I came from a large, Irish Catholic family. Every Sunday we attended Mass and I remember Daddy on his knees each night praying before he went to bed. Spirituality in an Irish family is very important. But, as a kid, we viewed things a little differently than the adults.
Spirituality in an Irish Family depends on your age.
It was always exciting when my family traveled to New Jersey and Pennsylvania to visit Mama’s sister and her family. My sister and I got to see cousins we rarely saw. And there were a lot of cousins! They were actually the children of my first cousins. My first cousins were old enough to be my parents so their kids were my age. And I really preferred the way we kids practiced the faith. We thought spirituality in an Irish family should be as loud and casual as the rest of our lives. The adults had more traditional ideas about things.
This is what our parents wanted.
This is what they got.
At dinner there were usually 10 – 14 adults at the dining table. The kids (including teenage cousins) were at a much larger table in another room. This suited us perfectly. The adults had certain concepts about proper behavior at the table while we kids had a proclivity for playing with our food, other people’s food, and seeing how far food could fly. The only time this was a problem was when a dinner roll was launched by one of the older cousins and sailed past the dining room doorway where any alert grown up could see it in flight.
But even before the carrots began to roll to the edge of and off the table (if you hit a certain spot you got points!) there was the blessing. This was serious business in the adult dining room. If you’ve ever watched “Blue Bloods” you’ve heard the Catholic blessing. “Bless oh, Lord in these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” That was the prayer, uttered reverently by the adults.
Spirituality in an Irish family can be artistic and athletic.
At the kids’ table it went a bit differently. There were actually two versions of our blessing. The first, used when the adults weren’t talking loud enough for the second was: “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! The one who eats the fastest gets the most!” Considering how many kids were competing for the food it was a plea to God to allow us not to be the ones who were left hungry. The choreography for this prayer was simple. You made the sign of the cross for the opening and lunged for the food as soon as the “m” was on your lips.
The second prayer, only used once the adults were completely ignoring us, was more boisterous but, in my opinion, showed greater appreciation for God’s gifts than concern over our tummies. “Rub-a-dub-dub! Thanks for the grub! Yaaaaaaaay God!” See? Gratitude.
This prayer required a bit of athleticism on the part of the congregation of cousins. You had to clench your fork in one fist, the knife in the other, and thump the table with them for the beginning of the “prayer.” When you got to “Yaaaaaaaay God” you made a large circle with your arms, crossing them in front, moving up above your head, and the out to the sides, ending with them back on the table. Of course while you were completing the required movement you had to be aware of the cousins on either side as they, too were making the circle. And all of us were still clutching the knife and fork. Along with the possibility of the grownups hearing the prayer the likelihood of being impaled by silverware made this prayer particularly exciting. And there was always that one cousin who was afraid of being caught and ignored his religious duty to pray with us.
Spirituality in an Irish family doesn’t end at the front door of your home!
It’s important that you carry the spiritual lessons you learned into the bigger world outside your door. I did that.
When I started high school, Catholic of course, there was a new batch of oblates beginning their teaching careers that year. Oblates are the young men who are going to be priests. We would end up calling them Father This and Father That.
On the weekend before the start of the school year the administrators thought it would be a great idea to introduce the new students and the new teachers to each other. The administrators were an optimistic bunch. I’m sure they all ended up drinking heavily by our Senior year.
The night of the event arrived and before I’d downed my first glass of punch I was in trouble. I shouldn’t have been. What I said was impeccably logical. When the principal asked if I’d met any of the new teachers I replied, “You mean the expectant fathers?” It was the beginning of a long and close relationship between me and the powers that be.
But really, weren’t the oblates just that? They were expecting to be Fathers. Sure, they were not the kind of fathers that bounce their babies on their knees but it wasn’t my fault that the Catholic church decided to call their male religious folk “Father.”
That question brought about another introduction for me. Father “Moose” McCabe had been brought in purportedly as the Assistant Principal but really because he looked like he’d been created from granite and twisted steel. Thank goodness Moose had a great sense of humor and a moral code that prevented him from strangling 14-year-old girls.
Spirituality in an Irish family sometimes doesn’t change with age.
As an adult, although no longer Catholic, I remained Christian. The prayers were a little different and no one spoke Latin but the core beliefs were much the same. But I missed those days visiting my cousins when we prayed with great enthusiasm and flawless (mostly) choreography.
And one day I was rewarded! Cousins from New Jersey and Pennsylvania came to Michigan and, as we gathered for a long-anticipated family dinner I saw people reaching for the silverware. Fists closed around knives and forks and the familiar thumping began. Ahh…to enjoy spirituality in an Irish family!
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