Freddy Gray Notebook
, What do you think when you see a young family at Mass? Do you marvel at the incarnation of divine love? Or do you say to yourself: “Bet they’re only here to get their kids into the parish school?” If you’re like me, the answer is a bit of one and, depending on mood, much more of the other. Trouble is, now I’m married and my wife and I have a child. The invisible (perhaps imaginary) finger of suspicion points at us. Now we look like the pushy pair who will do anything, even if it means practising Catholicism, to give our boy a shot at a decent education. Sometimes I feel an urge to approach the fellow congregants and whisper: “I used to come here before he was born, you know.” That’s the problem with Catholic schools being so good: it leads to cynicism and paranoia. At my church each Sunday, hundreds of couples herd their infants into the Family Mass. It’s no coincidence that the local Catholic school is known to be one of the country’s best free primaries.
This sort of convenience Catholicism delights secularists, who are comforted by the thought that practising Catholics are motivated by something other than faith. But that doesn’t mean Catholics should denounce their co-religionists as hypocrites – even if they are faking it. It is better that people go to Mass than not go. Moreover, in trying to appear to be Catholics in good standing, many parents actually become good Catholics. Eager young mothers and fathers, desperate to impress the parish priest further, start doing good deeds and end up as fervent and dutiful as any life-long worshipper.
The troubling question for loyal Catholics is whether the fakers present themselves for Holy Communion without having been to Confession. But that is really only a matter which priests and catechists can guard against and they absolutely should. But the broader Church should welcome these happy, childbearing hypocrites back to Mass. To do otherwise suggests a lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit. Still, my paranoia persists. The other day, a heavily pregnant colleague, a lapsed Catholic who lives near us, admitted that she had started attending our church just so she could get her baby into the school. I found her honesty irritating. But my annoyance was not to do with her practising the faith under false pretences. It was that she, a non-believer, was now threatening to butt in ahead of me in the admissions queue. The correct reaction would have been one of joy, not least that another child – a girl, by the way, now born – would be introduced to the One True Church. Never mind the reason.
On the subject of parents, was it right for David Cameron to launch a father’s day attack on AWOL dads? “It’s high time runaway dads were stigmatised,” said the PM, “and the full force of shame was heaped upon them. They should be looked at like drink drivers, people who are beyond the pale.” Such sentiments play well with tabloids, singlemothers – who do a heroic job against the odds, Dave reminds us – and the Mumsnet crew. But is it the Prime Minister’s place to tell us whom we should, as a society, abhor?
I’m not sure it is. Cameron is by all accounts a good father, even though he is terribly busy. But that doesn’t mean he is entitled to heap shame on those men who fail to meet his standards. Moreover, isn’t it pathetic that today the highest form of reproach is to compare somebody to a drink driver? Don’t drink drivers love their children, too?
Freddy Gray is assistant editor of the Spectator