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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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Did you hear the old gag about the kid who got a peanut stuck in his ear? He shoved a bar of chocolate in and it came out a treat!
As a professional comedian, I used to be in pantomime at this time of the year. One of the things I miss the most since leaving the stage for the priesthood is the rapport and camaraderie we shared with the audiences – especially when something happened that was not part of the script. The whole audience was in on it and shared this moment of joy and surprise. I remember being on stage when a lady arrived late to take her seat. I asked: “You’re late, have you bought a note?” She said she had been at a Christmas work party. I replied: “But you’re by yourself – are you self-employed?” We all shared in that moment of silliness.
The best Christmas presents I’ve received have been those I hadn’t expected but which turned out to be way better than anything I had imagined.
I think that might have been the reaction of the shepherds and the wise men when they encountered the Christ child. Were they expecting to be at such a critical stage of history – where already the power of darkness was trembling – rejoicing at a light so powerful that no amount of darkness could put it out? Resting in this presence, did they know this was not like any other moment that they had been invited to share in before?
This has been my experience of priesthood, particularly at Advent, my first Advent as a priest: to share. In the lead-up to Christmas I shared moments with people, some very sacred, others more light-hearted: moments when you sit with people and accompany them in their pain and suffering and wait for God to enter the room. And he is able to enter the room in a very personal, real way because he first entered the room, incarnate, over 2,000 years ago.
I stumbled across a Mother Teresa quote recently: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better or happier.” That’s what I was paid to do as a comedian. But now I’m called to do that in a spiritual way. Through the Church’s sacraments, this first Christmas as a priest seems to be about being invited into a privileged position in people’s lives and being given the opportunity to lead them into a lasting impression of God’s love.
So this Christmas I will be with all my family – parish and biological – hopefully sharing in moments of surprise and joy. For as the infant Child lit up the lives of those shepherds and wise men, he desires to do the same again for all those who gather round him today.
Fr Frankie Mulgrew was ordained a priest in the diocese of Salford on 13 July and before ordination he worked as a comedian. He is currently the assistant priest at Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Clitheroe/Sabden, and is the editor of the book Does God LOL? (Darton, Longman and Todd)