I sat down for lunch, to consume leftovers and social media, when this headline reached inside me and pulled…
First, a heaving sob and I cried. Totally unexpected, though leftovers sometimes make me weep (to say nothing of social media). Then, almost instantaneously a fully formed memory from nearly 32 years filled me, fresh as yesterday.
Prince was the hottest thing in my senior year of high school, and the first notes of “Let’s Go Crazy” always compelled me onto the gym floor, partnered or alone, to dance myself into a sweaty, exuberant puddle. But I never saw the movie Purple Rain until nearly a year later, while in the Catholic Seminary in Dublin, Ireland. It was an odd place to see the topless Appolonia jump into the wrong lake, as Prince snickered over his joke. (Go see the movie.)
In that same year I spent a wondrous afternoon visiting Joe, a seminarian with The Christian Brothers, in County Wicklow. I knew Joe because all seminarians in Dublin attended a single, central Seminary at Morehampton Road, along with aspiring nuns in a surprising coed situation. With my weekend free time, I would often bicycle from our manicured, mansion grounds in Dundrum to visit friends I’d made in class at Morehampton… little pilgrimages to see how “the other-half” lived. I was disillusioned and disgusted by the way our missionary order, devoted to the poor, lived in opulence.
An 8 mile ride toward Enniskerry and Bray landed me on the gravel road leading up to the doors of an all-stone mansion, where Joe was waiting to give me a tour. (I still believe they may have used the exterior of that place in the movie “My Left Foot,” but I have no proof.) There seemed to be no one else around as we toured. I was shocked we had the place to ourselves. We eventually settled in to the common room to chat and trade acoustic guitar licks. Joe was quite good, and I was just starting to learn to play.
A TV, until then just nattering in the background, broke into our reverie.
“Dearly Beloved, We are gathered here to get through this thing called life…”
The BBC was broadcasting Prince’s recent London performance on his “Purple Rain” tour! A full concert of a currently touring artist? We certainly weren’t getting any live broadcasts like this in the United States. Aside from seeing “Tommy TuTone” a few years earlier in an amusement park, I was a rock concert virgin, and so we watched, transfixed for hours.
Joe and I traded glances marveling over each new display of guitar wizardry. We avoided eye contact during each luscious view of Sheila E., and hearing of “Darling Nikki” and her exploits was an awkward experience to share with a fellow candidate for a life of celibacy, particularly midway through my one year hiatus from “self-abuse.”
The magnificence, choreography, and spectacle of that Prince performance! I’d never seen anything like it before, nor have I since. I stayed through the last encore, well past my curfew, but the experience was worth any punishment I’d receive, or any danger I’d encounter pedaling back to Pallotti House in the dark, along winding country roads.
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Some weeks later, as my first (and, it turned out, last) year in Seminary wound down, all the potential future Priests, Brothers and Nuns gathered at the Morehampton Road college for a final formal Mass, celebrating the end of our “Novitiate” year. The Novitiate is the first year in what is supposed to be a 7 year education leading to Holy Orders, and becoming a Catholic Priest. The Mass plodded along, as all Masses do, ritually predictable; leaden with Gregorian Chants and hymnal music, always moving toward the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Dutifully, solemnly we filed forward to receive “the body and blood of our savior” in the form of a wafer and sip of wine, and then back to the pew to kneel and quietly meditate on becoming one with the Lord inside us.
Joe played an acoustic instrumental guitar solo, as he’d done at every Morehampton Mass that year. The post-Communion meditation, aided by music, is supposed to allow us to enter the most contemplative state possible to ponder our union with the divine. But I found my concentration breaking. With each soulfully vibrato note I found my concentration unwillingly shifting away from trying to understand the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, on to deciphering the music. There was something familiar that I couldn’t put my finger on. I’d never heard it at Mass before. My fellow Novice from County Down, Liam McClarey, snickered quietly beside me and we looked at each other. I could tell we were one in the same thought: “Is he actually playing what I think he’s playing?” I looked up at Joe, and he gave me the perfect, devilish Irish wink… Joe was playing a slow version of Purple Rain, and my Communion with Prince, “His Royal Badness,” was complete.
The Mass is subverted. Go in Peace, to love and get funky with your neighbor.