by Father Mark Goldasich
This past Saturday, I looked just like a Christmas tree: green vestments, red face.
It happened toward the end of Mass while I was handing out children’s bulletins to our three- to five-year-olds. One little girl — Lilly Bea — happily trotted up, grabbed hers and enthusiastically thanked me. In previous weeks, she’d given me a small square of paper, a little artwork that she’d done during Mass, to hang on my refrigerator. This week, however, as she came forward, it looked like she had a note with writing on it instead.
When she didn’t hand it to me but simply returned to her seat, I asked her grandparents, “Was that a note for me?” Since I had just made some announcements, I thought that maybe I’d forgotten one — her grandpa is very active in the Knights of Columbus — and this note might be a reminder of something critical and timely.
“Uh, yeah,” her grandma said hesitantly, as Lilly Bea happily returned to me in the aisle. I quickly peeked at what she handed me and did what I usually do when I’m embarrassed: turned beet-red. It wasn’t an announcement for the whole parish at all; it was a note to me from Lilly Bea’s mom. With a nervous laugh, I mumbled something unintelligible about this being a “personal note,” hurriedly returned to the altar and finished the Mass.
Only afterwards did I find out that Lilly Bea’s grandparents intended for her to give me that slip of paper after Mass, but the little girl was so excited, she couldn’t wait.
I’m sure that the congregation — and now, you readers — are curious as to what the note said . . . and why I turned so red. Apparently, Lilly Bea was talking to her dad a few days earlier about the “daddy/daughter dance” at her wedding. Her song of choice for that memorable event? Vanilla Ice‘s “Ice Ice Baby.” And here’s the kicker: She said, “Father Mark will sing it.” Her mother’s note ended with: “You should start practicing.” (Thank goodness, she’s only three; that should give me plenty of time to learn the words and moves!)
This incident put me in a perfect mood to celebrate a special day this coming Monday, Feb. 14. I know that you know what I’m talking about. That’s right, it’s the birthday of Benjamin Kubelsky! Uh, if that name doesn’t ring a bell, maybe you know him better as comedian Jack Benny.
Known for his incorrigible miser character, one of his classic routines had him confronted by a thug who demands, “Your money or your life!” When Benny doesn’t respond for a moment or two, the thug says again, “Look, pal! I said your money or your life!” To this, Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over!”
Benny also famously claimed to be 39 years old . . . year after year after year. Through his radio and TV shows, he got us to laugh at things that seem to preoccupy us excessively, especially in this country: age and money. How fitting that he was born in February, a month whose name derives from a Latin root, meaning “to purify.”
This month, especially with all of the snow and cold we’ve been battling, can be a depressing time. Although the shortest month, it often seems longer, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the fact that daylight and sunlight are in short supply, or perhaps the isolation we experience in being practically trapped in our homes adds to our gloominess. Whatever brings us down, injecting a little humor into our lives can be an ideal way to “purify” our morose mood.
To get the ball rolling, here are a few of Jack Benny’s gems:
• Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
• Hors d’oeuvre: a ham sandwich cut into 40 pieces.
• I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.
• (about Abe Lincoln) Any man who would walk five miles through the snow, barefoot, just to return a library book so he could save three cents — that’s my kind of guy.
And, in a nod to that “other” event that we celebrate on Feb. 14, he said: “My wife Mary and I have been married for 47 years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never.”
Sometimes I think that we Christians forget that we’re to be messengers of the good news. We’re often way too serious about some things or we give into worry and pessimism. An easy way to purify these attitudes is by peppering each day with plenty of joy and laughter. Maybe we can start right at Mass this weekend: During the sign of peace, simply greet those around you with genuine warmth and hospitality . . . and watch the chill of winter melt away.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a certain song I need to practice. I’m sure my neighbors will be amused.