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We have a big new home, but there’s a reason it feels so empty

I almost jumped out of my skin on Saturday morning. I had arrived at the hairdressers’ early and nipped to the loo before my appointment. I was leaving the cubicle when out of nowhere bounced a dog, which dutifully sniffed my feet before skipping off. I felt like yelling: “Is this a park or a salon?”

Seriously, though, has the nation gone barking mad? Dogs have been elevated to the status of babies who cannot be left at home unsupervised. Establishments proudly bear messages across their windows: “Muddy paws welcome here!” Almost every pub and restaurant is dotted with dogs. I even walked into an estate agents’ recently and a dog came running to the door to greet me. For some reason a staff member just had to bring him to work.

I wouldn’t mind, but some of us aren’t dog lovers and I’m growing weary of having to socialise with them.

As the lovely Fay brushed through my freshly washed hair, the barber’s dog let out a huge yelp, which made everyone jump.

“Can you not excite the dog when I’m about to use scissors?” she pleaded.

But the barber wasn’t listening. He was too busy talking to his dog.

***

On the way to my hair appointment I encountered a homeless man outside Caffè Nero begging for change. “Any change love?” he croaked and as usual, I answered: “No, sorry.”

I then felt a pang of guilt as I walked passed him so I turned around and asked him what he would like for breakfast. As I stood waiting for his caramel latte and bacon sandwich (and my cappuccino), I found myself wondering if I was a bit gullible. Was he really homeless or an opportunist? Why on earth was I blowing almost a tenner on someone I had never met before? Was he an addict?

I delivered his breakfast to him and walked away deep in thought. I’ve been a practising Catholic for 32 years and, while I was never under any illusions that I was the next Mother Teresa, I was still a little perturbed at how quick I was to cast judgment on this poor chap. I wonder how many other people have the same problem when they try to be charitable.

***

Friends visiting from London arrived later that day and I showed them around our new home, which is currently being renovated. “It’s so spacious!” one of them exclaimed, and I suppose by London standards it is.

For the same amount of money we might have bought a shoebox in Lewisham. But I felt a little pensive as I showed them around. The reason we had moved north was because we didn’t want to restrict our family size, and yet five days before Christmas we lost our second baby at 10 weeks in the womb, and the loss still feels fresh.

On my bad days I feel as if there is a particularly cruel irony to this loss, given that we’d just bought a house with five bedrooms in the hope of filling them. As my friends walked around the garden admiring our home, I silently hoped that one day my son will have siblings to share it with.

***

I’ve been following an interesting debate on Twitter this week about priestly celibacy, sparked by the journalist Simcha Fischer, who has been defending the celibate priesthood with her usual wit and incisiveness. Her basic point? Allowing married priests will not solve the abuse crisis.

It’s quite astonishing to witness Catholics arguing that it’s just too difficult for human beings to handle abstinence and that a celibate life risks producing disordered sexual behaviour. I’m pretty sure that there is no hard evidence for this assumption and, anyway, whatever happened to the belief in divine grace?

***

I couldn’t actually hear what the priest was saying after Communion on Sunday because I managed to drop the kneeler on my son’s foot, prompting an understandable meltdown and a dash to the back of church to whip off his shoes and check I hadn’t broken his toe.

Father was just beginning to read the Prayer for Generosity by St Ignatius before my blunder, so I looked it up when I returned home out of curiosity:

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labour without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen

Next time I resolve to give something away, I should ask St Ignatius for help. I’m sure he wouldn’t have had a minor breakdown at the thought of buying someone a caramel latte.

Madeleine Teahan is a freelance journalist