When I was back for the first time in Ireland after four years in Fiji, it was great to be home. My mother had knitted me a warm sweater now that my blood had been thinned in the South Pacific. I enjoyed the home-made brown bread and the rashers. And, I had so many stories to tell.
I said Sunday Mass for more than 1,000 people in our parish church. In my homily, I spoke about the fascinating cultures of Fiji – how passing strangers greet you with “bula” (good health) and a smile and how a family eating dinner calls a passer-by to come and join them. Some lay ministers helped to distribute Holy Communion. I felt happy giving the final blessing ten minutes before the hour. In Fiji, Sunday Mass always lasts beyond the hour. But, of course, we had no singing.
On my way out, a very angry newspaper seller accosted me at the church gates. “What’s wrong with you,” he bellowed. “All the other priests can finish Mass in 30 minutes. I’m late now and will miss the people leaving the other parish church!” I was stunned. I hadn’t been reoriented to the tight schedules of newspaper sellers and the expectations on priests in Ireland. I had a lot to learn. Later when I recounted this to my mother she burst out, “Wait until I catch up with that fellow. I’ll give him a piece of my mind!” Mothers are great!
Some weeks later, I visited friends in the parish late on a Sunday morning. We heard passing traffic and someone looked at his watch. “That was Fr. Joe saying mass,” he said. “He takes 32 minutes.”