I was at mass with my mother in Cork last week. The local catholic church, in a touching display of ecumenicism which I am sure would be crushed by the catholic hierarchy had they the faintest idea that it was happening, invites a protestant vicar to attend mass every week.
Last Sunday, the vicar read the Gospel and gave the sermon. I had by this point accustomed myself to his presence but since he kicked off with the words “My wife and I..” he succeeded in jolting his catholic congregation wide awake. These are not words you hear from a catholic priest.
It was vocation Sunday (the irony of having a Protestant vicar preach to a catholic congregation on vocation Sunday might not, I suspect appeal to the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but let us draw a veil over that) so there was a lot of talk of good shepherds.
The vicar told us of his former parish in West Cork and his parishioner, Trevor. Trevor was a good shepherd. He loved his cows. OK, sorry, a good dairy farmer. One day he saw one of the hired hands belting a cow and he fired the hired hand on the spot. Clear analogy, we are with you vicar, your words are only slightly undermined by the visible amusement of your catholic counterpart who had until that story been sitting nodding sagely as you told us of the wisdom of Billy Graham.
At the end of mass, the priest stood up to say a couple of words. Firstly, he thanked the spectacular choir who had come in from the Cork choral festival; secondly he told us that the church was 3 million in the red as the trustees had put all their money in AIB shares and this faith in capitalism turned out to be misplaced hence the need for a collection basked; finally he remarked that we might have seen him laughing during the sermon. He explained that he was a farmer’s son from West Cork. “And,” said he, “Protestant cows and Catholic cows are clearly treated very differently in that part of the world; we’d often give a cow an old belt to move it along.” I don’t know whether this ecumenicism lark will ever really take off.