God arrives and you say, WOW, you feel a bit shaky and all excited and calm at the same time because something that you didn’t have before has come into your life.
It’s something that’s been gift wrapped especially for you and on the label it says it’s from the
You might think it looks real pretty wrapped up but when you begin to unwrap it and get inside the packaging you find WISDOM.
It’s election time; who is going to be the next Prime Minister?
Mum is a supporter of Mr Millipede. Mr Millipede thinks that everyone should have enough to live on and those who have too much to live on should cough up some of their money for those who haven’t, and he doesn’t want to make people pay for having empty bedrooms. He believes a lot of other things but we’ll just stick to this.
Mr Macaroon thinks Dad has a right to choose how he spends the money he earns, he wants us to pay back our debts, he feels that we should own some expensive weapons which he does not want to use so that people in other countries will know we mean business and he also has a point - well, Dad thinks he does.
This is WORLDY WISDOM. Wisdom of this planet, this world down here. None of the people who are going to cast their vote think that these things are going to be priorities on GOD’s check list.
Now take your shoes off. Look at your toes. Have you ever thought how difficult it is to stand up without toes? Its nearly impossible. Look at your hands, look at the way your thumb is opposite your index finger so you can pick things up. You’re thinking about this as you read. You’re taking hold of ideas with your mind, like you take hold of a pen with your fingers and of the ground with your toes and you did not create a single one of these things, they were created out of a huge WISENESS. Out of a WISDOM bigger than you can ever have.
A very CLEVER man makes a computer. The man is cleverer than the computer, wiser than the computer. The computer is just a machine. Look at yourself. You could be even cleverer than the man who made the computer, but you were created by one so infinitely wise that you will never catch up with him. You were created by God - and so that you and God can get to know one another a bit he sends his HOLY SPIRIT. to give you WISDOM.
OK so who’s the
Jim wants to know the answer too.
Jim goes to Mark and says,“Wot’s the Holy Spirit?” and Mark says to Jim.
“It’s ‘oly like and it’s a spirit.”
Murmuring, “Very ‘elpful” Jim goes to Mr. Barrington Higgs and asks the same question. Mr Barrington Higgs says
“Ahh, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.”
Jim murmurs in an under voice.
So he goes to Mrs Umphile and tries there. Mrs Umphile says.
“God’s a family, Jim.”
Jim says.“Yer wot?”
“God’s the Father, Jim. He loves his Son so much that the love between them is like a real person.”
“I don’t like the sound of that. My father doesn’t feel like that about me.”
“No” Mrs Umphile agrees,“but God’s a one-off you know Jim.”
Jim presses his lips together,
“I was alright about God before you said that. I mean he was BIG, he was HUGE and now you’re telling me there’s three of him.”
“No, Jim,” says Mrs Umphile patiently. “He’s all powerful, all strong and all over the place but he’s not so big that he didn’t think it would be nice to come to earth as a human being so you could meet him. And when he went back home to heaven He sent his Spirit to keep you company and to teach you - more than me and Mr Barrington Higgs ever will!”
Jim went and sat on a desk with his back to the white board. He couldn’t make sense of it. He was going to decide it was all beyond him. It was break time and Constanza came over to him. Jim liked Constanza Perez. She was new, she came from the Argentine. She wasn’t shy. She wasn’t even shy about…you know…God.
“Stanza,” he wasn’t into names beyond two syllables,“what’s knowledge? I mean wot am I supposed to know?”
She snapped her long lashed eyelids closed.
“You dummo, Santiago.”
He was privately impressed to have a name in Spanish. Because St James the Apostle was buried in Spain, nobody in the Spanish parts of the world got called ‘James’ plain and simple, they were all called ‘St James’ rolled up in one word - Santiago
“What you need knowledge for?” Stanza answered, “To read the BIG WORD.”
She produced a pocket Bible. JIm took two steps back.
“Okay, you get the Holy Spirit; so you can get to know Bible.” She kissed the book (well she was a foreigner and foreigners are very extravagant) and handed it to him. “You say prayer to the Holy Spirit and open book.”
“Goddo!” he said, and opened it. He closed it immediately. “I got that dirty bit about that Levite and his columbine wot gets chopped up.”
She clicked her teeth like castanets.
“You no say prayer first,” she said accusingly. He went bright red under his freckles.
“I’m not going to say a prayer, I’m not in Church!”
She giggled,“You big dummo Santiago, say ‘Come Holy Spirit’”.
“No,” he said, “It’s daft.”
She jutted her chin, her nose and her long eyelashes at him.
“You say it,” she said, baring her teeth.
“Is anyone listening?” he murmured, “Come Holy Spirit”.
The bell went.
Jim sat at home. He liked Dad. Or he would have liked to have a go at liking Dad, but he (Dad) was too busy at what he called ‘Keeping the roof over our heads’; he was a builder by trade. Dad called himself a non-practising Catholic. Jim went into the garden and said to Dad,
“Wot yer want to worry about practising for? Yer gotta do it. Yer don’t need to practise, it’s a gift." But Dad just ran up the nearest ladder and went and sat on the guttering, where he couldn’t be got at, throwing moss and snails onto the 4 metres of concrete he called the Patio.
He went in to try mum. Mum was Dad’s second go, but Jim liked her. Jim’s own mother was in New Zealand and she’d stopped trying to practice anything except the accordion.
“Mum,” mum was a lapsed Baptist, “the Holy Spirit gives you wisdom, so you can have enough stuff to read the Bible.”
“Really,” she said, alarmed, “you don't’ say so!”
“You gotta Bible?” he inquired.
“Yes. Er, no, there’s a small one on the bookcase in the front room. Have you got one?”
“Yeah, Grandma give it me for me Baptism.”
“Jim, why don’’t you go and talk to your computer.”
“Okay,” he said. But he didn’t.
He sat on the floor in the front room and taking his shoes and socks off inspected his toes, flexing them. Then he took the bible on his knees and closing his eyes tightly said in a swift agonised whisper.
“Come, Holy Spirit! Goddo!” He opened the Bible. It wasn’t about Levite and his columbine or a lady called Tamar or something from the shadier corners of the Book of Leviticus. It said: ‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Matthew 25:36)
He didn’t read on. He took another look at his toes, moving his joints, closed the Bible, put it back on the shelf and yelled.
“Mum, I’m going over to see Mr Johnny.” He didn’t wait for an answer, he could find out about toes and pick up on what he’d just read about visiting the sick. Very handy, he thought, this Holy Spirit stuff.
Mr Johnny lived down the road. He had an advanced disease of the muscles, he had lost one leg and the other was out of date. His lungs worked so badly he had to take a machine around with him which he balanced on a toddler’s buggy.
When Jim had been very small, (ages ago) he used to follow Mr Johnny around because he found him irresistible. As Jim had grown older he enjoyed talking to Johnny because Mr Johnny didn’t interrupt him; he couldn’t, he had to breathe through his machine at regular intervals.
By a prior arrangement Jim gave two and a half knocks on the front door and ran around the back. Mr Johnny greeted him with a big grin and took a big gulp of air through his mouthpiece.
“‘lo Jim,” he said, wheezing.
“‘lo Mr Johnny, can you walk without toes?”
“I can do all things with Him who strengthens me.” said Mr Johnny, all in one go without taking a breath. He took another wheeze at the mouthpiece. “Toes is real useful,” he wheezed, “It’s ‘ell to manage without them.”
“You got your buggy to hang onto.” Jim said and Mr Johnny gave him the thumbs up and carried on breathing.
Jim gave him summary of everything he had learnt so far about the gifts of the Holy Spirit including Matthew 25.
Mr Johnny grunted and sent his beautiful bushy eyebrows up and down three times. His highest form of compliment.
“I didn’t only come coz the book said so or coz I’m interested in how you balance on one leg without toes you know, it’s because I like you and because you don’t mind me talking. I mean, do you?”
“I don’t mind you talking,” Johnny wheezed. “I like it. I was only surprised that you didn’t mind the airbox and all my attachments."
“According to me it’s the big uns, its the growed-ups who look at people like that. You’re just you, aren’t you?” Jim said sensibly
“Thank you Jim.” he gasped, gravely.
“I think,” Jim said, cautiously, “I’m beginning to understand what I know. Isn’t it funny that I already kind of knowed it?”
They were silent. Mr Johnny concentrating on his breathing and Jim discovering for the first time that he was breathing himself; that he wasn’t just a patched up football, kicked around by other people.
“My friend, Stanza,” he said cautiously, “is good at these things. She lives in Overton Street. Mr Johnny, why don’t we go over and see her. She’d like you.”
Mr Johnny looked doubtful. “You’d better ring your mum and ask her and you’d better ring Stanza’s mum. Where’s your mobile?”
Jim had rung his mum so she knew where he was. And she had rung Mrs Perez who, as it turned out, knew Mr Johnny already; he came and sat in the back row at the children’s Mass, not that he had any religion, he just liked the noise and didn’t feel unwelcome.
They didn’t have to knock on Stanza’s front door, it was wide open. And sitting on the doorstep were two identical boys. They got up and bowed.
“Welcome,” said the least grubby one “I am Pedro and this is Domingo.”
Domingo bowed again and promptly fell over.
The big room was full of children all of them talking at once, but as if by magic they were quelled by a short, stout, flashing eyed lady whom Jim knew at once to be Stanza’s mother.
“We welcome you to our home.”
“Thank you very much.” said Mr Johnny, clutching onto his pram nervously. “It is very kind of you to have me and Jim.”
The little lady patted Mr Johnny’s hand.
“I am Rosaria Morales Perez, widow. Please be seated.”
Stanza elbowed her way to the front.
“This is my friend from school, Santiago,. The twins you have met. I introduce to you my brother Sagrado, my sister Guadalupe, please call her Lupáy and my big sister Jesusita, (she pronounced it Hesus-ita) my big brother Juan Diego is still in Argentina, we call him JD for short, he is in the Seminary learning to be a priest. You are very welcome,” she said, running out of things to say.
They all stood there rather shyly, then Domingo fell over again and they were all laughing.
There was a knock at the door (despite the fact that it was still wide open). The twins ran at once to meet the visitor accompanied by Lupáy.
“Padresito!” They chorused.
“This is an evening of surprises” Mr Johnny whispered to Jim. Jim had seen Fr Ray at a distance, the length of a church to be precise. Fr Ray picked up Domingo, blessed Lupe, patted Pedro on the head and bowed to Mrs Perez.
“We have nice guests,” she said, introducing Jim and Mr Johnny, whom he really knew already. “Now we will eat.”
“Jesusita!” she called to her eldest daughter, and, as if by magic, the big table was filled with tortillas, nachitos, quesadillas, guacamole and chocolate cake.
“Fr Ray,” Rosaria commanded “say grace.”
“Cor” Mr Johnny gasped “I’m really going places.”
Fr Ray beamed upon them with his twinkling eyes. He said,
“My English, she is not so hot, my Spanish she has not been born, I am from Kerala in India, but I love Wales, give big blessing, O Lord,” his eyes danced “on all this big, little family and all their friends and fill us with the joy of the Risen Lord, Alleluia! Jesus has risen from the dead!” he exclaimed triumphantly and the Perez family chorused back.
“Jesus is risen!”
Fr Ray waved his hands,
“What is Jesus?”
“Jesus is risen!” they all yelled.
“Again” Fr Ray exclaimed.
They shouted all the louder, this time Jim joined in; he was safe - no one heard him. Father Ray didn’t get much of the meal; his mobile rang; Mrs Smith had been taken into hospital and wanted her Parish priest. As Father rushed off everybody stopped eating and prayed for Mrs Smith. Jim was too full of salsa to mind.
After the marvellous supper the Perez children did the washing up. He wanted to help - a thing it would never have occurred to him to do at home
After that, Jesusita and Lupáy got out their guitars and played songs in Spanish and English and everyone joined in. Stanza gave Mr Johnny two rattles called maracas and he nearly laughed himself into a breathing fit trying to play them. Jim got an empty washing up liquid bottle half full of bird seed. The noise was classic.
“You don’t mind if we pray, señor, Mrs Perez said to Mr Johnny.
“You do what you usually do,” he gasped tolerantly.
She started the Rosary. Jim blushed to the roots of his hair but nobody seemed to think it was wet. Jim had heard about the Rosary but he had never seen it done. He was invited to light a candle before the small statue of our Lady of Buenos Aires.
“Do I have to?” he whispered cringing with embarrassment. Stanza kicked him. He lit the candle.
Give it and take it : Counsel
They sang a song, read from the Bible, said the Apostles Creed (Jim didn’t know it). Sang the Our Father (he did know it) said ten Hail Marys (he knew it by the tenth one) and then sang the Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Spanish several times
Then Sagrado read the same reading, from Isaiah 11:1-3, again.
"…the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and courage
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord,
and his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord."
Mrs Perez sat on a low chair with Stanza leaning on the arm, she held out her hands as if to welcome someone Jim could not see, and said,
“Lord, we bring you Constanza and Santiago who are preparing for the gift of your Holy Spirit at Confirmation.”
Jim had been going into another embarrassed writhe at being prayed for - much as he liked the posh Spanish version of his name - but he was pulled up by the memory of the envelope on the window ledge at home. His father had to sign his agreement to Jim’s free wish to be confirmed. And now in the midst of Stanza’s enthusiastic family it struck him that he really wanted to be confirmed - and then a funny frightened twist inside made him wonder if his father would sign.
He’d missed what Mrs Perez had been praying about!
“…counsel and courage! Counsel is good advice and the Holy Spirit will give you good advice (take it!) and enable you to give good advice - God’s advice to others. Pray before you speak…now me? I am going to offer you counsel. Choose goodness and trust in God. But be warned, have courage: don’t be a coward. Don’t use other people as any sort of excuse for wrong choices. Stanza says to me,’But Mama, there are seventy members of staff at our school which is a faith school. We have Mass. How many go to communion? Three!’ It is also true that the other 67 are, perhaps sinners.” Mrs Perez suppressed a smile. “We are all sinners! You do not judge, you pray for them - But - and this is my counsel. Have courage! Some people, some other kids, they will despise you because you get confirmed or because you go to Mass. Fortitudo! Have courage! Courage is not inbuilt, she is a gift of the Spirit, if you find yourself in a tight corner some day now ask for her…”
Jim’s mum came to collect him and Mr Johnny. Jim could see how much mum and Mrs Perez took to each other. On the way home he and Mr Johnny were so excited they both talked at once and Mr Johnny had three coughing fits.
When they drew up at the gate Jim’s father was on the doorstep; scarlet in the face he was talking to a man who had a big rosette on his jumper, obviously campaigning for votes.
“…and what are you going to do for me, mate?” Jim’s Dad almost shouted. Cheerfully and courteously the man replied,
“Don’t you think that is a rather selfish attitude, Sir? Why not ask me what we can all do together for the community…?”
Jim and mum, recognising the shade of pink Dad had gone, shrank together taking hands and sneaked round the back way through the builder’s yard with its neatly piled planks and bricks and long shed.
Mum put the kettle on. When Dad came back from the front door step Jim was holding the letter from school; he had already signed his own name.
“Could you sign here, Dad?” he asked, trying to sound off-handed. His father peered at the letter.
“Why do you want to be confirmed, then? What good is it going to do you?”
Jim screwed up his face and made a superhuman effort,
“It’ll give me …wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
His father swore.
“I don’t know where you get it from!”
Jim looked smug.
“You get it from the Holy Spirit, Dad.”
Courage (Fortitudo! in Latin and Spanish)
The Toad was the school bully. His real name was Todd Lee Juke. He was enormous. Toad said that his father, Todd Peyton Juke, was even bigger than himself, but no one had ever seen him. Toad’s mother was a poor little thing, Emmy, who was so small and frightened she shuddered every parents evening when held to account for her son’s behaviour. Jim had an enormous bruise where the Toad and his gang had bashed him into the stair rail. He was afraid of the Toad but Stanza wasn’t. He asked her why.
“So? I am afraid - but what can he do? When I was six some men came with machine gun and killed my papa, mama didn’t wait, we were all on a plane to here before 24 hours.You see me and Rosario saw the killers and mama knew they would come back for us. Mama was born here. She did not even stop for papa’s funeral. Juan Diego was already in Seminario and his surname is same as mama’s, Herranz, so they would not find him. When you see someone shoot your papa either you never stop fearing or you give up fear. Me, I give it up.”
Jim was shaking. He had never heard anything like it, he tried to think of men coming round to the backyard and shooting his non-practising dad.
They were on their way to school Mass. Jim had had a social chat with Father Ray and told Father Ray about the things he was afraid of, the things he wasn’t afraid of and things he wished he hadn’t done and Father Ray said that God knew all about it and he was forgiven.
It was when he got to the door of the chapel he found the Toad in front of him.
“You’re going to Maaaaas?” Toad sneered.
Jim opened his mouth and got it slapped shut.
“We’re gonna do you. Yer know that don’t ya?”
Jim stuck out his lower lip and twisted out of the Toad’s grip.
“Where d’yer think you’re going…” he didn't wait to hear the end but pushed through the door.
He sat down by Stanza, shaking. They weren’t supposed to speak in chapel but she shoved her mouth against his ear and hissed: “Fortitudo!!” He closed his eyes.
Jim’s mental picture of the Holy Spirit was a brilliantly coloured parakeet with big friendly eyes (well you’ve got to start somewhere) and it definitely calmed him down, He followed Stanza up to receive the bread over which Jesus had said at the Last Supper, ‘This is my Body.’ and the wine over which Jesus had said, ‘This is my Blood.’ or as Stanza would have said ‘you’re eating the love of Jesus and it goes right inside you.’
It must have gone right inside him because he’d forgotten all about the Toad and strode over to the loos, he found the gang inside. The Toad blocked the exit.
“D’yer know what we do to jerks like you?”
Jim went cold. Biggs and Stuff grabbed his arms.
“Ya need to wash yer mouth out. Hold him over the pan lads.”
There was a struggle and Jim found himself upended, his brain froze, he felt like a rag doll. Then somewhere outside his mind he heard a voice say ‘Courage’ and it dawned on him that he was two thirds of the way to letting all this happen to him.
Something that he did not understand, even when he tried to think about it afterwards, hit him like a wave, he was not going to go along with this humiliation. He was not going to let them put his head down the toilet and flush it.
His arms were free. With an effort, of which he hardly knew he was able, he swung himself up punched Biggs in the face and bit Stuff’s hand. They dropped him. He was on his feet before they could kick him. He walked straight up to Toad and said,
“Get out of my way!”
He didn’t know why, but Toad got out of his way.
He walked out of the door as Mr Barrington Higgs walked into it exclaiming to the gang, “And what do you think you’re doing here, get to my office, NOW!”
Beyond Mr Barrington Higgs eyeline Jim punched the air and with one eye on Toad he murmured “Courage!”
A bit behind Mr Barrington Higgs, Stanza, a picture of anxiety was standing on one foot. They linked arms, Jim didn’t need to say anything.
The strong gift with a soft name: Pietas
On Sunday, Mrs Perez collected Jim for the 10am Youth Mass. Usually mum (the lapsed Baptist) took him to the 11.30 Mass. To his surprise, she got up to see him off and Mrs Perez had no difficulty persuading her to get into the back of the van where the Perez family were squashed round two guitars, assorted hand percussion, Mr Johnny and his breathing machine.
Getting into the church, the Perez children headed for the sanctuary. Jesusita who was really a grown-up got them chairs and she and Lupáy, who was sixteen, started tuning their guitars. Sagrado clamped a small pair of bongos between his knees and Stanza seized a home made washing up liquid bottle maraca and pointed to the seat next to her.
“What me! Sit up here? Never!”
He retired to the second row. She marched after him, seized his wrist and sat him firmly between herself and Sagrado, presenting him with another home made maraca.
“Sing!” she said firmly.
He didn’t have any music, he didn’t have any words but he couldn’t stop himself joining in.
Mrs. Perez and mum were sitting at the back each with a twin on their knee and Rosaria who was only seven cuddled up to Mr Johnny. When Jim looked up the Church was fairly full. He turned scarlet and tried to make another bolt for the back. Stanza grabbed him.
“You call yourself a friend!” he hissed.
“Don’t talk in Church.” she hissed back smugly.
“GODdo!” he exclaimed.
“Is that a swear word?” Stanza whispered to Jesusita.
“No! Shut up!”
A bell rang from the sacristy and the two older girls began the introduction to “Light of the world…”
Jim tried to shake his maraca quietly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Fr Ray at the end of the procession. When he saw the altar boys and girls wearing long red skirts with white frilly blouses on top he thanked God for his home made maraca and shook it a bit louder.
After he had read the Gospel, Father Ray, who looked shy but wasn’t, came down to the sanctuary step.
“Would you like to come a bit closer?” Fr Ray said shyly.
There was a kind of embarrassed shuffle as people edged forward to fill the front pews, giggling guiltily. Fr Ray’s enormous eyes and lovely tanned Indian skin, not to mention his white chasuble did not make him look like a person who was going to do this sort of thing at all, he looked meekly over his shoulders at the musicians and the lads and ladies in the purple and lace and said,
“You guys too?”
They came and sat on the altar step and he sat down with them.
“Now,” he said, “What was the first reading about?”
There was a bit of a pause. “Hands up,” he said, encouragingly.
One of the choir lads whom Jim recognised to be George shot both hands in the air and chortled.
“I give myself up, Officer.”
“You couldn’t do better, George, if you’re going to be confirmed!”
They all laughed guiltily.
“Okay, George, what was the first reading about?”
George pulled a serious expression, with a face like his it took a lot of effort.
“Err,” he said, and then, very fast, “Um. Paul got to Jerusalem, he had them all scared, um, he started going around with Barnabas as his mate, coz Barnabas was cool and everyone was scared of Paul except possible Barney. Then they shoved off to Tarsus and the Church got a bit of peace and quiet.”
Fr. Ray could not keep the expression of surprise off his face. “Well done, George,” he said shocked, “So! We sang a psalm, Psalm 21, what was it about? Guadalupe? You sang it.”
Guadalupe seemed to take the request quite seriously. Afterwards Jim asked her if she was always asked and got her answer ready in advance. She shook her head and said that it took her a week to learn the psalm to sing it. So Fr Ray knew she was a safe bet.
Sitting on the step by Fr Ray she simply said,
“It was about praising God, us and lots of people not yet born, praising the Lord for the things he’s done.”
Father’s enquiry about the next reading produced lots of hands in the air. To Jim’s surprise even Domingo was waving his hand about. Fr Ray invited him to speak. Domingo stood up, shouted,
“He said: ‘my children’!” then he realised everyone was watching him and he belted down the aisle to his mother.
“Domingo is right,” Father Ray said, nodding enthusiastically. “Saint John in his letter tells us children about love and about keeping his commandment to love - and in the Gospel Jesus says that he is a vine. What’s a vine, Jim?”
Jim’s mouth went dry and his mind went blank.
“Err, its a plant.”
“What does it produce?”
“Err,” Jim tried to think, Stanza hissed in his ear, “Grapes!” he said, thus prompted.
“And what do grapes produce?”
Jim took a deep breath, “Beer!” he exclaimed.
Somewhere from the back, a breathy voice said amid the laughter, “That’s hops.”
“Anyone know what vines produce?” Fr Ray called out.
“Wine,” lots of them chorused.
“Right” said Fr Ray, “Now I know you’ve got the plot, I’m going to do my homily.”
At this point everyone applauded.
“Our love for each other is not just words or mere talk, but it’s really doing and being things that show that we are children of the Truth.” He knocked off. “Are you children of the Truth out there?”
“Yes.” they all roared back, except those who said ‘No’, quietly.
“We’re children of the Truth because we try to do what Jesus told us to do and love one another and we’re all branches of the vine that Jesus has stuck on to himself so that his sap goes through us, so what does this make us?”
“Wet.” said someone doubtfully.
“Zappy!” yelled George.
“Goddo,” whispered Jim.
“Alive,” said someone unsurely.
“Getting warmer” said Fr Ray. “It makes us a family, now a family has obligations to each other. Those of you who, in a fortnight’s time, are going to receive a whooping great gift of the Holy Spirit, are going to get with the other six, the gift of what St Jerome when he first translated the Bible, called ‘pietas’. When the prophet Isaiah listed the gifts of the Spirit he used a Hebrew word that was so beautiful and had so much meaning that he chose to use two different words in the Latin. The one we are going to look at is Pietatis ”
“Sounds like pizza, why didn’t he translate it into English?” asked Mark, puzzled.
“His English wasn’t up to much - like mine. He and me are better at Latin. I”m sticking to the Latin, because the English is confusing. If I say Constanza is pious…” there was a hoot from her family, and laughter from everyone else, “…she might do me over. ‘Pietas’ isn’t about folding your hands and looking up to heaven, its about getting everything in proportion. It’s about love. It’s about having a good relationship with your family and doing right by your mum and other family members you may have. It’s about doing right to your teachers at school, to red traffic lights, to putting milk out for the cat and above all it’s about doing right by God. Now, God’s given you earth and everything in it and heaven and all his love. What do you owe him?”
There was an awkward pause. They were rescued by George,
“A lot!” he exclaimed.
Jim was beginning to think he ought to get to know George.
From somewhere in the back a thin adult voice quoted, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.”
She said it rather fast whoever she was and Father Ray with infinite gentleness said, “No, God made you because he loved you and so that he could carry on loving you. It’s a trick question Sue, you don’t owe him anything. That isn’t how he works the world. All you owe him is a chance to keep on loving you and if it moves you to say thanks and to ask for more he’s real pleased.”
The fear of the Lord
As ever, Jim’s dad was up on the roof when they got home. He seemed to spend much of his spare time there these days.
“Dave!” Jim’s mum shouted.
“I’m busy.”he answered shortly, Mum ignored this.
“Can you come down?” There was a clatter as he came down face forward, showing off slightly.
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
They sat down in the kitchen. Mum looked at Jim. Jim looked at Mum. Holding her cup carefully she said
“Our, Jim, is going away for a retreat.”
“Wot?” said Dad.
“I’m going to a monastery.” Jim said with a swagger in his voice.
Dad said a word he shouldn’t have said and mum told him not to say it. So he said it again very quietly.
“No boy of mine is going to a monastery.” he said uncertainly.
“Oh its alright dad, its a monastery of nuns, they won’t keep me.”
His father said something else he shouldn’t have said and mum just looked at him.
“I’m going for a retreat,” Jim said, “didn’t you go for a retreat when you were confirmed?”
His father looked at him, “I got a new tie and a suit that didn’t fit me and new shoes and a clip round the ear’ole from your Grandma when I scuffed them. In my day you only went on a retreat when they ordained yer.”
“Were you thinking of being ordained, dear?” mum said.
Dad made a noise like a malfunctioning chain saw.
“No,” he replied.
“I go very early on the Feast of the Ascension.”
“When’s that?” Dad enquired suspiciously.
“Next Thursday,” Mum said.
“How do you know?” Dad asked.
Mum looked at him, “Have some more tea dear.”
“I suppose, he has to have a suit,too.”
“No dear, neat jeans and a white t-shirt or polo, Mrs Umphile says.”
“Oh,” said Dad his real good objection taken from under his feet.
“It’s only a one-day thing,” mum said, “I’ve told Rosario I’ll collect Jim and Stanza at six in the evening when it finishes.”
Dad started scraping paint off a dead brush, “What is it then? A retreat?”
Jim and Mum breathed a sigh of relief: he could go.
First, they had a warm up session. Their nun was slender and delicate looking, with an ankle length dress, a rope round her middle, a long black veil that floated but was also patched and a sort of white cotton throw without ends around the shoulders. She was like something out of a picture, but then she opened her mouth and her north London accent was even better than his. Stanza was even more shy of this walking vision, however, she knew what nuns were and Jim didn’t. He just liked her. Her name was Sister Camilla of St Paul.
“Hello!” she said, “Now run to that wall, pick up a scarf, yes they are long and you can use them as skipping ropes, now skip to the opposite wall…OK, wrap the scarf round your neck, pick the balloon up without your hands and carry it back to the next person on your team, right, now turn round three times, tie a leg to your nearest neighbour and do two three legged pirouettes and then burst the balloon with your teeth…then the next pair in the team do the same…”
“She’s nuts!” he exclaimed.
“She’s a nun.” Stanza replied holily.
After this they were sat round in a circle and given one minute to talk to their right hand neighbour and one minute to listen to their left hand neighbour. Then everybody had to introduce the person next to them. Jim’s neighbour said “I’m Sami, my family come from Damascus in Syria, my father came over before I was born and he runs the refugee centre, I’m 12 and I’m at St Ephrem’s. I’ve done this before…”
“Sami, Syria, Ephrem’s” Jim said, committing it to memory, it did no good, he couldn’t remember a thing when Sister asked him. And after a gulp exclaimed “He’s Ephrem ,from St Sam’s and he came in a boat.” Sister tousled his hair, “Well done Jim,” she said.
Later, in charge of another little nun, Sister Esther of the Mother of God, he with a small group of others including Sami found himself lying flat on his back as part of a circle round a candle with his eyes closed. Sister had just been reading to them Acts chapter 2:1-4
“Now,” Sister Esther lisped, “you are in a room, just as the first followers of Jesus were, and you hear a sound, (she was as good as the sound track off a movie) it’s like rushing air, feel it breathing over your face.” (“Is it safe Miss?” a small voice murmured) “No!” she said. ”Now take a deep breath… now breathe out (Goddo, Jim thought, what have I let myself in for? He wished desperately that Stanza was part of his group.) He was made to take another deep breath. “Now as you breath out make a sssshhhshing sound,” she said. “Keep breathing deeply, And the sound filled the whole house, breath again, and there appeared tongues of flame, think of a flame hovering above your forehead, (the small girl nearest the door, burst into tears) unperturbed Sister put the girl’s head on her lap and stroked it gently (Jim wondered if he should burst into tears too, he liked the thought of having his head in a nun’s lap, but realistically he appreciated that she couldn’t split herself into two)
Some very gentle music began and Jim took another deep breath. Sister no longer sounded like a movie track but more as if she were inside his head.
“You know his voice,” she said, “you hear it all the time, you were born talking to him. You are always telling Him what you are doing, what you want, what you fear… Listen. His voice is very near to you, ask him a simple question with a yes/no answer… (Jim suddenly found he had a lot of questions. But the one that surfaced was: will Dad come to my confirmation? and, to his surprise, he knew the answer was yes. Suddenly, Jim had mountains of questions, he didn’t get mountains of answers, at least not with the clarity of the first one. But he absolutely knew he was being listened to and, moreover the listener was a friend he’d been hanging out with for some time. He had completely stopped listening to Sister and to his embarrassment he was still on the floor and everybody else who had stood up was looking down at him with fascinated interest. He leapt to his feet and turned red)
They learnt a song and had to sing it in parts. Sister said his voice was OK, as ‘marvellous, heavenly and terrific’ were amongst the things she said about other people’s voices he realised his place!
After a lunch of sausage and mash served by more nuns in the brown and white get up, there was free time in the garden and there were even more nuns to talk to. Before he could nab one he found Sami next to him.
“What ‘appened to you?” he said. Standing up Sami was a lot taller than he was. Jim looked at him and said nothing. Then he remembered the prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’. It worked!
“Did you get an answer to your question?” he asked Sami.
“It’s juvenile stuff.” said Sami dismissively.
“But did you get an answer?” persisted Jim.
“Yeah, but I didn’t dig it.”
“So what was your question?”
“I don’t want to tell; it was personal.”
The Holy Spirit was doing overtime.
“Then what do you want to ask me for? I’m personal too.” said Jim with a cool that impressed even himself.
He still hadn’t seen anything of Stanza. Now he’d got a hold of this retreat thing, he didn’t feel he needed his hand held anymore. He looked for a vacant nun, she, too, was bigger than him.
“‘ello, Sister.” he said bravely remembering how much fortitude he’d got. “My name’s Jim.”
“My name’s Sister Hyacinth of the Holy Trinity.”
“He studied her. She looked like she could carry the name, she was one of the nuns who’d been serving dinner.
“Are you the cook?” he enquired.
“I thought nun cooks would be round.”
“Well I’m not spaghetti shaped,” she patted the slab next to her. “Have a bit of wall.”
“Thank you,” he said. There was a longish pause. “I like the praying stuff” he said bravely. “I got a lot of answers.”
Sr Hyacinth was shrewd. “You’ve talked to God before haven't you?”
“If what the Sister said is prayer, I must ‘ave.”
“That’s so,” she agreed.
“I got a friend called Mr Johnny, he has a breathing machine, so he lets me talk. I can see,” he braced himself heroically, “that Jesus lets me talk a lot. Does he have breathing problems?”
“Might have done; for a couple of hours or so, on the cross.”
“If I’d been born two thousand years ago, we’d be the same age,” Jim ventured.
“He’d be a bit older than you, Jim.”
“Suppose so.” he admitted, “but he’d still be a, you know, a kid.”
“What I meant Jim was that he’s always a bit older than we are.”
He thought about this.
“Jim, do you thank God?”
“Suppose so,” said Jim doubtfully.
“Try thanking him now.”
“Well, you all thanked me for the dinner, but I only fried the sausages and bashed the spuds. I didn’t make the pigs or develop the potato, now did I?”
“I see,” he said. He screwed his eyes tight and took a deep breath. “Errr, thank you for the pig and the potato…which I suppose you made. Thank you for telling me that Dad would come for my confirmation. Thank you for my Dad, I suppose you made him too. And me Mum, she’s cool. And the balloon game, that was cool too. And for being my friend, and for listening to me…Will that do Sister?”
“Cool and awesome” she agreed.
“Awesome,” he said, “He’s awesome. Isn’t he?” “That’s so!” she said enthusiastically. “You’ve got it Jim, it’s the last gift. Have a party, you’ve just received the gift of the ‘Fear of the Lord’.”
“I’m not frightened,” he said, “at least I think I’m not.”
“No, but you’re full of awe… If you ever want to talk to me again, you know where we live now.” She gave him a piece of card with a pair of feet dangling from it. “You’ll have to come with an adult, maybe a parent or your teacher. Mr Johnny brings us bread every Thursday, you’re always welcome…”
On the way home Stanza didn’t say anything.
“You ill?” he asked.
“I’m great,” she said dreamily.
When they got to her place Mrs Perez was waiting on the doorstep. Stanza flung herself at her.
“Mama! When I grow up I am going to be a nun!”
“You a nun! Madre de Dios!” Mrs Perez exclaimed, “Well, querida, you can start on your bedroom…”
Jim clamped his lips together as they drove off.
“She should have said'', ‘No, you can’t ‘,“ he said grimly.
“Weren’t the nuns nice?” Mum asked. “They looked lovely to me.”
“They were nice ‘nuff,”, he said bitterly. “But they’re not having Stanza.”
“You be a monk, Jim, that’ll wrap your Dad up!”
Jim caught her eye and the two of them laughed until they cried.
Come and stay
Jim and Stanza were confirmed the following Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, by a small and nervous - but perfectly real - Bishop. Bishops are direct successors of the first twelve followers of Jesus and only they can confirm people in the gift of the Holy Spirit. WOW!
Jim’s Dad came, just as the Holy Spirit said and the Bishop, whose name was James, talked to him for a short time and Father Ray listened to him for a long time. Stanza was the star of the party. She told Bishop James that she came from Argentina and her father’s mother’s sister was the aunty to another Bishop and Bishop James said he knew him and from time to time he went to Rome to say hello to him.
Jim and Stanza are going to have lots of other adventures one day…