Biff America: Sunday Service, Monday Battles
It would usually begin with an insult or some harsh words, perhaps a few shoves, and then someone would throw the first punch. Often there would be no second punch as friends, teachers, coaches would intercede. Mostly it was little more than adolescence bravado and posturing.
Occasionally, it would go down like in the movies when two combatants would square off in the middle of a circle of spectators and go at it until one person quit. More often than not a bloody nose, fat lip or black eye was the worst results.
It was a Sunday morning in the early ‘70s and I fully expected to get in a fistfight the next day.
It wasn’t that I had any enemies to speak of, nor was I angry with anyone. But when your mother yells-out and interrupts the priest at Mass (church service) on Sunday morning, someone is bound to say something insulting at school on Monday.
At that time in my life, I was an only child. My 5 brothers and sisters left home after high school never to return and I was all that remained.
The Sunday service of the Roman Catholic Church in the ‘70s was not a participatory event. Not long before then entire Mass was said in Latin and the Priest mostly had his back to the congregation. Yes there were the required responses and vocal prayers but ‘citizen’s comments’ were discouraged.
My mother was a high strung and nervous woman. She would occasionally turn Mass into a karaoke affair. With the fervor of a snake handler I prayed that we could get through the service without her interrupting. I thought I might have dodged the bullet until the last 5 minutes when in a clear and loud voice I heard my Mum say, “Excuse me, but I would like to announce the Banns of marriage of my daughter……”
Now the ‘ Banns of Marriage’ is the announcement of impending nuptials. In the old days it was sometimes offered at gatherings or town meetings by the family. But in the Catholic Church it is presented (or at least was) by the Priest. Except, in this case where my mother’s daughter — my sister — was marrying a Jewish guy. At the time, you couldn’t have your marriage announced in the ‘Church’ if you were not marrying a Catholic. I know that fact didn’t bother my sister much, but it sure ticked-off my Mum.
The Priest (I seem to recall his name was Father Murphy) was obviously not used to being heckled. He basically let my mother hijack the service while she made her forbidden announcement. My Mother walked out of the church with her head held high.
I followed behind, sheepishly, wondering who I’d be fighting the next day.
Certainly the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t have the market cornered on laws and edicts that make little sense. Deranged zealots, of every faith, use the various holy books to justify stupid stuff and horrible acts. For those so inclined you can find justification for anything from homicide, stoning, slavery, misogyny to castration. For God’s sake (no pun intended) there are Christians who still handle snakes and drink poison, but granted they are a dying breed (OK that pun was intentional).
Despite the dogma, though I no longer consider myself a practicing Papist, I am very appreciative of being raised as one for the comfort and moral barometer it provided — both were needed and welcomed.
Like the rest of the world I watched in horror as the news depicted the events in Paris. Like many my first inclination was not to let this insult against humanity go unanswered. When the French began bombing assumed ISIS targets I delighted. Though knowing that no bomb can be precise I still felt the ‘end’ or revenge was justified by the ‘means’ of any collateral damage.
Though I wonder is revenge possible against those who welcome death?
Far greater minds than mine have been, and are, working on a course of action to lessen the incidents of atrocities like Paris. It should be remembered that Paris is just one of many — including Iraq, Cameroon, Nigeria, Philippines. There have been well over 200 terrorist attacks around the world in 2015 alone.
But though savagery is a fact of life now and throughout history it is a mere grain of sand on a beach when compared to all that is good, kind and compassionate contained in the human condition.
The good news is that the chance of most of us this being directly affected by the evil of terror is small. But the possibility that we as a people become jaded, suspicious and bigoted of an entire faith by the behavior of a sick few is damning and as pointless as a school yard fistfight……
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body and Soul. The Backcountry Years” is available at backcountrymagazine.com/store
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