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Comedy Stories

Tatterdemalion

“Tatterdemalion. Ragamuffin. Slubberdegullion.”

David’s great-aunt knew a dozen ways to call him slovenly and unkempt, but he paid her little mind. Since the Catholic Mass she dragged him to each day was tedious, he found crawling under the pews much more fun than listening to Latin.

As usual, his great-aunt pulled him up by the collar of his shirt and sat him firmly on the pew. A twinkle in her eyes belied her stern expression.

“Behave,” she whispered.

And he would. For a bit.

She fretted over his crisp white shirt, now sullied by dirt, dust, and wads of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum. His suit pants had caught on an errant nail from the parquet flooring, tearing a hole all the way down to his knee. Chastened, David sat still until his legs decided to kick at the small shelf with the books he couldn’t read affixed to the pew in front of him.

His great-aunt sighed.

When Father Lawrence finally bowed before the altar, David knew the end was near. He couldn’t wait to run to the parish hall where punch and shortbread cookies awaited.

“Ite, missa est!” Go, you are dismissed, Father Lawrence declared, a warm, welcoming smile spreading across his face. David could not help but smile back as the priest continued. “I send you forth to extend God’s call to the whole world.”

David quit fidgeting and fully considered the priest, now walking by him in the closing processional. Father Lawrence’s liturgical vestments were made from vibrant green damask with gold embroidery, embodying the epitome of virtue and goodness. Underneath all of Father Lawrence’s finery was a simple alb, a full-length, long-sleeved, white linen tunic secured about his waist by a cord.

He looked like an angel. 

Father Lawrence tousled David’s hair as he walked by.

 

🜋 🜋 🜋

 

“I want to be a priest,” he told his great-aunt on their walk home.

“You’re too young to know what you want,” she said at the time, but she was wrong. David knew exactly what he wanted.

While the boys his age threw baseballs, basketballs, and footballs, David could be found helping Father Lawrence visit the sick and the elderly. By the end of high school, he had learned the hymnal by heart. While his friends stole each other’s girlfriends and found dark lanes to park their cars, David studied the texts of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. While his peers applied to colleges offering majors in substance abuse and partying, David looked for schools specializing in Theology, Divinity & Religious Studies.

At college, David bypassed $2 Jello-shot nights, choosing instead to volunteer with the campus ministry. While other college students flew to beaches for Spring Break, he found retreats and respite with others seeking God on their own terms.

After his undergraduate program concluded, David needed Father Lawrence’s recommendation to apply to a seminary. Earning his Master of Divinity was the next laborious step in his preparation for the priesthood.

At their appointed time, David sat nervously in Father Lawrences’s office at the parish house. So much was riding on this interview, David thought. Without Father Lawrence’s approval, his childhood dream would vanish like a puff of incense smoke from a censer. He couldn’t imagine serving the rest of his life as simply a lay minister. Although he’d be able to distribute communion, serve Mass, teach religious education, and carry on with the works of charity, he’d had his heart set on being a priest in his own parish.

Father Lawrence entered the room, uncharacteristically solemn, carrying a large paper bag. As he placed the bag by his desk, he took the chair across from David.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Father,” David smiled. The priest did not smile back. Instead, he folded his hands and bowed his head, lips mumbling something in Latin.

David was at a loss.

In time, the old priest’s head lifted.

“David, the decision to enter a seminary to become a priest is not one to be taken lightly. I am going to ask you a series of questions.”

“Yes, Father.”

“Are you of sufficient mental and physical health to undertake this responsibility?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Do you understand the Catholic doctrines as expressed in scripture, tradition, and interpretation?

“Yes, Father.”

“Do you have a love of learning?

“Yes, Father.”

“Are you prepared for a life of prayer, of simplicity, of being in solidarity with the poor, of obedience?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Finally, son,” he cleared his throat. “Are you prepared to live a life of celibacy?”

“Yes, Father.”

The old priest looked at David and saw no guile in him. He reached down, took the large paper bag, and handed it to the young man.

“When it is time, I want you to have these.”

David opened the bag, tears springing to his eyes. Carefully cleaned and folded were the vibrant green damask liturgical vestments, gold embroidery glittering under the tissue paper.

“As you know, green is the standard color worn between Easter and Christmas. It symbolizes hope and life for each new day that God blesses us with. I will heartily recommend you to all the seminaries you wish to apply to, and I would be honored if you wear these vestments of mine on your first day as a priest in the parish that is lucky enough to have you minister.”

 

🜋 🜋 🜋

 

On the last day David was a priest, he carefully packed up his things from the parish house. He could have donated the lot—all the colors of the liturgical calendar—to the younger priests, fresh from the seminary. Purple for Lent and Advent. Rose for Laetare Sunday and Gaudete Sunday. Red for Pentecost. Blue for the Marian Feasts. White and gold for Christmas and Easter. Black for funerals. Green for everything else.

Over the years, he’d amassed lovely chasubles and stoles, elegant copes and humeral veils in silk dupioni, satin, and cotton sateen. It would have been a shame to leave all of those things behind. There was already so much he would miss.

But Christine suggested he bring them home. As usual, he found wisdom in her advice.

He hadn’t meant to fall in love at thirty, especially as a priest counseling a young grieving widow with three young sons. Conflicted by his feelings, he counseled with Father Lawrence. When told of David’s change of heart, the old priest simply roared with laughter, embracing David in an all-forgiving hug. He assured the soon-to-be-ex-priest that God loved him and had great use for his skills in serving His flock.

Christine’s children were a handful to keep reverent on the pew, the youngest of whom loved to wriggle out of her arms and under it.

Smiling, David reached for his youngest stepson, whispering “Tatterdemalion. Ragamuffin. Slubberdegullion.”

“What are those?” the scamp asked, as David sat him down by his side on the pew. Mass was going particularly slowly on this Sunday.

“Those are silly words,” David replied, tousling the boy’s hair. “They mean nothing.”

“So why do the priests wear dresses anyway?”

Suppressing a laugh, David replied, “Those are his vestments, and they are very comfortable. They have to be. Preparing the Lord’s Supper is a lot of work.”

“I want to wear a vestment—just like Father Taylor does,” the little boy decided.

“Well, I can arrange that when we get home. What color would you like?”

“Green,” the boy said emphatically. “It’s my favorite color.”

“Coincidentally,” David smiled, “green is my favorite color, too.”

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