Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mass in my socks...

Well, let's see what is happening this week . . .

Monday I really did get the whole day off, that was nice. Cold as Pluto here, so I didn't get out much on Monday, but I enjoyed vegging at home. I have a free trial version of "Rise of Nations," and I can amuse myself endlessly enough with the free version, no reason to buy it. It's not nice getting your behind handed to you by the computer, however.

Some people may look amiss at me taking a day and vegging; but I would argue that when you're doing nothing, you're not being unproductive. It's not only recharging your batteries; it's also giving your mind space to do a different sort of thinking. When I worked in Washington, I did a lot of copy writing, writing fundraising letters, which is an art that may seem declasse; however, as the saying I learned there goes, you can't save the world if you can't pay the rent. Fundraising is worthy when the cause is worthy, and admirable when the cause is admirable. I raised money for a cause I deeply believe in, and I do not apologize. And I was pretty good at it.

Well, anyway, the point I started to make was this: my boss would say, we need a letter about such-and-such. We'd set a deadline. And I'd go back to my office. And think. I might stroll over to our resource library, do a little research (nowadays, I'd go on the Internet). I'd go back to my office. I might do any number of things; I might read the papers, or I might sit and play on my computer. And somewhere along the line, who knows when, I'd start writing. And maybe later in the day, or maybe two days later, depending on the deadline, I'd have a letter, along with a proposal for what the whole package (the envelope, the inserts) would look like.

Now maybe I spent 3 hours, actually typing out and editing the first draft; but if you think that's all the time it took to do it, that's not how it works. In my own experience, I needed that time when I wasn't (seemingly) working on the project, to get ready for the project. Maybe other people's minds don't work that way, but mine does, and I doubt I'm all that unique.

Tuesday: I worked on "The Pile." That's what I call that which is on my desk and seems on the verge of crossing over from inanimate to a rudimentary form of life. When my outbox is piled high, and my trash can stuffed full, that's a good day of working on The Pile. I have a grudge match with The Pile; one day, I shall slay it utterly, and reclaim my desk. This week, I have struck it many blows, and yet it seems to shrink but a little. (Of course, I am a double-agent; I often add to The Pile myself! Can no one be trusted?)

Part of Tuesday was spent dithering over whether to cancel a meeting due to weather. About 3 o'clock, I did, but I figured, someone might show up anyway, so I'll be there just in case.

About 5, I left to go over to the convent for a monthly Mass with the Sisters of Charity. They always invite me for dinner, which is nice, but I had that meeting! So I told them I couldn't stay. The convent is at the parish on the north side of town, a half-mile from the south parish, where the offices are. So with the snow coming down, I walked. My youth minister thought it strange when I said it would be easier -- "In this snow?" "Exactly!" He's from Lewwwwww-zee-yanna; first snowfall last year, I had to talk him out of calling the Department of Homeland Security.

The sisters had the same reaction. But here's the thing. If I had driven, I would have had to clean off the car, and clean out the driveway; or, if I didn't clean the driveway, maybe I can't pull back in, when I came back. Plus, I'd have to clean my car the second time.

The walk over, I was out in the snow for maybe 10 minutes; how long would I be out in the snow, doing all the shoveling and cleaning? Which I preferred to do, the next morning, when the snow was finished. So I actually was out in the snow for less time, simply by walking -- not to mention I could pray my breviary as I walked over and back, and I was a lot safer, walking, with little traffic, versus trying to drive on roads that hadn't been cleared yet, under conditions when it'd be oh-so-easy to slide or spin into a parked car.

But when I got over to the convent, of course my clod-hopper snow boots, which I only wear a few times a year so they'll last forever, I took them off at the door. That's how I came to offer Mass in my stocking-feet. I don't think I've done that before; even when I had Mass on vacation, with another priest, in the condo where we stayed (we went to Hilton Head in February, on a special deal -- cheap!), I had my sandals on. The sisters said they wouldn't report me to the Archbishop.

So, anyway, after Mass, one of the sisters said, I'll drive you back. Okay. Back to the school, not my house, around the corner; I was going to wait for anyone showing up for the meeting. I actually stood outside, because it was, I confess, very pleasant to watch the snow come down, and see the snow completely untouched. This is a rare moment, enjoy it while it lasts, dear reader; I usually am an unreconstructed Scrooge when it comes to snow, not a whit of romance or good cheer about it. But my dirty little secret is I have brief bursts of liking it, but when that happens, I remain still and quiet until the moment passes.

Five minutes till 7, not a soul around. When I heard the bells chiming in the steeple, I started walking home. No one showed. Everyone got postcards, probably today, saying the meeting is next Tuesday.

Wednesday. A funeral, of a sort, at 9 am. A parishioner who had been at a nursing home in Dayton died, and was to be buried here. But no Mass, no service. Just a graveside service. Would I meet the family at the cemetery? About 8:30, I'm out cleaning the car and driveway (cemetery is 2 miles away; chose not to walk), and I go back inside, to put on my cassock and the phone rings. My secretary; funeral home called; family in an accident coming up 75; go on without them.

So I went to the cemetery, met the hearse, along with two cemetery workers. I helped them carry the coffin to the grave; the guys chatted a little while I got my book, and I said, we'll, we're going to pray the prayers. The guys were very respectful, took their hats off, and we prayed for the poor woman, this was her funeral, no family there. (By the way, if you ever have a bottle of holy water, in your car, and it freezes, holding it in front of the heat vent, at full blast, will do wonders.) I told the funeral home fellows, "tell the family we prayed all the prayers," which we did. It didn't take that long.

Back home; parked on the street (a shout-out to the city workers of Piqua; they did a great job cleaning the streets overnight; I hope you got some rest, guys!), and proceeded to shovel out my driveway. Shoveling five-six inches of show, in bitter cold, when you're out of shape? Probably a bad idea, but I did it, and felt fine, didn't even feel sore today, so how about that? It's a point of pride to me to have my driveway cleaned out, and to do a proper job on my walks. None of this clearing a skinny little path, so that if two people pass, someone has to step into the snow; I clean the entire sidewalk; I usually salt it, but didn't have any handy, I keep forgetting to restock. But the sun did the work anyway, and it is mostly dry now.

When I grew up in Cincinnati, my father told me that was what you did; it was your job to clean your sidewalk; that's how all the sidewalks got clear. And if someone couldn't do his own, he hired the kids in the neighborhood (such as yours truly!) and if someone maybe couldn't afford it, you cleaned that person's walk for him or her, or at least part of it.

Because, if you don't do that, then folks have to walk in the street; but some folks didn't get the word -- they didn't have my dad for theirs, and their walks don't get cleaned. My dad said it was a law, but it doesn't seem to be enforced, and I am not urging the city to get people; there's altogether too much of that these days. Instead of wishing the city would pass out tickets, people should just go out and clean their walks. Every time.

Well, I was supposed to write my Sunday homily on Wednesday morning, and I had time to think about it, but as I said above, sometimes nothing comes right away. So maybe I'll write it tomorrow; or maybe I'll extemporate, but God help the folks if I do that, because who knows how long I'll talk. Somebody quoted a Keith Richards line to this effect the other day: Any fool can get up and talk for an hour; to get up and make the point in five minutes? That takes a lot of work.

Wednesday afternoon, I stole yet more life from The Pile, but it only laughed at me as 5 o'clock rolled around and I had to go hear confessions in the chapel. After 6 pm Mass, I had a Bible study with folks -- we're nearing the end of Exodus -- and then to the Knights of Columbus. Hung out with them for awhile, home by about 10, when I had some leftover chicken for dinner.

This morning, Mass, breakfast, The Pile. The double-agent in me struck as I actually started some new projects. Cleared out some phone messages, and finally left to visit the hospital around 4 pm. That meant I'd probably still be visiting when they started bringing dinner around, at 5 or so. Had nine Catholic patients on the list, a lot for this hospital.

One boy about 22 in the ICU, mother didn't explain why, I didn't ask. He couldn't talk, lots of tubes. Not what you expect. Couldn't give him communion. A old woman whose gown was not exactly arranged as it should be; I knocked, looking away, giving her a chance to fix it. She did, sort of. How do I say this delicately; it wasn't a question of, shall we say, modesty, but dignity. But she was somewhat confused. She couldn't say much, but she said a little. She didn't seem able to swallow, so I didn't give her communion, either. She was happy to hold my hand, otherwise she kept turning partly away.

A man sitting in the room -- no bed. Are you "____" -- a name that could be a man's. "No, she's at dialysis. Be back at 8." Oh, I won't be here then, sorry I missed her. Talked to him; they don't go to church, but she is Catholic. He told me how frustrated he was with the doctors and nurses, they don't seem to know what's wrong. "Too much stupidity." I listened. Told him I'd pray for her, and them both, and if they needed a priest, the hospital would call me or another priest.

There were others, of course, only two people I recognized -- they aren't all from my parishes. Left there at 5:30, home briefly until I went to the school board meeting. Big discussion was the budget; another increase in tuition, and more subsidy money from the parish, money I don't have. "What are we going to do, father?" "I don't know." Not enough students; not enough Catholics; not enough jobs in Piqua. Home tonight by 9:30.

I had a pot-pie for dinner -- did you know you can microwave those? They actually are designed for that! First time I had one of these, I took it out of the box, throw that away, and cooked it in the real oven. That's so old-fashioned! The box is designed with a shiny surface inside, so it cooks it right; it worked? Only 5 minutes.

Tomorrow I have a school Mass; the earlier one, this week, was cancelled due to snow. Then I'll meet with a parishioner who wants to buy some new furniture and make some suggestions in using the existing furniture, so she's going to take a look at what we have. Then I will go to the office and make war on The Pile once more.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin: regarding 'The Pile' have you considered GTD?


Anonymous said...

My dad (and his dad) felt as your dad did. One thing I miss about the midwest is people doing their own walks. Here the town does it (sort of).

First they plow all the roads. Then they go back with little bobcat things and plow the few sidewalks that exist (my street doesn't have any, but does connect to a street with a sidewalk on the shady side). But the sidewalks (asphalt strips not concrete) touch the curb and so are narrowed by the road plowing, and then further narrowed by the sidewalk plowing. They also have utility poles sticking out of the middle of the sidewalk.

So the sidewalks (where they exist) don't get plowed for a day or two after the storm, don't get done well because of the utility poles, and don't get redone as the snow melts and refreezes. And most homeowners (I assume the exceptions moved from elsewhere) don't do anything about it because they pay taxes to have it done for them.


the Joneses said...

This was a great post. Thanks for taking the time to describe your life; I for one find it very interesting.

Anonymous said...

What great fun to read, Father! I hope all your parishioners know about your blog & can therefore read these enriching (!) treatises on everyday life.
The hilarious part to me is, the daily life of a priest seems to carry about the same weight of struggle, goofiness, and good intentions as the daily life of a secular individual - and with the same potential for chaos.
When you get right down to it, is saying Mass in your socks all that different from dropping the Thanksgiving turkey on the kitchen floor?
Thanks for a fun read. Ever consider a newspaper column?


Anonymous said...


Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

Martin, I can identify with your use of down time to let the mind sift out a plan or an insight. It has to be preceded, though, with a period of actively assessing/working on the problem. I also think prayer time is essential for anything really creative.

mrsdarwin said...

Sometimes I'm tempted to self-pity because I don't have any quiet time with the kids hurtling around the house. This is a much-needed reminder that priests don't have it any easier -- I have three people demanding my attention; you have a whole parish.

Fidei Defensor said...

"Rise of Nations"

Father, I too have taken advantage of the free demo version, (though I have played the full game at friend's houses and it does seem worth it.)

If you have the demo of the "Thrones and Patriots" expansion pack be sure to play as the Russians, nothing quite like beating out the enemy army soley thanks to the attrition bonus!

Kasia said...

Father, I write the same way. I've always described it as "I have to let it percolate" or "I have to let it simmer" for a while before I can sit down and write. Usually I'm not even consciously thinking about the topic (though sometimes I am) while I'm "percolating," but when I sit down later to do the actual writing, it usually comes out like I was. Make sense?

Anonymous said...

"not to mention I could pray my breviary as I walked over and back.."

I know there are different parts to it, but I always thought that praying the Liturgy of the Hours took a couple of hours each day. Does it?

Father Martin Fox said...


Maybe I"m fast, but praying the office to oneself, without singing, need not take that much time. I.e., I'm pretty sure most of us read silently faster than we read aloud, let alone chanting.

Of course, one can take quite awhile to pray the office, either by doing it properly -- i.e., sung in a church with others, or simply in a meditative way. I confess I do not do the latter very often.

But I do try to be mindful that I am acting for my parish when I pray it. E.g., when the pastor prays first Vespers for a feast day -- then the feast day has begun, in the parish.

Someday, I hope to cultivate some proper celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours in my parishes, but that will have to wait a bit.

I find praying the office while walking rather nice, as long as the weather isn't too bad.