If I was to go through the contacts on my phone, a sizable proportion are for dead people. But I don’t delete them: I can’t bring myself to do that. In a magical-thinking way, it feels like a tiny memorial, a way of maintaining their ghostly digital echo.
But that’s just one of the odd ways we remember the dead. I sometimes imagine conversations with people I have known; not because I believe I can communicate with them, but more to remember the cadence of their voice, or what they might say about a problem I’m mulling over. My father regularly calls me a dopey b****cks.
Another, more traditional way is the anniversary Mass. Because of Covid we didn’t have one for our parents for the past couple of years, but we reinstituted the tradition with a Mass just last week. And when I say “we”, I mean my sister.
The Catholic mass was – for me at least – not a particularly religious event. It’s more like the church is an echoey time-capsule, a place we all filed into on a weekly basis, looked around to see who was there, chatted to people outside. And of course, my parents, who were both religious, would like that we still go there to remember them. They’d be disappointed if we didn’t.
However, they would be less than approving if they knew this was the first time we’ve brought daughter number four to Mass; or at least, the first time she’s been old enough to ask questions. She had quite a few: why is the priest dressed like an angel? Why are we standing up? Why are we kneeling? What food are they getting at the altar? What does it taste like? No, Daddy, it doesn’t taste like chocolate. She’s quite the cynic.
It’s not that she doesn’t know anything about the Christian story. She goes to a Catholic school and has the gist of it. She knows that Jesus died – but she doesn’t know how – and his friends were sad. But Jesus got powers and came alive again. She’s also fervent in her belief that Jesus invented the Easter egg hunt.
Clearly, we're not alone in sending our child to a Catholic school when we're not really Catholic, and being in Dublin we could have chosen differently
In a couple of years’ time, Communion will be on the agenda, and unless she raises a massive objection we’ll go along with the princess dresses and bouncy castles. Yes, we’re hypocrites. Part of the long tradition of Irish Catholic hypocrisy. We don’t go to Mass, and I ticked “no religion” on the census form.
Clearly, we’re not alone in sending our child to a Catholic school when we’re not really Catholic, and being in Dublin we could have chosen differently. We could have got her into a non-denominational place that we would have selected on that basis alone and that she would have to be driven to. Instead, she attends the excellent national school that is four minutes’ walk from our front door.
We chose what we felt was the best school for her, a school she adores. The religious aspect hardly came into our reckoning.
I don’t really think of this as hypocrisy. I know; as a member of the liberal-left media, I’m supposed to be virulently anti-Catholic. But I’m not. I’m Catholic-indifferent.
Yes, the institution that is the Catholic Church committed its share of grievous sins, but it was religious belief itself – the core of Catholicism or any faith – that I drifted away from as a teenager. I thought it was a bit daft.
But as an adult, I have conversations with dead people and keep their numbers on my phone, just in case. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you.
Anyway, it’s daughter number four they want to imbue with a Catholic ethos, not me. Give it your best shot. She may in time decide she is a Catholic. Or not, which will be her decision. Not mine and not the school’s either.