Vail Biff America column: 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 adolescent 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 result.
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 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 five 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, the 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 “citizens’ 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 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, the family sometimes offered it at gatherings or town meetings. But in the Catholic Church, at least at that time, the priest presented it. 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 with whom 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. Those so inclined can find a rationalization for anything from homicide and stoning to slavery, misogyny and 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 appreciative of being raised as one for the comfort and moral barometer it provided — both were needed and welcomed.
Savagery a fact of life
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, justified the “means” of any collateral damage. Though I wonder, is revenge possible against those who welcome death?
Far greater minds than mine have and are working on a course of action to lessen the incidents of atrocities such as Paris. It should be remembered that Paris is just one of many, including Iraq, Cameroon, Nigeria and Philippines. There have been well more than 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 the all that is good, kind and compassionate contained in the human condition.
The good news is that the chance of most of us 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 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.