On August 12, 2004, l’abbé Texier, until his retirement a catholic priest in Bordeaux for over 20 years, baptized Alex and Charles in the Church of Sainte Anne de Tréal.
L’abbé had retired to the land of his childhood, nearby, and Grand-père had retired to the land of his grandparents where he vacationed as a child. They did not know each other when they were young, but in their retirement are neighbors and have become firm friends. Both are devout, and Grand-père plays the organ every Sunday in the church. L’abbé tends to his garden and has a happy and untroubled face, with lines only of age.
He has visibly spent his life well.
The interesting question is why we had the boys baptized. I’m a lapsed Catholic from way back: confirmed in the faith in 1965 or so, and lapsing in 1968 or so. Mum was the Catholic in our house: Dad was agnostic, and nominally protestant. As the short period practicing my faith shows, lapsing was not difficult. I didn’t feel strongly about it one way or the other, or about religion generally. When their mom, Sunshine, wanted to baptize Nick and Tom in her religion, Greek Orthodox, I was fine with that.
Marie-Hélène is from a devout family, on both sides, especially her father’s. She was pretty clear from day one that she didn’t want any of her children baptized in any faith, especially Catholic. Neither she nor Pierre, their papa, had wanted Daphné or Alban baptized, and so they weren’t.
I briefly explored the question at home in Santa Cruz, and it was very clear that we couldn’t have baptized Charlie and Alex as Catholics there. We weren’t practicing the faith, and organized religion requires a demonstrated commitment. But in France was l’abbé Texier. I could see that grand-père would love to see some of his grandchildren baptized in his faith. He and l’abbé got along very well. I forget who asked him, probably Marie-Hélène during one of her occasional phone calls with her father: would it be possible to have the boys baptized at La Grée that summer?
It was. Grand-père approached his friend, probably giving him a pretty full picture of the context of the request. L’abbé was happy to help. A retired priest who has given his life to the Church in a major city has some privileges. If he wished to baptize our boys, the parish priest was happy to step aside and let him do so.
So was Marie-Hélène, oddly enough. Hers was the resistance that I thought would be the strongest. She made a few complaints, and let the boys know that she did not entirely support this ritual of the Church, but she let it go, and joined in.
The boys took it all very seriously, as you can see in a couple of the photos, including the first above, and so did l’abbé Texier. He made it quite clear to Marie-Hélène and me that the ceremony would mean nothing for the children if we did not follow it with a good Catholic education and regular Catholic rituals.
But I had the strange feeling that he was saying what he was obliged to say, and we were listening to what we were obliged to hear, and none of us really cared that much. He wasn’t browbeating us, and we weren’t laughing at him. There was nothing he cared about as much as bringing lambs closer to the fold he had spent his life working in, and we too were okay with them getting closer. Let them decide whether to take that final step, years later if that’s the way it happens.
All of us were doing a little preparatory work, in good faith, despite not following all the tenets of this particular organized religion.
I for one was very grateful for l’abbé Texier’s understanding.
We did not seek to make a major family get together out of this ceremony. It was principally about Charlie and Alex, and our relative inactivity on the religious front might have made such a gathering of religious family members a bit awkward. In any event, the question was pretty much theoretical, because grand-père never proposed inviting any of his family to the ceremony. Or if he did, Marie-Hélène never relayed the suggestion to me.
Oddly enough, Daphné and Alban didn’t attend either, even though they spent a week or two with us at La Grée before the baptism. That was clearly arranged with their maman, and I left well alone: anything that I said or did about it would have been wrong!
Grand-père’s neighbors, Roxane and Yoann, friends of ours in the same tiny Breton village, were kind enough to become the boys’ Godparents. Roxane used to look after Daphné and Alban during their early summer vacations at La Grée. Yoann plays soccer for the village team and kicks the ball around with Charlie and Alex. All very apt in a Godparent.
The scene of the reception afterwards was equally appropriate, the local cafe just up the road from the church. Our little group sat around and chit-chatted for half an hour, maybe an hour, and then quietly dispersed. No phony social scene, just a pleasant little get together. When things are barely planned, they tend to work out in a more satisfying manner.
We have a lot of special days in our family, not all of them milestones in our collective history like this one. Some bring smiles to childrens’ faces, but mean little more: though that’s enough in our house! Even if the boys did quickly return into their earthly world, their earnest expressions and l’Abbé Texier made this special day something more.
Real life surrounds l’abbé Texier. He has a framed motto on the wall in the hallway of his modest home near La Grée, in French of course:
“If you want to be happy for one day, get drunk;
If you want to be happy for one week, get married;
If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, become a priest.”