There are certain Solemnities in the Church’s calendar which are of particular significance to me, and two of them occur at this time of the year. The celebration of the feast of ‘The Immaculate Conception of the BVM’ on December 8th is one of them. …. Why? because the boarding school which I attended was dedicated to the ‘Immac’, and as a consequence, the whole school community honoured our Holy Mother in a number of ways. It was a schoolholiday for a start, and the festivities culminated in the evening with a bean feast in the ‘ref’ rounding off with a musical finale, which it’s fair to say, was far and away more enjoyable that any religious celebration that we had attended in the morning (can’t think why) . The other Solemnity is of course the Feast of Christ the King, marking the end of the liturgical year.
Both feasts are of immeasurable importance, but the Feast of Christ the King has to take precedence in my personal life – brushing aside any theological precedence - as it is the patronal feast of the Church in Coventry where I was baptised marking the beginning of my personal journey in faith.
Every Sunday from my earliest memories, as a family we walked to Mass at ‘Christ the Kings’. There was no alternative as we didn’t own a car, (along with the greater majority ofthe population in the 1940’s) but the walking to church was far more memorable than Mass itself! There was so much to see, so much so, that although my legs and body were moving in a forward direction, most of the time my head was facing the other way. In those days, lamp posts were shorter than the 30-40 foot bean-poles which light up our darkness these days, furthermore, they were positioned nearer to the kerb. In fact they were an obstruction to pedestrians and dangerous, as I found to my cost!
Those among us who have ridden a bicycle, or motorcycle, or have driven a car or some such vehicle will be well aware of the roving eye syndrome. For those who may be unaware of its meaning, here is a brief explanation. Should one be distracted while in charge of a vehicle on the highway and allow one’s inquisitiveness to lose concentration on driving and focus on something ‘off-road’, instinctively one steers the vehicle towards the distracting attraction!
Proof of that – if proof were needed – is presented to us every day. When any road traffic accident occurs, it is human instinct for pedestrians and for drivers to stop and stare. For a pedestrian it may mean being barged into by another pedestrian, for the driver of a vehicle it may lead to serious damage, personal and financial. Motorway accidents can cause truly serious problems as ‘starers’ or ‘gawkers’ can be a lethal hazard and sometimes fatalities are the result.
I was made aware of ‘fatal attractions’ of the ‘driving kind’ when being instructed on the art of steering by a wise driving instructor – Mr Goodliffe - who had perfected his skills teaching recruits in the Royal Armoured Corps or Tank Regiment. I would be proceeding through the City of Leicester obeying all the rules of the Queens Highway including ‘L’ plates front and back, when without warning as in a flash, a pointed finger attached to a hand attached to an arm was obstructing my vision, while at the same time being accompanied by a Sergeant Majors voice which screamed ‘Phooorrrhhh!!!! LOOK AT THAT!!!! It was an instruction to look at ‘THAT’ whatever ‘THAT’ was. The order to look was so emphatic, so demanding, that it was impossible to refuse. However, after some seconds of serious eye-straining and neck-twisting with nothing ‘Phooorrrhhh-ish’ in view, I turned to my instructor to ask for clarification only to realise that he was steering the car!
Oh, how easily we are distracted, and how often we are saved from embarrassment by mentors who have the foresight and sense we lack; the thought of which neatly brings me back to walking to Mass on Sunday mornings in Coventry. Because of my natural instinct to gawk at anything and everything that attracted my attention, instead of concentrating where I was going rather than where I had been, it doesn’t take anyone with a Mensa score of 5 or less to realise that sooner or later there ‘would be tears’,- my tears! The cause? Pain inflicted by ‘my’ colliding with a lamp post. There is no doubt that my parents were exhausted with advising me to look where I was going, and with parental wisdom relied on the old adage ‘no gain without pain’ and so it was. As a constant reminder to me of my lack of concentration, my Father added to my embarrassment by awarding me the soubriquet ‘Lamp post Louis.’
In today’s gospel (Mt 25: 31-46) we are presented with a scenario of God sorting out who is going where for all eternity, the final judgement. Jesus tells us that we will be judged on how we reacted to those who needed help. He is clarifying the two great precepts of the church, namely, love of God and love of neighbour. I don’t think for one moment he will be stressed out because of the distractions of life that may have caused us to walk into lampposts or in later years driven into ditches, it is a matter of caring for those who need our care and attention. When one reflects on the reaction of people to the current pandemic, it’s plain to see how much people do care for each other. We are being presented with a great opportunity to demonstrate our love for all humanity, and it’s wonderful to see that ‘care is all around.’
Just as an afterthought, I have noticed that it is rare to see a lamppost planted by the kerb; bit late for me though!