Hilary Fannin: Lay people can be saints? Too bloody right

Taking kids on pilgrimage to see One Direction takes its toll

One Direction fan Shannon Brown outside the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photograph: Pacemaker

One Direction fan Shannon Brown outside the SSE Arena in Belfast. Photograph: Pacemaker

 

Apparently, Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux, “the Little Flower”, have been canonised, the first married couple to be canonised together in the history of the church.

I’m taking this as a positive indication that the church recognises the role of parents and all the hard work and sacrifice that we wrinkled, bone-weary husks make. It’s hard to believe sometimes, when you’re wrestling other people’s underwear into the washing machine, that there was once a time when you sat around the kitchen table into the small hours with doe-eyed, unwrinkled mates, stirring teabags to a mush, crushing cigarette butts into saucers and imagining the tremendously exciting independent life you planned to live.

Not that having children doesn’t bring its own rewards. What could be more satisfying than raising a child to mature and prosper, to become a confident, sensitive member of society, someone capable of offering up their seat to a pregnant lady on the bus, or of nurturing honeybees or discovering an environmentally friendly way of turning plastic milk bottles into gin?

 

Lay people

“Saints are not only priests and nuns, but also lay people,” said somebody or other in a purple hat during the recent Synod of Bishops on the family, at which the decision to canonise Mr and Mrs Little Flower was made.

Too bloody right. The other night, trapped behind my rain-speckled windshield, I observed legions of soaked parents, each one of whom should have been canonised, ushering swarms of giggly, weepy, shell-shocked, shivery, hormone-flooded tweenies along Dublin’s sodden quays. I found myself in a horrendous traffic jam, penned in tight among hundreds of cars, multiplying rickshaws and hordes of belching minibuses. I was bamboozled. It was a Sunday night; I was only trying to get home for a Horlicks.

I thought there had been an apocalypse. I thought there had been a volcanic eruption of tempestuous teens with poker-straight hair and goose-pimpled knees and several layers of eyelashes somewhere just beyond my sight.

Oblivious to the black rain, kids were stumbling in front of the impatient, whinnying traffic, being pulled back on to pavements by tired-looking mothers, many of whom were clutching luminous merchandising along with their laddered sanity. The teen/tweens were walking like children who had seen a vision, children who had witnessed something strange and miraculous.

“What in the name of God is going on?” I asked my companion, who was headbutting the glove compartment in frustration at our lack of progress. That was when we saw, among the staggering multitudes, some kid waving a laminated, almost life-sized picture of Niall Horan over her perpendicular locks, and I realised that the congregation had just been disgorged from a One Direction concert at 3 Arena.

“Oh right,” said my passenger, nursing his bruised cranium. “They’ve just come from a Westlife concert.”It’s not easy being antediluvian in a flood.

At least Dublin’s One Direction devotees got to see a show. I read somewhere that one woman spent 500 smackers taking her young daughter to Belfast the night the band were forced to cancel the gig a couple of minutes before kick-off, as one of them had cut himself shaving. (All right, that’s not true: he was actually “under the care of a doctor”, which, as we all know, can be pretty serious.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Louis and Zélie are saints now, which is nice. I wish there had been a St Zélie when I was making my Confirmation; that would have put the cat among the Brigid and Mary pigeons. Louis and Zélie had nine children, four of whom died in infancy, while the remaining five grew up and entered religious life.

Interestingly, if you believe what you read on the back of the sanctifying grace packets, Louis and Zélie lived in celibacy for a year before they consummated their marriage. I could see that catching on – a kind of pre-nup prequel.

I take my three-cornered hat off to them, Zél ’n’ Lou. Can you imagine five kids with a vocation, all that teen spirit whipping around the house, all that passion and devotion, all that weeping and wailing and clinging to the pontiff’s feet? All that heart-rending longing to be lifted up by something glorious and monumental and godly? All that unrequited love? All that yearning?

Ask Harry Styles about it (unless he’s been laid up with a bout of pins and needles): some things never change.

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