February 17 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Fr John dabs for no one, but a little exercise won’t hurt

A school trend is a little daft, THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS says, but priests could benefit from looking after their health — Fr JOHN BOLLAN

Catholic Education week is now in full swing, thanks to staff and pupils from our local schools who were brave enough to come to Mass in uniform (well, just the pupils). In the high school each morning we are having a short reflection on the Education Week theme during the morning assembly time. I like having an opportunity to address whole school or year group assemblies, since it gives you maximum ‘reach’ in terms of audience but doesn’t take up much time: you can say your piece in five minutes, the kids can say they have seen the priest—if they would ever volunteer such information—and you’re back in the parish in plenty of time for Mass.

One of the good things about being a school chaplain is that you are still reasonably in touch with the culture which shapes our young people: the music they listen to, the things which make them laugh and the things which fill them with a sense of injustice—not to mention the daft things from which they derive seemingly endless pleasure.

Last year it was all about flipping water bottles and ‘dabbing.’ Dabbing, in case it has escaped your notice thus far, is the striking of a pose in which you drop your head and simultaneously raise your arm and elbow in what looks like a ‘sneezy salute.’ It came out of nowhere (well, it came from the States) and yet, within weeks, it had become a global phenomenon. Young people were not just posting photos and videos of themselves ‘dabbing’ on social media, but they were also getting their teachers, grannies and even their pets in on the act.

Although several attempts were made to get Fr John to ‘dab’—in corridors, in the playground, even in the oratory—all such invitations were politely declined. Fr John dabs for no one. But I was genuinely intrigued at how something so inconsequential managed to impinge on the consciousness of our young people and yet it’s Catholic schools which get accused of brain-washing. If only they knew.


On Monday of this week I Baptised a little girl at home. Not because she was ill, but because her grandfather is in the later stages of a terminal cancer. I was asked if I could perform the ceremony at his house, so that he could be present. Although I don’t want to start my own trend of ‘mobile Baptisms’ or ‘holy water dabbing,’ it seems quite fitting that the Church of God into which this child was welcomed would be assembled in an upper room, surrounded not by the conventional furnishings of a Baptistery but the paraphernalia of sickness and vulnerability.

Although he was in pain, the grandfather wanted to hold the Baptismal candle for the newly-initiated Catholic.

When it comes to administering Baptism, the question I always prefer to ask is not ‘why?’ but rather ‘why not?’ Echoing the Ethiopian official’s words to Philip in Acts 8:36, I was able to say: “Here is water. Is there anything to stop you being Baptised?”

And so it was, with a washing-up basin of water and the Paschal candle temporarily enthroned on a dressing table, we celebrated the Sacrament which holds out to each of us the hope and promise of undying life. It’s more than a little trite to speak of the circle of life in that sickroom, but nevertheless I think all who were gathered to celebrate the Baptism were aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit whose temples we are, the scent of the Chrism sweetening the air around us.


Tuesday of this week was St Valentine’s day and I received two items of heart-related correspondence. The first was a card which, after subjecting the handwriting to forensic analysis, appears to have come from the dog. Thank goodness for Jasmine, without whom Valentine’s Day and Fathers’ Day would be a total washout.

The other billet-doux was a reminder from my medical practice that my blood-pressure review is now due. I have been on a beta-blocker since I was in my 20s— my hypertension was diagnosed in a routine check-up when I started teaching—and I reckon I’ll be on this pill until my last day. I remember hearing that snooker players used to take beta-blockers to enhance their game by reducing any slight tremors as they played their shots. If true, I find that pretty ‘scunnering’ as I have never picked up a cue in my life—except in self-defence—and I get no collateral benefits from my pill-popping other than staying alive.

By and large, my medication keeps the raised blood pressure under control and most of my habits—apart from my worrying —tend to help as well. I consider myself fortunate that my own condition (which had no symptoms) was picked up by a medical. Like many men, I am not a big fan of troubling the doctor and I might have plodded on, blithely ignoring any emerging warning signals.

Priests tend to be quite private souls and I wonder how good we are at noticing little indications of what might be significant health concerns.

I know that some dioceses have introduced regular check-ups for their clergy and, while some might be resistant to having their consumption of deep-fried pizza and Chateauneuf du Pape queried, on balance I’d say it’s a good thing to have a little help to look after ourselves. After all, this isn’t about our 21st century obsession with self-pampering, rather an aspect of that respect for the temple of God of which St Paul speaks in this Sunday’s second reading.

As it stands, though, although my hypertension is under control, I do notice that my energy levels tend to dip a bit more than they did 20 years ago. This might just be a natural part of the ageing process, but I’m only half-kidding when I tell the folks here that I plan to retire at 50.

Life as a born-again curate looks very enticing from where I’m sitting. Still, in the interim, wee Peter regularly slips me cod liver capsules in the sacristy (I don’t know about elsewhere, but here in St Joseph’s all our ‘altar men’ are distinguished by height names—wee Peter, big Pat, average Matthew). So, who knows, I might power through to 51.


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