I read an article today which dragged up many almost forgotten religious memories from my childhood and early adulthood as, being raised in N. Ireland, I had a fairly strict Catholic upbringing.
One can create quite a long list of 'hard to fathom' rules, regulations and beliefs from any religion, but Catholicism must be up there with one of the longest.
From confession to communion, I'd be here all day if I went through all of the ones on my personal list - but holy water has always been one of my favourites.
I must say I'd never considered the use of holy water as being potentially dangerous to your health before. Then again I guess I never thought of anyone taking it internally either. No, I'd enough on just getting my head around the idea that it was holy at all and who or what had bestowed this holiness upon it ? I mean couldn't a sweeping worldwide blessing be made so that all water is holy ? I may be missing the point here I guess and certainly missing a commercial opportunity.
Now it's not my intention to belittle or ridicule the beliefs of anyone, but it's always been MY way to look at things with a cynical eye and most religious beliefs have always been a struggle for me - the struggle to have faith in those things that you cannot prove exist.
I remember in my mid teens, we all set off for a family trip to Knock in Southern Ireland. Now THERE is a place which stretches faith to it's limits. Like the more famous sites of Lourdes and Fatima and others, Knock is a Marion shrine which gets almost 2 million visitors every year. I've no problem with that as such as even I can get special vibes and feelings of serenity when in certain locations. No, not the pub, you philistines.
But Knock is like a religious Disney site with everyone wanting a cut of the action. When a Papal visit was on the cards in 1979, an international airport was built to cater for the increase in visitors this would bring about. So what ? Well glance at the palm of your right hand (which roughly resembles a map of Ireland) and focus on the knuckle of your pinkie finger. That's where Knock is and given the remoteness of the area, could be the reason for the birth of the expression 'middle of nowhere'.
So this airport was built and was capable of dealing with the largest commercial plane of the day......the Boeing 747 or Jumbo Jet. Once the Pope had left and the fuss and excitement died down, this airport, built at a cost of many millions of punts (pre Euro days) dealt mostly with light aircraft and the odd small jet and was seen by everyone as the biggest 'white elephant' in Europe. A Jumbo landing on a white elephant.........gotta love our language !!
But then something amazing happened - well maybe not so amazing to anyone who knows what certain people will do to make a pilgrimage to a religious site. In a sort of 'build it and they will come' scenario worthy of Kevin Costner, people started to flock in increasing numbers to Knock and soon the sheep were moved off the runway as the big planes flew in. The airport now deals with 250,000 passengers a year and has direct flights to New York and, naturally, Boston.
Never disregard the power and commercial implications of faith.
But back to our family trip - a trip taken long before the airport was built and when the runway was still just a field of dreams. Literally.
At that time the commercial interests weren't so 'in your face' and you actually had to seek out the sellers of rosary beads, scapulas, glow-in-the-dark statues and crucifixes. Ahhhhh innocent times indeed.
What has always stuck in my mind though, is when my mother wanted to fill up her numerous plastic bottles with holy water to keep our house well supplied for decades to come. As a slight aside, I wonder how many thousands of little bottles of holy water were taken from pilgrims flying out of Knock airport last year when the restrictions on liquids in your carry on luggage came into force ??? I bet that caused some interesting conversations with the security staff !!
"But it's HOLY water I tell you"
"Well I've only your word for that, sir"
"Look, it says Product Of Knock on the label"
"So, big deal, you still can't take it onboard. Why not just drink it ?"
"Are you mad !! I said it was Holy, not Hygenic"
So we glanced at our "Guide to Knock" map and set off to find some holy water. If memory serves me right, and increasingly these days it doesn't, we followed the map and came to a low wall with a simple tap set into it. A sign above the tap said "Holy Water" and there was a short line of people ahead of us waiting to fill up their containers.
It was a singular moment of supreme faith that my mother said nothing at all and calmly joined the line and filled up her bottles when the time came. Me ? Well the whole situation had set my inquisitive mind working overtime. I mean I'd seen small pools of water blessed and so 'made' holy from time to time but to see a constant supply from a tap classed as holy........well it blew me away. Was the tap blessed so that any water it delivered would be holy by default ? Had the water tank serving the tap been blessed ? If so, what about new water to replace it....was it blessed every Wednesday morning or something just to be on the safe side ?
I just remember making the suggestion that if our local parish priest came round to our house and blessed the tap in our kitchen, then we'd never have to visit Knock again AND it had to increase the value of our property !!
I had to live with the guilt of THAT suggestion for a loooooong time.