Christ's Blood, The Eucharist and Holy
I read in the Times last month an article that cut close to home and felt pertinent at this festive time
of year. It was about Irish priests imbuing Holy Wine at communion during the course of their work, then driving a motor vehicle out onto the highway and the consequences of such behaviour. As a priest myself, I undertake Communion with God for my parishioners as a matter of course, and am unashamed to testify that I have been guilty of sipping the Holy Wine on more than one occasion, unaware that I might be near the legal limit through my devotionals. It wasn’t until last week that the consequences of these innocent actions hit home. Everyone knows some Traffic Police take advantage of the available overtime and our nation’s seemingly lemming-like will for the demon drink over the festive season, but I am a man of God, and above such tendencies. Or so I thought, until I was stopped and breathalysed after evensong by the boys in blue.
I had just left the vestry of a friend, having indulged in a couple of small ports, and I was on my way home and failed to notice the trailing Police car. Having been pulled over to the kerbside, I innocently awaited my fate at the hands of two zealous young men with a strange understanding of what constitutes personal space. I duly got out of my car and went to their patrol vehicle thinking; “walk in a straight line, maybe they’ll leave it there and send me on my way”. I was wrong. At first I thought I had been pulled over by one of the Village People. To say he was in my face was an understatement, but the intention was to smell the alcohol on me rather than any amorous advances. After a brief debate regarding the acceleration capabilities of a Ford Ka (somewhat less than an Saturn V rocket in achieving escape velocity at 0 to 30 MPH), he asked if I’d been drinking. For my sins, I answered yes. How could I escape? PC Sniffer Dog could smell the port on me.
“Would you step into the car sir?” He asked, while his colleague gave my Wernher von Braun rocket the once over. I got in the back of their vehicle like a naughty child, awaiting a nervous smack for some minor indiscretion, the gravity of the situation hitting home. There I was, uncomfortably sandwiched between two burly coppers on the back seat, like some scene from a weird porno flick, worried about being buggered, then imprisoned. My prospects looked dire, to say the least.
Next came a brief explanation of my possible futures. Green and you’re free, amber results in an on-the-spot caution, while red goes directly to jail. My thoughts turned to terracotta tiles once again, recalling my recent brush with the law following unfounded accusations of harassment, levied by someone who shall remain nameless for legal reasons.
As I sank deeper into the Volvo’s back seat, my heart and soul sank with me. In true porno style, I was
then told to “put it in my mouth and blow hard” but my sense of humour absconded, and all I was left with
was the pungent stink of stale fags and the dreaded booze I had tried to hide from these inquisitors. I did
as I was told, blew as hard as I could, knowing I was nicked. Those terracotta tiles were waiting,
alongside a cold hard bench in the local cells. My room awaits I thought, I might as well accept the
inevitable and go quietly.
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to get pulled in on a drink driving charge, you’ll know it’s like drowning very, very slowly. One’s life does indeed flash before one’s eyes, along with one’s future of bus travel, public ridicule, and an astronomical hike in car insurance. You can’t even hear the standard Police pep talk about how you could have swerved off the road, mowing down innocent women and babies like Pol Pot on acid. Instead selfish self-survival kicks in, maintaining you are not Peter Sutcliffe behind the wheel, all those adverts of teenagers crushing future dates falling on deaf ears. You only see that little green light, your dread confirmed as it flashes red. This process takes up to 46 seconds from exhale to ‘in jail’, the longest 46 seconds of your soon-to-be-behind-bars-with-the-rapists-and-child-molesters life.
So there I was, acting out my own personal nightmare, mentally counting the seconds and the number of measures of port I’d drunk, not to mention how much the experience would cost my career and independence. From now on I’d have to walk to Asda, cab it to bars and restaurants, my social life in ruins. At 30 seconds the light was still green. The three of us sat there, huddled together in expectant silence, uncomfortable roommates, me a dead man walking. At 35 seconds I could almost smell the alcohol oozing from my pores. They had me by the balls, I was damned. At 40 seconds all I could think of was Christmas behind bars, my mental calculations going past the safe zone and towards a custodial sentence. At 45 seconds I started to feel truly and unbelievably pissed, the booze and my anxiety winning. Finally a sense of serenity came over me as I accepted my fate, looking inward to my faith for support and succour.
“Ok, you’ve passed.” Burly copper number one finally admitted, and like that scene from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ I wondered if he'd really said it or whether I’d imagined the words. “Fuck me, I don’t fucking believe it!” was all I could muster, neither officer impressed by my obvious enthusiasm. Burly copper two raised an eyebrow, advising me to leave my car where it was and walk home, the suggestion being that he would nick me again the same evening if I was caught driving. There we were, old chums sharing an unspoken joke, me obviously over the limit, yet the booze hadn’t kicked in enough for their flashing device to nick me. I walked away with an ever so slightly drunken spring in my step, but the considerate advice of my burly bumchums, “you won’t be so lucky next time”, rang in my ears, and it still does.
As we approach another festive season, think long and hard about how much you drink if you intend
to drive. Getting cabs for a few days isn't a bad option, and it beats having to pay for taxis during a
ban. As they say; “don’t drink and drive” and “you know it makes sense.” Wise words indeed, ringing
especially true every time I see my new Volvo pals, parked nearby on a regular basis, watching me
vigilantly and waiting.
The subject of this sermon may seem far removed from the everyday machinations of contemporary ecumenical life, but in our approach to the annual festival of commercial excess we blasphemously call ‘Christmas’, and before we smite our neighbours in the Sudan for their zealous religious outrage, perhaps we should review the history of blasphemy in our ever-so-tolerant Western world. Because how many of us have innocently uttered a seemingly minor blasphemy while waiting for Tesco to open another
till, or cussed our Lord and His responsibility for the Virgin Trains timetable?
"Judge not, lest ye be judged" succinctly removes any authority us mere mortals could claim for a good old fashioned stoning, but these words fail to resonate if directed by the media, passing judgement without any higher court. If we are going to “cast a stone” at the intolerance of others, perhaps we should look closer to home, and see if our Christian counterparts are justly without sin themselves. Those of you old enough to remember may recall Jesus Christ Superstar, and agree that Webber and Rice deserve a damn good stoning on taste grounds, but was it blasphemous?
Then there was Father Nicholas (the Pope’s handler in animated sitcom Popetown), removed from the TV
schedules by the BBC for fear he would offend Roman Catholics. It seemed okay to laugh with Father Ted, but
heaven help those who laughed at him. Indeed, as we start the twenty-first century, art itself, once a vehicle for
God’s vision of the world, has been biting the hand that feeds it for more than a thousand years. Cosimo
Cavallaro’s ‘My Sweet Lord’, a rendering of the crucifixion in chocolate. was removed from a New York art gallery
after ‘pressure’ from the Catholic League, upset by this exposure of the chocolatey genitals that belonged to our
dying Christian saviour. It seems one can buy a chocolate penis from Ann Summers to impart into a loved one
this Christmas, but any perverse contemplation of Our Lord’s meat and two veg, be it chocolate or marzipan,
incites more than just the taste buds. On the subject of genitalia, there was also Detective Constable Dan Cocks,
instigating the removal of a Royal Academy-lauded fruity Buddha sculpture by Norfolk’s ‘Hate Crimes Unit’ on the
grounds of taste.
Then we have ‘The Life of Brian’, ‘Jerry Springer - The Opera’, even those bastions of Central Saint Martin’s bad taste, Gilbert the cunt and George the shit with ‘Sonofagod’, found themselves at the blunt end of a flying rock. Yet these seem like minor infringements compared to the Satanic Rushdie’s Satanic scribbling, which earned him the adoration of certain Middle Eastern gentlemen and their followers or more recently, the furore unleashed over some minor Danish cartoons.
Religions of the world tend to preach tolerance towards man, unless you happen to be a gay vicar from Durham, an Ann Summers chocolate cock-wielding lesbian cleric from Philadelphia, or a primary school teacher caught up in a debacle over naming a child’s toy after ‘the Mahdi’. But it's not so much religion that proposes divine vengeance as man, the level of vengeance endlessly tweaked by the media and associated interested parties. In a time when ecumenical tolerance is decreed by man’s law rather than God’s, it is fast becoming apparent that we are in danger of retribution for any minor blasphemous infringement. So next time a gormless teenager attired in Ratner's tomfoolery fails to open his checkout, or Dick Branson’s chuff-chuff doesn’t materialise on time, take care what you say and whose name you take in vain.