See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sinner stories.

Today's Gospel is about how Jesus welcomed sinners and ate and drank with them.  [Luke 5: 27-32]  I love this passage, I think of it every time I approach Holy Communion.  Anyway, I thought I would use today's post to write a little story about a sinner.
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Jimmy O'Brien*
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Before they were banned from the tavern, my parents spent a lot of time at the Moose Lodge on Payne Ave. in St. Paul.  One of our neighbors seemed to always be there - a skinny Irish widower named Jimmy - he had two daughters, Debbie and Moira, one was a classmate of mine, the other, Moira, was kind of a slut.  The whole family was skinny and ugly - my mother referred to them disdainfully as 'shanty Irish' - they looked like 'refugees from the potato famine."  My mother was Irish descent and her mother claimed to be 'lace curtain Irish'.  Whatever - I'm not at all fond of American Irish patriots, but that is another story.
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Jimmy was a drunk, I suppose an alcoholic as well - but there is a difference between the two, or so I've been told by drinkers, but I can't remember what the distinction is.  Jim was a ne'er-do-well, barely feeding his girls or making the rent, yet he always was in the bar.  Except Saturdays.  But I'll get back to that.
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According to local bar-talk, when Jimmy would run short of cash, he'd offer his oldest daughter's services to the guys stopping in the bar after work.  Despite the fact she was ugly, being sort of a slut helped her come off somewhat more attractive; lots of make-up and peroxide contributed to a sort of glamorous mystique I guess.  When my mother found out that he was selling Moira she was furious.  She made it her responsibility to be there with my dad every time Jimmy was there.  Accordingly, her spying paid off because one night she actually witnessed Jim offering Moira for sale.  Hard of hearing though she was, (and therefore questionable if she actually heard what she thought she had), my mother went through the roof and berated the poor guy after Moira suddenly left the bar and Jimmy had been served a drink; hurling insults, insisting the bartender  throw the guy out and call the cops.  The bartender let Jimmy stay and threw out my parents instead - it was the last 'walk-to' bar in the neighborhood they had been allowed in - and that night they were banned from there too.
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Shortly after the brouhaha, my parents arrived home fighting amongst themselves over what happened, my mother cursing Jimmy as a hypocrite because he went to confession on Saturdays and faithfully attended  Mass on Sundays - and even received Holy Communion on occasion.  My dad hurled insults at the Catholic Church for permitting him to commit such a sacrilege.  They wanted to turn him into to the Welfare dept. and/or the police, and may have done so.  But I doubt anything actually came of it in those days.
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I always wonder about Jimmy however.  Were the stories true?  Did he struggle with his sins?  Is that why he went to weekly confession?  Was he a molester too - did he abuse his daughters as well?  What did the priest tell him in confession - because he must have confessed all of that stuff?  Yet he assisted at Mass devoutly every Sunday - and on Holy Days - and for certain at Easter and Christmas he would receive Holy Communion.
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My mother on the other hand was a divorced, remarried outside the Church, Catholic.  A rather bitter Catholic, often vindictive and curiously self-righteous over the fact that she would not go to Church unless she was in the state of grace - hence my parents never went to Mass or devotions, even on Christmas.  They did go to church on Sunday nights to play Bingo - bars were closed on Sunday's in those days.  Oh, and they prayed to St. Jude to help them win, so they did pray.  But they never went to Mass - and at least they never put their kids up for sale.  Curious how we can convince ourselves that we are not as bad as someone else. 
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Anyway - I have no lesson here - no moral of the story.  Jim died a happy death as did both my parents - all died with the consolation of the sacraments and had an honorable Catholic burial.  I don't know what happened to Jim's daughters though...
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And I don't know what will happen to me.
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"Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.  I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." - Luke 5: 32
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Art:  "Caritas Romana" - Lorenzo Pasinelli.  Roman Charity is the story (from Valerius Maximus) of a daughter who secretly breastfeeds her father after he is incarcerated and sentenced to death by starvation. She is found out by a jailer, but her act of selflessness impresses officials and wins her father's release.
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*Names have been changed to protect the accused.

13 comments:

  1. +JMJ+

    Terry, you are a master storyteller. This one will stay with me for a long while, maybe forever.

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  2. Here's how I see the difference:
    F. Scott Fitzgerald became an alcoholic, whereas Hemingway became a drunk. Scotty never turned into someone who hates; whether drunk or sober, he humbly loved until the end.
    Hemingway's pride invented a handy means through which to hate, in case he ever softened up and became vulnerable like "poor Scotty."

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  3. Maybe Jimmy never mentioned his daughters in confession at all.

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  4. Carol,
    I could see the graves of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife and daughter from the window of our rectory. He is buried at our church cemetery.

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  5. Maria5:19 PM

    Fr. Gary--you are in Maryland?

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  6. Speaking as a drunk and as an alcoholic - there really isn't any difference.

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  7. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Dear Terry,

    Good story. I remember my sister refering to me as "shanty irish" to a neighbor of hers who relay the comment to my father in law. Boy, did that comment sting. My sister thinks of herself as "lace curtain irish." It took a while to get over the hurt. My irish pride and all.

    Katie
    See you next week. I give up reading blogs for lent. :^)

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  8. Maria, yes in Rockville.

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  9. +JMJ+

    About ten Andrew Greeley novels later, Irish American politics are still a mystery to me!

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  10. Maria5:03 PM

    Fr. Gary--I went on a very drunken date to the gravesites of F Scott and Zelda in my wanton youth--so enamored of them was I in my mispent youth. LOL. All the men in my family went to Georgetown Prep up the street and my sister to Stone Ridge...My wayward ways got me sent away to boarding school...

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  11. I'll take a couple dozen "shanty Irish" over a hundred 'above reproach' people any day.

    God bless the Irish; the San Patricios. God grant I can go to Mexico City to whoop it up at the huge San Patricio Day festivities; Mass, then bright colors, loud music, and lots of Tequila.

    ....And I don't know what will happen to me.....

    Commend yourself to our Mother’s care; say an act of contrition everyday. Nobody goes to Hell by surprise.

    Our Mother will help get you into Heaven.

    The people you mentioned; even if their sins were as scarlet, and they confessed those sins, and asked God's pardon, don't you think God showed them mercy?

    May God our Lord in his infinite and supreme goodness be pleased to give us his abundant grace, that we may know his most holy will, and entirely fulfill it.

    Santa María de Guadalupe Esperanza nuestra, salva nuestra patria y conserva nuestra Fe.

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  12. "Shanty Irish" vs "Lace Curtain Irish"- I haven't heard those terms in a long long time. I don't understand the difference, I grew up in New Mexico and if they were not Hispanic or Indian or Black, they were "Anglos", or as said in the Navajo language "Belagana", and they had all the money and political power. In general I don't celebrate St. Patrick's day, sorry can't relate,not my culture, but do attend Mass on the Solemnity of St. Joseph a Saint for the Universal Church.

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  13. Jesus welcomed sinners, but the command was, "Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more"

    The importance of Christ going to the sinner is brought to light in His telling Zacheus, "I must abide at your house tonight" Scripture records He only said this twice. Once was to the sinner, Zacheus.

    Zacheus repented, and repaid those sins fourfold.

    As for the Irish; I am not one, but I am among them. A good movie to see on the Irish and Mexicans is One Man's Hero. It is available on DVD. It is a good story for Lent, and shows the Faith of two peoples.

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