The Vicar Goes to Lourdes

Guest blogger, The Rev’d Humphrey Blytherington is Vicar of St Hilda’s, Little Snoring with All Saints, Great Snoring. He is a graduate of Plymouth University. He completed his studies for the ministry at Latimer Hall, Durham. He is married to Daphne and enjoys home brewing, model railroading and is an avid member of the Great Snoring Morris Dancers.

I must say, lads, it’s awfully good to be back home. My idea of a holiday is a week in Norfolk with the bell ringers, visiting towers and working up a thirst and p’raps tootling around on a boat for a few days on the Broads. Instead Daphne cooked up this hair brained idea of taking Mrs. Doyle on a jaunt to a place over in France called Lourdes. Not really my cup of tea, but she who must be obeyed said Mrs Doyle had wanted to visit Lourdes her whole life, and never could manage being only an Irish char and all that. Besides, it seems Mrs. Doyle’s arthritis is worse than ever and she was praying to the Blessed Virgin for a cure. Yours truly was drafted in to carry the bags it seems.
So, against my better judgement, Daphne signs me up for the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Good heavens no! Not our diocese! Bishop Bracket wouldn’t encourage that sort of thing at all. Doesn’t mind us joining in with the Romans if it pleases us, but he certainly doesn’t go in for all that Roman Catholic visions of Mary sort of thing. Bishop Bracket’s a good solid, establishment man. He’s a solid Anglo Catholic himself, but he tries to avoid extremes of all sorts, and the good thing about him is that he’s willing to adapt himself to the mind of the church. I knew Jim Bracket when he was in theological college at Broadbent Hall. He was opposed to women being ordained, and wouldn’t have any truck with queer fellas marrying one another, but once he saw which way things were going he was humble enough to change his mind. That’s what we need in a bishop: someone who knows how to be flexible.
Anyway, I’m getting off track. Daphne and Mrs Doyle and I turned up at Gatwick for the flight to Lourdes and knock me down with a feather, but the whole pilgrimage group was made up of folks in wheelchairs, mentally disabled folk and various others on crutches and sickbeds! Turns out they go every year, and the helpers are all these young folk wearing matching T-shirts being ever so cheerful and kind to everyone. Rather touching, I have to admit, but not what I was expecting. I went on an pilgrimage once to Italy with Fr Giles and his group over at St Barnabas and it was very pleasant–a lot of snooping around old churches and dining at good restaurants. Let me tell you, this jaunt to Lourdes was beginning to look a bit like hard work.

Then there was all the palaver about St Bernadette seeing the Blessed Virgin and digging a hole in the ground and water springing up and everyone being healed and so forth. I mean to say, it’s all rather primitive, superstitious peasant sort of stuff isn’t it?All this about visions of Mary–what next? “Ooh look, there’s a picture of the Pope in a cream bun!!” Har Har. Luckily we Anglicans got rid of all that sort of thing at the Reformation. We haven’t got that sort of underclass in Britain now I’m happy to say. Education has cleared all that up. The typical Englishman thinks things through carefully and isn’t one to be taken in by religious kooks and emotional schoolgirls.
But you know me, I’m never one to throw cold water on a project. I got stuck in, rolled up my sleeves and took my turn with the wheelchair of an old fellow named Jan something or other from Poland. Nice enough chap. Not so good with the English, but he knew a little French and I can manage well enough in Franglais, so we got on.
Once we got there, I have to admit, it was all rather disappointing. The place was chock a block with souvenir stands selling the most outrageous collection of clutter. Rosary beads of every sort imaginable mixed in with holy water bottles shaped like the Virgin Mary, postcards and holy cards, pictures of the Pope and all the saints, crucifixes and plastic statues and knick knacks and tacky religious junk. Lots of those snow storms in domes with miniature churches and so forth. All in very bad taste of course, and that’s one of the things I can’t bear about the Romans. All that commercialism–and then there were the hotels and bars and guest houses–all making a pretty penny on the poor sick people who are coming there to pray.
After a few drinks with Jan and the others I happened to comment on this and Mrs Doyle said, “Y’know Vicar, people come here to pray and they have to stay somewhere and eat and drink, so maybe the good folk who run the hotels and restaurants are simply doing them a service and you don’t expect them to do it for free now do you?” At which point Daphne pipes up and says, “Humphrey, don’t be such an unbearable snob. If people want to buy a souvenir of their visit what on earth’s wrong with that, and if they happen to have different taste than you do, so what?” When I remonstrated that I wasn’t being a snob, but merely protesting at the profiteering of the unscrupulous people hawking the souvenirs she said, “Nonsense. You don’t know if they are unscrupulous. They might simply be honest businessmen making a simple living like anyone else, and I expect the prices are very reasonable because there’s so much competition.” Then she called me a “little Englander” and stomped off with Mrs Doyle for some sort of candlelight vigil or something.
Things didn’t get any better I’m afraid. They all rather ganged up on me for the rest of the trip and Fr. Baldwin–one of the fellows who poped over women’s ordination and then was ordained as a Roman even though he has a wife and five children–he kept turning the conversation to the problems in our church and how happy he was as a Catholic and so forth. Not a very pleasant trip at all.
Then to top it all, that fellow Jan bought me a souvenir as a way of saying thank you for pushing his wheelchair. Just what I’m going to do with a plastic statue of St Bernadette praying to the Virgin of the grotto, I have no idea.  Mrs Doyle drank some of the holy water and claims that her arthritis is much better, so I tried to give it to her but she smiled and said, “No, Vicar, I think the Good Lord has other plans for you, and I want you to keep St Bernadette there in your study in the Vicarage. It’ll do you good!”
What’s that Ian? Well I’m in rather a tight spot there aren’t I? I’ve got to keep St Bernadette on the mantlepiece in my study or Mrs.Doyle, who cleans in there will see that it’s gone and I’ll have some serious questions to answer, so yes, there she is and there she stays I suppose.
Now, it’s my round. What do you say we have a quick night cap and then I must be tootling home to Mrs Vicar. One good thing has come of the whole adventure, and that is that Daphne has taken to praying the rosary at night rather than try to discuss the Catholic faith with me.
Ah! there we are. A double whiskey. Just what the doctor ordered. Thank you very much. Bottoms up!
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