10:30 Mass, June 16, 1985
Contemporary Irish Poetry
When the priest made his entrance on the altar at the stroke of 10:30
He looked like a film star at an international airport
After having flown in from the other side of the world
As if the other side of the world was the other side of the street;
Only, instead of an overnight bag slung over his shoulder,
He was carrying the chalice in its triangular green veil --
The way a dapper comedian cloaks a dove in a silk handkerchief.
Having kissed the altar, he strode over to the microphone:
I'd like to say how glad I am to be here with you this morning.
Oddly, you could see quite well that he was genuinely glad --
As if, in fact, he had been actually looking forward to this Sunday service,
Much the way I had been looking forward to it myself;
As if, in fact, this was the big moment of his day -- of his week,
Not merely another ritual to be sanctimoniously performed.
He was a small, stocky, handsome man in his forties
With a big mop of curly grey hair
And black, horn-rimmed, tinted spectacles.
I am sure that more than half the women in the church
Fell in love with him on the spot --
Not to mention the men.
Myself, I felt like a cuddle.
The reading from the prophet Ezekiel (17:22-24)
Was a piece about cedar trees in Israel
(it's a long way from a tin of steak-and-kidney pie
for Sunday lunch in a Dublin bedsit
to cedar trees in Israel),
but the epistle was worse --
St. Paul on his high horse and, as nearly always,
Putting his hoof in it - prating about "the law court of Christ."
With the Gospel, however, things began to look up --
The parable of the mustard seed as being the kingdom of heaven;
Now then the Homily, at best probably inoffensively boring.
It's Father's Day -- this small, solid, serious, sexy priest began --
And I want to tell you about my own father
Because none of you knew him.
If there was one thing he liked, it was a pint of Guinness;
If there was one thing he liked more than a pint of Guinness
It was two pints of Guinness.
But then when he was fifty-five he gave up the drink.
I never knew why, but I had my suspicions.
Long after he had died, my mother told me why:
He was so proud of me when I entered the seminary
That he gave up drinking as his way of thanking God.
But he himself never said a word about it to me --
He kept his secret to the end. He died from cancer
A few weeks before I was ordained a priest.
I'd like to go to Confession -- he said to me:
OK -- I'll go and get a priest -- I said to him:
No -- don't do that -- I'd prefer to talk to you:
Dying, he confessed to me the story of his life.
How many of you here at Mass today are fathers?
I want all of you who are fathers to stand up.
Not one male in transept or aisle or nave stood up --
It was as if all the fathers in the church had been caught out
In the profanity of their sanctity,
In the bodily nakedness of their fatherhood,
In the carnal deed of their fathering;
Then, in ones and twos and threes, fifty or sixty of us clambered to our feet
And blushed to the roots of our being.
Now -- declared the priest -- let the rest of us
Praise these men our fathers.
He began to clap hands.
Gradually the congregation began to clap hands,
Until the church was ablaze with clapping hands --
Wives vying with daughters, sons with sons,
Clapping clapping clapping clapping clapping,
While I stood there in a trance, tears streaming down my cheeks: Jesus!
I want to tell you about my own father
Because none of you knew him!