I must admit that though I am not baby Jesus by any stretch of the imagination, I am being carried in the strong arms of St. Joseph the carpenter right now. The confirmation came to my mind like a flash of light and I simply don’t know why.
Twenty years ago, a series of events took me to London’s Catholic Cathedral where I received my Baptism, my Confirmation, and my First Communion from the hands of a Prince of the Church whose conduct was (I was going to learn later) not the greatest example for the Catholic flock. But his family, I also learned later, also hails from the same place where my Irish grandmother came from: Cork. Who knows why the rivulets of time and human destiny united us that August afternoon. It was the Hour of Mercy and I was being baptized in a city I had visited only in books and movies. I would have never imagined myself Catholic in London town. Grandma was an Irish Francophile who respected the idea of Britain: “They gave us the Christian faith when we were mere barbarians” she said once. “We should not disdain the people that gave us Christ, no matter how odious they are. England shall be Catholic again and we must be able to look at them as brothers.” Coming from a Michael Collins’ Irish girl, that statement is no small thing. In all things, Grandma was first a Catholic. The faith perfumed her mind and heart. I am convinced her prayers took me to the steps of the baptismal pool that August 15, 2001. The world had not experienced 9/11 yet. Those were the last days before the last days.
Grandma tried to teach me some French unsuccessfully. At the time there were already too many languages around me. My next book will remember her in the dedication: “À ma grand-mère paternelle qui a vécu une vie de prière et de foi. Tu me manques, chère grand-maman.” A phrase she would have liked to read but also a phrase I would have never been able to put together without the help of a friend more versed in French than I am. I used to ask for Gauloises (cigarettes) in Paris just to get the customary response in perfect French: “Nous ne vendons pas de galoches ici. Veuillez essayer le magasin de chaussures.” (We don’t sell galoshes here, try the shoe store.) Those smarty-pants Frenchmen.
Grandma is remembered today as “la abuela inglesa” a horrible attribution of Englishness by their barbarian grandchildren who never cared to take her seriously and to this day believe she was of English heritage. Grandma’s mother was Irish: Catherine O’Callaghan-Hayes, and her father a Catholic Scot: John Henry Angus French, who left Buenos Aires after the death of his dear wife and returned to Glasgow where he died in 1935 of old age, having survived a cholera epidemic in India and the Spanish Influenza of 1919 in Argentina. He was a handsome man, tough as rock as Scots used to be in those days. His name “John Henry” (after Cardinal Newman) forced him to be a staunch Catholic for life. His only daughter inherited that sense of pious righteousness from him. Grandma was a tough cookie, a daily communicant, and a Michael Collins sympathizer but she did not like Hitler at all. Her sons and daughters got none of that.
This is becoming one of those convoluted pieces I write when I have too much coffee. My apologies, dear reader.
I miss the Patagonian days when I used to spend entire afternoons with Grandma and her infinite supply of tea and scones, salty butter, and honey. She conversed with me as if I was an adult and I loved it. She read things to me in French or English translating as she went. Sometimes she read letters from friends far away. Every letter was read after she explained the complete background of the person who sent it. Normally those were people with an enthusiasm for European nobility. Grandma could remember Queen Victoria’s cousins thrice-removed and their current titles. She did not like a certain Clement Attlee, whom I thought was something like a bad neighbor. Understand I was only five or six years old. From her I learned how delightful it can be to be Catholic, to know the True Faith, and that one cannot have a long enough good book or a big enough cup of tea when wind and snow rage outside.
I confess that I had the idea that entering the Catholic Church and accepting the True Faith was going to return to me to some of the joys of those long gone days. Big mistake. The ink was still fresh on my baptismal certificate when I started learning about the actual state of the post-conciliar Church. Many are the joys I undeservedly experienced in this 20 years of being Catholic but along with those came the inevitable Cross. Sometimes I hear the old phrase “Ecclesia Matter et Magistra est” and I think … “Mother may be but Teacher? mmm …” but then I console myself thinking that we live in exceptional times. In many occasions I have encountered people that do not believe we are living in the End Times. I am not totally convinced myself but looking at the present state of the Church and the abysmal ignorance of most lay and clergy, I am moved to believe we are. I can imagine my grandma rolling her eyes in Heaven.
In the present circumstances: broke, despised, segregated from the company of polite society, etc. I am embarking in a new project of sorts. I believe this comes from above but I may be wrong. I hope to save the roof over my head from being condemned by City Hall. My abode, a modest apartment on the sixth floor of an eight-story tower has served me well since I arrived here. A lot of time and work has gone into fixing it and make it livable but a rather incompetent administration (no to say venal) has been working for the best part of 17 years to make it crumble. How people that invest in an apartment home participate in lowering the quality of the building where their home is … it is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I have been praying for God to solve this problem for a long time. So, I am asking my readers to pray for this intention, perhaps God will hear us and save my home and the home of many who are innocent of any wrongdoing. NOTE: I am NOT requesting financial contributions but ONLY many sincere prayers.
Please pray for the intercession of Saint Joseph for my intentions in this matter, and pray for the repose of the soul of my grandparents Agnes and Alberto who, through many obstacles, led me to the true faith.