Let me tell you a story.
When my son was thirteen, he developed a keen interest in cathedrals, especially Notre Dame in France. I was a single parent at the time, and not over flush and so we schlepped our way to Paris on a coach taking eighteen hours to get there. We joined the coach at a local service station and by the time we had taken three hours to pick up fellow explorers at several watering holes along the way, we were still only ten miles from home.
I told him that we could build cathedrals like that here and arranged another trip to an English town showing off an equally impressive structure. The guidebook told us that it was renowned for its fan vaulting and we looked forward to a grand day out.
He was wearing his baseball cap with the name of his home team emblazoned across the peak and as a season ticket holder since he was eight, I thought he had the right. However, as we entered the church, before I had time to think, an officious looking bloke with a shiny lanyard swinging around his neck whipped it roughly off my son’s head and barked loudly at him, ‘Don’t you know better than to come in here wearing that!’ I wanted to retort that as his late father had been a priest, he certainly did, but that would have been snidey. I took the cap back and said as evenly as I could, ‘I think he knows how to behave in church thank-you.’ And we moved on whilst I busied myself by mentally wrapping the little Furher around the nearest pillar. We had a cursory look round and left. The shine had gone.
Not long afterwards my gentle and gracious son came to me and said he didn’t really think church was for him now. Like the trombone which he jettisoned when he was ten, it didn’t do it for him anymore. I don’t know if the experience of the cap rustler had any bearing on this decision, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Because what was the message he heard? God didn’t want young lads in caps. Okay, it is traditional for men to remove their hats in church, but I don’t think God would have minded if my son forgot. God would have said something like, ‘This is my house and I’m so glad you’ve come to see it. (Don’t miss the fan vaulting). You’re welcome.’
Even Judas, the really really bad guy was there at the first communion for goodness sake. I think God would be sitting on his throne in heaven, weeping with his head in his hands at the nonsense spouted by this ecclesiastical bureaucrat aiming to preserve the sanctity of his holy place. Or, come to think of it, maybe God was in the cathedral, right there, down and dirty wanting to hold my son’s hand and say, ‘Okay I know you’re not so little now, but you are still a child and you are precious in the kingdom of heaven. Fill your boots. And wear your cap even if they did lose three nil last week.’
Now I’ve said this before but you can’t say it too many times - Francis stood for love and inclusivity. He was so inclusive that every atom of creation was welcome to him. That takes some doing. Think spiders, worms and those big ugly crayfish crawling out of the local river making their way across the field right in front of your picnic.
That’s what I like about Franciscans. All are welcome. Day 28 of our principles talks about mixing freely with all people and following the Son of Man who blessed little children. Of course Francis would never have confiscated my son’s cap, although being Francis, he would have loved the snatcher.
I’m still feeling my way with all this – still tip-toeing through the tulips of these mind-boggling ideas that God loves all without censure or requirement or conditions. It takes some getting your head around when faith has been predicated on making sure you do the right things at the right time and don’t wear a baseball cap in church. It’s all new.
But I am happy here.
I feel deep deep down where the sun doesn’t shine that I am in the right place.