Keep calm and carry on

Saturday 13 June 2015 — Whitehall, London — Trooping the Colour (the Queen’s official birthday)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was actually born on April 21, but who frets about such details? Royalty is entitled to more than one birthday, if it so desires. Call it a “perk.” And what better way to celebrate Her Majesty’s official birthday if not by the music and pageantry of a ceremonial salute from Her Majesty’s Household Division? It’s so very British.

An acquaintance of mine, Patricia Bolton, was born and raised in Britain. During World War II, she personally experienced the bombing of London. Pat had many stories to share on how the British dealt with such “inconveniences.” 

keep calm.jpg

I think of the famous poster now undergoing a bit of a revival, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” It was one of a series of three morale-boosting posters designed in 1939 by the British government’s Ministry of Information and printed by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The first two designs were posted throughout Great Britain at the outbreak of the war. The third design was held back, intended to be distributed in the event of the imminent collapse of the British government. Since this never happened, “Keep Calm and Carry On” was never released. Unused stockpiles of the third poster were discarded after the war. A forgotten trove of 15 posters, however, recently surfaced on the “Antiques Roadshow” television program. I am not making this up.

I must get one of these posters for my office. I think “Keep Calm and Carry On” would be a fitting slogan for a parish priest these days. 

In any given parish, there can be an undercurrent of grumbling and complaining. There can also be a general sense of personal entitlement, with little regard for the common good. I think of the mantra, “I want it and I want it now.” Sometimes it seems that whatever you do, you just can’t win. A seasoned pastor must “keep calm and carry on.”

One cold winter’s day, I watched a woman park her car as far away from the church building as possible. She then proceed to walk all the way through the parking lot, past the nearest church door, and enter the door farthest from her car. She sat in her usual pew, farthest from the Sanctuary (which, by the way, has no view of the altar). After Mass, she complained that she had to walk the entire length of the church aisle — all 130 feet of it — to receive Holy Communion. I said to myself, “Keep calm and carry on.”

One summer’s day, a man complained that it was too cold in church. I asked him where he was sitting during Mass. He answered, “Where I always sit — in front of the air conditioning unit.” Keep calm and carry on.

A child missed the First Penance ceremony. The parent was instructed to bring the child to the regularly-scheduled Confessions. The child never showed up — three weeks in a row. The parent explained, “I couldn’t find a priest.” The priest was in the confessional. The parent had no idea where the Penance Room was located. Keep calm and carry on. 

How about the couple who scheduled their wedding and went through all the normal church preparations. A few minutes before the wedding, the groom popped into the Sacristy. “Father, we’ve decided to postpone our wedding.” OK then. They rescheduled the wedding. A second time they postponed their wedding, this time the day before. A third time they rescheduled their wedding. Eventually, they cancelled the wedding — a week before. Just as well, I suspect. Keep calm and carry on.

There was a church that had a single restroom, located in the Sacristy. All the kids knew where it was and would make several trips during Mass because, as they convinced their parents, they “had to go.” During one particular Mass, a crowd of kids that “just had to go” gathered in the Sacristy. After much rowdy laughter, a water fight broke out. The priest celebrant could see and hear the whole thing from the altar. What to do? Keep calm and carry on. 

The hospital phoned one day. “Father, we have a patient who is actively dying.” “OK,” said the priest, “you’re saying the patient needs the Anointing of the Sick right now?” “Oh, no,” responded the caller. “The patient is Protestant and we wouldn’t want to upset the family, now, would we? We phoned the Protestant minister, but she said she was too busy to come over. So we called you instead.” Keep calm and carry on.

We Catholics (along with other Christians) are under attack from within and without. These are definitely not the good old days. We are constantly being bashed by the media worldwide. Our civil and religious rights are routinely called into question, even in democratic countries. Anti-Catholic bigotry is making a strong comeback. The list of martyrs for the faith is growing rapidly. What to do? Keep calm and carry on.

I definitely need one of these posters. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts