Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

Mass Tourism – Kensington

Posted by universalis on 31 July 2006

This is cheating, in a way, since the Carmelite Church in Kensington Church Street is my parish church. My excuse is that it isn’t the parish church of most of my readers; and that it exemplifies yet another aspect of the theme of the Sign of Peace.

I was in the church one Sunday as Mass was just beginning, and I happened to be praying hard for someone I’d met once or twice there before. I hadn’t seen him for some time and so it was one of those rather complicated for-him-or-the-repose-of-his-soul prayers. Then I looked up and saw, walking up the aisle, a little stiffly, but walking all the way to his usual place in the front, the man himself.

I went up to the front row to keep him company. It was only when I got there that I became aware of the details of his appearance: long grizzled stubble, purple hair, and a short black pleated skirt over black tights.

This is a very good test of a congregation!

They passed the test brilliantly. No-one stared, and at the Sign of Peace they all shook his hand in the usual way (even the woman behind us who was wearing her Hermès scarf with the label showing: I still regret not telling her). He received Communion and was driven home again by his nephew. It was the last time that I saw him.

He used to worry that Our Lady would be angry with him if he forgot to bring her statue whenever he went into hospital but I’m sure she didn’t really mind. He wasted his life and he died mad. Pray for him.

10 Responses to “Mass Tourism – Kensington”

  1. Ritagail said

    Hi! I’m glad I snooped on your blog.

    About being “different”:

    I have, best guess, a bit of either Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, combined with a bit higher iq (not majorly) than some folks and an overactive imagination/creativity/sensitivity. All that means that group functions, including Mass, are difficult for me. I don’t go to hardly any group stuff other than Mass, and, at Mass, I usually sit alone and sketch, take a few notes. (Hubby and I go to separate Masses.)

    I DESPISE the Sign of Peace.

    Well, not as much as I used to. A friend helped me realize it is hard for me to shake hands simply because my fingertips are very sensitive, so, I curl my fingers inward and kind of put the back of my hand into the palm of the other person. This has made a few parishioners angry, some confused, but, I’ve noted several don’t even notice…because they are as quick to get the darned handshake over as I am!

    Also, I realized all the movement back and forth was causing me to have visual overload. I take my earplugs…don’t have the courage to wear big old dark sunglasses….thought of a big old mantilla, but, don’t like wearing one without a skirt, and I have to either walk or ride bike which isn’t good for skirt wearing.

    Some people get mad about my drawing, but, most enjoy it (over my shoulder or peeking at a distance). I’ll never forget the one lady who told me that it made her think about Mass in a different way.

    When I’m not drawing, I sometimes catch myself rocking, pulling my braid, etc. When I do that, I try to put the energy into some light unobtrusive tapping on myself.

    One day, I was so fed up with The Humans (I do our parish weekly bulletin and a few other things, and that would drive even a “normal” person nuts sometimes)…anyway, I was so disgusted that I sat in our Chapel for Mass….it’s the closest thing we have to a “cry” room. Somebody suggested it. Oh it was Glorious! Felt almost like an anchoress. I didn’t let myself do it again, for fear of it becoming too addictive and me not at least attempting to be part of the community. But, I think I will let myself do it on very rare occasions when I just can’t take parish nonsense anymore!

    Thanks for the blog!

    Hugz (to you…..give me warning if you wanna hug me, please…better than a goofy handshake),


  2. mots137 said

    i’m glad Your parrish gave this man a sign of Peace. He certainly needed one; and they certainly needed to give it. Your prayers will be important to him.
    The Love of God that invited You to pray for him is evident. Thank You for participating in God’s Love.
    A faraway friend;
    From Alaska,

  3. student said

    Don’t be too sure that the life of a person was wasted – however mentally disturbed or out of touch they may have been. For instance I doubt if Our Lady found this man’s devotion to her a waste, even though it manifested itself in a manner most of us would consider pretty unsatisfactory . . .
    Absolutely everyone should find a welcome in their parish and their parish church, and it’s heartening to read of this example of God’s love acting in that place.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Pam Murray said

    It was so lovely to read this. I used to attend Kensington Carmelite Church when I lived in London. I now live in Cornwall but as I am a Secular Order Carmelite I still have regular contact with the Prior of Kensington, Fr. Matt Blake, and I am sure he would love to hear your comments about a quite ‘unique’ parish. God bless you.


  5. Pete Owen said

    I’ve spent most of my working life with people who get described as ‘suffering from severe and enduring mental health problems’. A few things occur to me regarding your post: Christ’s own family thought he had lost his mind (Mark 3 21) – so being thought to be crazy by other people doesn’t mean that you aren’t amoung the blessed. Christ’s life *looked* like a waste and a failure too – but we believe that these appearances are (to put it rather mildly) deceptive. I think it’s a tricky thing to say of someone’s life (implicitly) they have not used it well, since ‘using it well’ can only really mean something like, hearing and responding to the personal call that Christ makes of you to share in the love that the Father has for the Son – but this isn’t, I think, a ‘business’ whose results are very easily discerned by the eye of the observer. Hearing the Word of the Lord and acting on it must take different forms in different lives – and in some way all of those lives, if they are really given over to the ‘mad’ generosity of God’s grace, may well *look* pretty strange to sensible public opinion…

  6. kentuckyliz said

    God bless the Holy Fools who shame us into realizing our shallowness–concerned with designers and tags and appropriate dress, which was so much a part of Jesus’ teaching! Oops, guess I missed that in the gospels. Consider the lilies of the field!

    Suffering is not a waste. There’s converted sinners and former residents of purgatory who are very grateful to this man.

  7. Thanks so much for this wonderful discussion thread.
    FIRST: Ritagail: Do hang in there. I think your words are making a number of people a little braver now. And have you had a look at the Elaine Aron book The Highly Sensitive Person? Aron is a PhD-holding psychologist. She argues persuasively that some people have a rather troubling gift of heightened sensitivity to noises, bright lights, internal stirrings of the imagination, and similar stimulations. She argues that the presence of this gift in some individuals is in fact an advantage to our human community as a whole. Her argument involves, among other things, a citation of research into other primates. Take, she says, a band of monkeys. In that band, there will be one individual, or a few individuals, with a heightened sensitivity – as one might also put it, with a special kind of nervousness – and that sensitivity makes the band a little less vulnerable to attacks from predators. So rejoice in your gift, and study it, even as you recognize its troubling aspects.
    SECOND: About the man in the skirt: This is an important story. God sometimes leads people into strange caverns of the sexual imagination, and the people afflicted are sometimes lost and baffled. I am a man, and I don’t wear a skirt, but I do all the same have a most troubling problem, a little analogous to the problem of the man in the story. [Summary from the blogmaster: regular distressing trouble followed by Sacrament of Penance, but then the trouble starts again.] The situation is made harder by the paucity of pastoral support in the ever-so-blandly-respectable Church here in Toronto, as I argue in a rather comical way in ‘Total Catholic Woof’ at http://www.metascientia.com. The story of the man in the skirt gives one some courage to carry on, and I herewith both pray for the repose of his soul and request his intercession.
    Sincerely, welcoming private correspondence
    both on Ritagail’s story
    and on the story of the cross-dressing man,
    should anyone choose to correspond,
    Toomas (Tom) Karmo

  8. HELEN said

    people have dressed differently through the years, who is to say what is right or wrong.
    In olden days a dress would have been referred to as one’s robes, and worn by men or women.

    as recently as the early 20th century pink was considered a boys colour, now a lot of shops sell pink garments for men.

    people get the idea of what is fitting to a particular gender from what they are taught.

    men isome eastern coutries wear a sirong- is that the correct spelling,
    it is basically a skirt. a scots man will wear a kilt with pride on special occassions. Are all these people mad then?

    What is normal? what is mad? does anyone really know

  9. John said

    Dressing is only a matter of convention. In France there is a new fashion for men – not only gays – to wear skirts, tights or stockings and women underwear. In the beginnig of the 20th century it was shameful for a lady of the good society to wear trousers, nowadays I see more women wearing trousers that skirts even at Church for Eucharist. So don’t blame or judge this poor man but pray for him. Who are you to say that his life was waste ? Only God can say that a life is waste or not. Don’t judge anybody behaviour if you don’t want to be judged yourself.

  10. It is good to see that this discussion thread is still available on the Web and that a writer named John made a contribution as recently as 5 May 2008.

    The story of the man in the skirt, which is at the centre of the discussion, is hard to get out of one’s head. The story shows something about spontaneity and humour in God’s love for creation, reminding me of a dream I had on a Saturday night about twenty-five years ago, a few months after I was received into the Church. In this dream, I met the Holy Spirit (nothing at all to see, but one knew Who it was) and the Holy Spirit was very comical. I said, “Oh NO, are YOU the Holy Spirit, oh NO?” and the reply, sort of along the veins of Charlie Chaplin or Jack Benny, was “Oh YES…” Being new to Catholic life, I was not thinking with adequate care about the progression of the liturgical year, and was surprised, upon rolling into Mass the following morning, to find that the day was Pentecost.

    Herewith invoking prayerfully
    the intercession of the man in the
    Kensington congregation,
    and also thinking gratefully
    of all the contributors to this blog,
    and of the blog moderator,

    Toomas (Tom) Karmo

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