Get Down

There's more to Mass than kneeling for prayer. Even the priests get a little funky time.

Those of us who haven't left the Catholic Church still gather on Sundays for the quaint tradition of Mass. Oh, things have changed a bit over the past few decades. These days, some people think it's OK to show up to church wearing shorts and sandals, looking like they just walked in from the beach, all hairy-backed and funky-toed. And not all of them are men.

Far too many young girls wander into church dressed like they're going to a Shakira concert after Mass is over. They even have the nerve to take their skanky butts to Communion, walking down the aisle wearing low-cut this and too-tight that. And when they get to the front of the line, the poor priest has to look up and say, "Body of ... CHRIST!"

Couples hold hands and put their arms around each other like they're on some kind of freakin' date. They cross their legs (which you're not supposed to do in Mass) and talk to each other during the services. Then, to make things absolutely perfect, the entire congregation is under the tyranny of the Choir Master, who sings nine verses of a song when a simple "Alleluia" would have sufficed.

Fortunately, there are some things that never change--the sanctity of the Mass, the fellowship of a common belief, the Catholic calendar built around the birth and death of Jesus. And tying all of this together is the parish priest, the leader of the flock, the spiritual touchstone. At my church, the pastor, Father Tom Millane, looks like he comes from Central Casting. Irish, grey-haired, a twinkle in his eye like he knows a whole lot more jokes than he could ever tell in church.

His second-in-command, sort of the Majority Whip For The Lord, is also almost stereotypically perfect. Father Mike Martinez is a native Arizonan, Hispanic, soft-spoken and hard working. He's just about everything you'd expect in a priest. Totally devoted to his faith, inexhaustible in his service to his parishioners, chaplain to the local Air National Guard unit, fisherman, hunter, political junkie, NRA member, wannabe bass player in a funk band.

And, oh yeah, he drives this big-ass truck. I know that might sound sacrilegious and will probably add another two years to the 14,886 I've already accrued and have waiting for me in Purgatory, but there is no other adjective in the English language to describe this truck. Noah Webster showed rare prescience when he coined the term "big-ass" and placed it in the American lexicon, knowing that some day somebody would invent a truck to which the term would aptly apply.

You just have to see this truck. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Kramer re-painted the lines on the interstate so that people could drive in wide luxurious lanes? His truck wouldn't even have fit in those. If the military were going to photograph this thing with one of those space-based cameras, the satellite would have to back up to a higher orbit to get a full shot.

Mike Martinez grew up in the mining town of Morenci. His father worked for Phelps Dodge, and like so many Arizonans in that gone-but-not-that-long-ago era, the family rode the economic roller-coaster that was the copper industry. Martinez played football and wrestled for the local high school, but what he liked most was doing outdoor stuff with his dad. "I've always been into hunting and fishing and I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. I'm a lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club." He even tries to coordinate the few days he gets for vacation each year with the hunting season.

He got the calling late in his high school years. ("It wasn't a sudden thing; the feeling just grew stronger and stronger.") After graduating high school, he spent eight years becoming a priest.

I gotta figure that it can't take more than a couple years to learn everything there is to know about the Bible. Then there's about two months to learn how to call Bingo and the rest of the time is spent mastering that water-into-wine thing. That can't be easy.

One summer while in seminary, he interned at Tucson's St. Pius X Church. The pastor there, Brian Bell, was also the chaplain for the Air National Guard unit stationed at Tucson International Airport. After receiving his Holy Orders, Martinez was assigned first to Our Mother of Sorrows, then a church in Sierra Vista and finally to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

In the meantime, Father Bell had ended his service as Air Guard chaplain, so Martinez was asked to fill the slot. He went through officer training at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Ala., and is now a captain in the Guard and the chaplain for the 162nd Fighter Wing. Wow, here's somebody who actually can praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Despite his schedule(s), he's not too busy for one other hobby. I saw a tape of Father Mike sitting in with some members of a local blues band, playing bass in a jam session at the Chicago Bar. A long-time fan of Earth, Wind & Fire, he's called Father Funk by his musical homies.

He's cool and all, but I don't know if I want a funky priest. I didn't spend two years studying the Bible, but I'm pretty sure that there's something in there about, "Render unto George Clinton what is George Clinton's ... "

One last thing: With his thick upper body, shaved head and constant sly smile, I can't help but think that he reminds me of Dr. Evil. Do me a favor: Go see the movie when it comes out tomorrow, then stop by Mass on Sunday and see if I'm right. And when you sit down, tell the people next to you that they should dress better next time, that there's no hickey action in church and that they should pay attention to the Mass because the priest is a Guardsman and a hunter and he might just be packin'.

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