Trying the patience of a nun
Brought up a Catholic, I've been watching the papal jamboree with some interest. Best of all, it's revived in me memories of a nun who had the unfortunate task of playing a role in my education.
Sister Brenda was dispatched to prepare me for my first Holy Communion. Every week for a couple of months, she'd be released from her convent and come waddling up our path to impart religious education to a seven-year-old whose sole goal in life at the time was to play centre forward for Liverpool and England.
Alas for Sister Brenda – a woman of around 70 with a mild manner, a quiet Irish lilt and no obvious sign of any interest in football – classes were also attended by my slightly older friend John. Like me, his piety left something to be desired.
"When you're watching a film and one of the characters says, 'Oh pooh!' is that naughty?" inquired John during a thoughtful theological discussion about the nature of sin.
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Sister Brenda told him that it was.
Two giggling boys with the spiritual profundity of David Brent and the attention span of goldfish would have tried the patience of a saint. Or a nun.
Things got out of hand one afternoon when we held a kneeling practice session. Sister Brenda, joints creaking like a rusty greenhouse door, illustrated how to properly kneel upon entering church, before asking us to follow her example.
Cue lots of deliberate toppling over, shouting and waving of arms as John and I somehow failed to keep our balance as we bent our knees.
Whenever things got a bit rowdy, Sister Brenda had a get-out phrase.
"Why don't you two boys have your orange juice and a biscuit?" she'd say, nodding towards the tray my mum always provided, presumably to defuse such situations.
In my more thoughtful moments, I wonder what Sister Brenda made of John and me as she made her way back up the garden path to the convent. "Little imps," probably.
Still, those lessons must have had some impact. After my first Communion, I took it upon myself to take my rosary beads into school and deliver a talk to my classmates on Roman Catholicism. Sister Mary had made an evangelist out of me at seven.
That's some result, although such activity would probably breach some European Union directive these days.
Tabitha is now approaching the age I was when I took my Communion training, and I suspect my mum would like her to undergo the same prep that I did. But to all the nuns reading this, relax – Tabitha has no friends called John and can genuflect perfectly.