The Funny Side of Being a Priest
My life as a priest is often very humorous, ranging from delicious irony to pure slapstick and everything in between.
The nature of the labour in this responsibility in the vineyard just lends itself to being in the right place at the right time. For all the wrong reasons!
Some of the funnier events have to be cautiously retold to protect the reputations of those who might recognise themselves in this column.
I can see why the Latin-rite moved away from the baptism-by-immersion of infants. When you take a wriggly five-month-old and then try to drown her, her natural instinct for survival kicks in and she becomes like a bar of soap in a bath…
If parents demand immersion baptism now, I insist that they will hold their precious one, and then I quickly cite child safety guidelines.
Of course, naked children and water also pose other threats, especially if a boy is involved. Sometimes the action of baptism is reciprocal…
Children also have very few filters — especially when the church is suddenly quiet. It’s usually at this point that a child speaks, loudly and not always from their mouths. As their parents disappear under benches in sheer embarrassment, try being the priest who is watching your faces. Ek kannie meer nie!
It’s this same honesty that got me when hearing second confessions at a boys’ school.
The young men, coming in to bare their souls, had been very effectively coached by their grade school teacher. I was subjected to an infinite variety of “I disobeyed my parents-kicked the dog-pulled my sisters hair and stole Chappies”, to the point that I was immensely grateful to be behind a screen so that these very earnest young boys couldn’t see the tears streaming down my cheeks. Their inventiveness knew no bounds. Whoever thought you could steal your sister and punch Chappies.
Teenage angst, especially new teenage angst, is great for comedy. Teaching a module in life orientation on the birds and the bees allowed me to ask the eager teens if any of them had younger brothers or sisters.
Naturally, when the realisation dawned that their parents had to do something to “get” that newer sibling was a moment of delight as they had to process that very disturbing reality that their parents were, well, normal.
Music is another a place of humour. Increasingly as we celebrate more funerals during the week, the scarce skills of church musicians and choirs become a challenge. We often resort to MP3s or CDs. But “You Light Up My Life” really is not an appropriate song for a cremation.
Weddings are great for those unintended moments of humour.
Celebrating a Sunday wedding, at lunchtime, on the Highveld in December represents its own challenge.
My bride, in her princess dress, had just exchanged vows with her much taller groom. As I turned to get the Asperges bucket to bless the rings, she fainted. Properly. Straight down into her tulle layers. The dress embraced her and engulfed her. I was left with a groom and a pile of meringue.
Of course, the newly-minted husband thought that she had died. No fear… Two older, shorter women took right over, whipping out sniffing salts (who knew those even existed!) and reaching up to slap him, too, for good measure.
As a priest there is the irony of being seated either with the photographer and band (yes, I suppose I am a service provider) or next to the great-granny who speaks no English and has one of those handbags. They hold them like they’re aiming consoles on a machine gun… God forbid you get in their sights.
Grooms cry the most at weddings. Yes, really. The moment the doors open and your bride is silhouetted, even those who have never shed an adult tear before do so now.
And some don’t stop. One wedding was paused while the very composed bride reached into her dress to whip out a handkerchief and thrust it rather forcefully to her sobbing groom.
There is also a certain irony in the “I know it’s your day off, Father, but…” brigade. Genuine emergencies aside, demanding a baptism certificate for a First Communion happening tomorrow is, well, laughable. As is asking me: “What time is midnight Mass, Father?”
Well, how about 2:15?