National Hug Your Pastor Day

Friday 19 May 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Celebrate Whatever Day

Have you noticed, dear readers, that we seem to have “National Months,” “National Weeks,” and “National Days” for just about everything imaginable? We have “Global Civility Awareness Month,” “Gardening for Wildlife Month,”  “Mediterranean Diet Month,” “National Good Car-keeping Month,” and “National Vinegar Month.” We have “National Pet Week,” “Update Your References Week,” and “National Wildflower Week.” Then there’s “Executive Coaching Day,” “National Bubba Day,” and “National Everyone Join Hands Together Day.” I wonder who makes up this stuff. 

Wait. You say you are unaware of these celebratory occasions? Oh, dear. You’ll unfortunately have to wait until they come around again next year. You’ve missed them. They all kicked off during the first week of May. 

With the power invested in me, I hereby declare “National Hug Your Pastor Day” (date to be announced).

I’m from the old school. Back in the day, priests would promptly retreat to the Sacristy following Mass and silently bow to the crucifix before prayerfully divesting. Many would return to the Sanctuary to offer private prayers of thanksgiving. Nobody would think of breaking the silence or interrupting the priest’s private prayer. God help the acolyte who did so.

Then along came the 1970s. Priests began to stand at the church door before and after Mass to meet and greet parishioners. I don’t think there was ever an official memo. It just happened. Since churches have more than one door, all of the priests in the rectory were sometimes assigned to a different door after every Mass.

Back in those early days of Liturgical reform, many parishioners, male and female, would deflect their eyes and hurry past their gregarious priest (some still do).

More extroverted men in the congregation might shake the hand of their pastor on the way out. The handshake between men, as all students of etiquette know, developed as a way to prove one was not carrying a concealed weapon. Father “Pete” Levesque was famous for his bone-crushing handshakes. 

Even some women might smile demurely and extend a hand in greeting. It was considered poor etiquette for any male to extend his hand to a female until she had initiated the gesture. 

Ah, but times have changed again. The “church door hug” came into fashion. Msgr. Henry Munroe, I do believe, holds a black belt in narthex hugging. Nobody leaving the church escaped his cheerful embrace. 

Now, professional handshakes have given way to bro-hugs, one-armed sideways hugs, back-slaps, and full-frontal embraces — even in the business world. In fact, I suspect the practice has been promulgated by overly-casual California software developers. 

Ugh. Let me be perfectly clear. I am not a hugger. I was born a non-hugger. Hugging is neither in my genes nor part of my personality. You know me, dear readers. I come from a long line of Celts. Celtic men do not hug each other unless they are involved in hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield (see the film “Braveheart”). Even mixed-gender Celtic dancing involves very little physical contact (See the stage production “Riverdance”). 

I also descend directly from the Pilgrims (13 times over). Have you ever seen a painting of the first Thanksgiving Day showing all the participants in a warm group hug? I think not. 

Nor do I have a personal proclivity for hugging. I tend to conduct myself in a more formal and reserved fashion — although I do have a keen sense of humor that keeps me seriously dedicated to my writing. 

For these reasons, I seldom hug. I wait for the other person to make the first move, then grin and bear it. If I’m very hesitant to respond in kind, I “accidentally” drop my cell phone. Sometimes, when someone has just shared especially joyful or catastrophic personal news with me, I will ask permission before offering a hug. 

Body language is everything. There is one woman in the parish who routinely extends her right arm in my general direction. Her gesture can be easily misconstrued. No, she doesn’t intend for me to shake her hand. She told me she would one day explain. She hasn’t yet. Instead of shaking hands, we clasp each other’s elbows. Awkward. 

Another parishioner and I have a “secret handshake.” It does not involve hand-shaking. When we greet each other, we each cross our arms over our chest and bow profoundly. There’s a story, but it’s best left for another time. I’ll just say it involves Father Mike Nagle and leave it at that. 

I don’t hug little children either, but I do initiate non-verbal communication with many of them. Depending on the particular child, it may involve a little wave of the hand or a silly face. My purpose is to communicate that I recognize their existence. The response is often a giggle. 

If I find myself wondering whether or not a hug would be appropriate, it probably isn’t. I go with a handshake. Nobody has ever been offended by a handshake. 

What is the date of “National Hug Your Pastor Day?” Just never you mind.

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

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