was slightly underdone so as not to hurt his feelings, the not putting him down in front of the kids, or laughing cruelly at her attempts to look fashionable after forty – has the chance to grow and settle.
Marriage is hard work, and it takes time and commitment. Seemingly, being a celebrity is bloody hard work too. I mean, more work than the rest of us can ever know in that weird, unsettling way that young people now seem to aspire to. Two hours in hair and make-up for Cheryl, hours of training for Ashley – just enough recreation time to be photographed coming out of Nobu, or throwing a few shapes around China-White or a five minutes sofa-lounge with a lapdancer in Stringfellows. What about scrounging a couple of hours on a Saturday to watch the match at the pub, or trying to escape off with your girlfriends shopping for an afternoon because you’ve spent all week gawking at the telly in parallel partner mode and you’re sick of the sight of each other. Celebrities don’t have the luxury, or irritation of living on top of one another because they are too busy being celebrities.
Ashley Cole and his sleazy friend Terry ?????? are young men who are idolized and paid an enormous amounts of money for playing football. Cheryl has lovely hair and can sing and dance, and for this she has to spend a third of her working day getting all dolled up, and is held up as a role model for millions of young girls.
Our young men want to be rich footballers and our young women want to be married to them. Forever and ever – one long hot date for the rest of our lives. Does anyone else see the flaw in this picture?
What are we are telling kids about marriage and how to choose their life partners. Wait until you fall hopelessly, madly in love then get married and live happily ever after. Marriage is, after all, the reward for meeting Mr. Right. Once you’ve met a man who you are stone mad crazy about, then everything will fall into place. Surely, with all these famous Alpha men sowing their seed left right and centre, Beckam, Clinton, Woods – causing pain, and chaos and leaving their loyal, long-suffering wives reeling and gritting their teeth, we should be guiding our daughters towards settling for a nice ordinary lad with a decent job, even if he is a bit dull. But no. What we want, what we all want, is the man with an ego and a following the size of Wembley Stadium who, by some freakish turn of nature, will be satisfied with a kiss and a cuddle and a pizza in front of Emmerdale with the same woman for the rest of his life. Not going to happen. Is there any evidence, anywhere, that this man exists?
There is also the element of wanting what we want when we want it. Instant gratification. Cheryl seems like a lovely girl who, coming from a difficult background, doubtless craved the security of marriage. Society let her down by selling her the fib that marriage equals security, safety. Uh, oh.
Marriage offers more security to the faithless liar than the innocent trier. She is torn, because of that bit of paper, that fast, fecklessly made bit of legalize means that despite having been humiliated by a spoiled teenage boy, she can’t just walk away. She has to follow due procedure. He gets to beg her to stay, and to get the public to row in and persuade her to give him “one more chance”.
Of course, it’s nonsense. Men don’t filth about at that level by unhappy accident. Mucky men are mucky men. They don’t make good husbands. Ever. End of story.

While entertainers are generally weird, flawed, egocentric, often insecure people, the effect of celebrity on a young, impressionable male has to be ruinous.
When Ashley was caught out the first time, Cheryl’s mother in law moved in to their house. Part of his defense now is that the MIL moving in put a dampener on his and Cheryl’s thrilling sex life. Sorry son, if at your age and stage of fitness you can’t get it on in an enormous mock-tudor hacienda with your mother-in-law under the same roof – you’re problems are only just beginning. By the same token Cheryl did you honestly think a football hero was going to tolerate you persuing a career as an international popstar. Did nobody tell you the deal; when you marry a first division footballer, you put your life on hold and dedicate yourself entirely to them in the hope that they might possibly remain loyal and faithful to you – or at least, not disrespect you too publically.
And yet, at heart, our public interest in train wreck celebrity marriages surely just reflects our own broken hopes and dreams. We still want the fairy-tale. We want to believe in loyalty, and respect, and trust and true love lasting forever and marriage being one hot steamy date. But wanting something, as Cheryl and Ashley Cole have discovered recently, isn’t always enough.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mudders Day

Going to spend Muthers Day completely indulging myself by looking at boutique sites on the web and not buying anything because I won't admit how FAT I am and I don't have any money anyway. THEN hog the black blibber away from my cartoon and shed TV males so I can watch Columbo and Murder She Wrote etc. And waiting for my roast beef dinner ON MY LAP. And re-reading my We Love You Mum cards and feeling, for one day in the year, not taken for granted. Bliss.
here's a gorgeous picture of me and lovely husband looking - if not madly in love - then at least as if we still rather like each other - which is something after ten years of marriage. It's my version of those annoying couples who paw each other in public - or - as my grandmother used to call it - "showing off."

Friday, March 12, 2010


I am travelling back to Mayo after a day of meetings in Dublin. It is such a rare treat for me to have to get dressed up in “proper clothes” and have business lunches – driving in the dark to Ballina at six am, humming along to Maxi, tearing out my heated rollers in the train station car park – facing into a whole day away from my boys. A day when I am free from the wife/mother tag and get to be a bona-fide working woman, someone who wears jackets with lapels and proper shoes and lipstick – during the day! And not just Mammy in a track-suit littered with biscuit crumbs who happens to write books on the kitchen table in-between the ferrying and feeding and general floustering about that is our family life.
My solitaire trips to Dublin always start with such a sense of excitement. A posh restaurant for lunch! Vanity Fair on the train home! A sushi box from Aya which I’ll have guzzled before Athlone. Hell, the details don’t matter. It’s an uninterrupted day to myself. Bliss.
My husband wanted me to get the new three thirty train home.
“You’ll be back by seven,” he said hopefully, ”in time for dinner.”
Exactly, I thought. Walking straight into baby-mash and bathtime and three grumpy, expectant faces.
“I’ll try,” I said, “but I can’t promise anything.”
“Just say,” he argued, “just say it’s really important you get the three thirty. Put your foot down.”
Put your foot down you mean, I thought.
“It’s an important meeting,” I said, “It’s work.”
So I loitered over lunch and rang to say I’d be back on the later train.
“How’s the baby?” I said.
“He won’t settle.”
Once, just once, I thought, why can’t you say, “We’re all fine. You go relax and enjoy yourself.” Even if it’s not true. Like I do when you go away.
I went and spent too much money on a tracksuit top, as a reward for getting more work but more as an act of indulgent self-destruction as we are on an agreed economy drive. I dropped in on a friend in their office and moaned at them for an hour then got to the station an hour too early. One whole hour, and no platform announced yet. I went and loitered about in Eason’s, spending far too long deciding on which magazines I could ‘afford’ after splurging on the top.
As I was noting miserably that I had already read most of them in the hairdressers the week before, I stepped back and bumped into a woman and her enormous double buggy. “Sorry,” I said, then instinctively, unable to stop myself, I leaned in for a look. Beautiful twin girls. Perfect, smooth brown skin and pink pouting mouths.
“They’re beautiful,” I said. She smiled back, vaguely, still fingering her magazine. Doubtless unimpressed by the patronizing approval of some nice middle-class white stranger. My hands hovered over the nearest one’s chubby cheek, and I remember my sister, back in my broody years, reprimanding me murderously for touching the newborns of strangers in cafĂ©’s.
“Parents don’t like that,” she said. “It’s invasive – you’ll give them germs!”
I went back out into the concourse and downed a Butlers Hot Chocolate and had a little petulant cry. I texted my husband. “I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry I’m late. I hate being away.” I didn’t send it because I knew he’d get cross. Every time I go away on business trip there is always a tearful phone call soon after I arrive. Whenever I feel lonely I get angry with him for not being there, even when it is me who has gone away. I take a break from my children to stay sane, but the moment they are not within touching distance, I feel bereft. It is the irrational nature of familial love. Fishfingers for dinner, arguments over Lewis or Top Gear, moaning over homework, running out of baby-wipes during the most spectacular poo of the week - the everyday familiarity of the same small challenges, living with the same people’s habits. Family life can be wearing – something I feel I need to escape. Then I see a stranger’s baby in a buggy and I remember the longing I had through my twenties and much of my thirties for an ordinary family life. And I want to rush home to my husband, and my two sons to fight and feed and slinge about trying to write books while my husband tuts over my spilled biscuit crumbs and not worry about high heels or lipstick or spending money on nice tops that won’t make an difference.
So next time some lady looks into my buggy and coos over my magnificent baby I will remind myself that I am living my dream. And I will ask her if she would like to touch his cheek.