About a year ago a very polite lady rang me out of the blue to ask me questions for some sort of market research. About 15 minutes of vague, random and mostly inane questions followed. Then came the following slighly odd dialogue (which I reconstruct from memory).
Her: Do you smoke?
Her: How many per day?
Me: How many what per day?
Her: How many cigarettes per day?
Her: Cigars, then?
Her: You do realise we're only talking about legal substances?
Me: Yes. Actually I smoke a pipe.
Her: Ohhh ... ok ... um ... I'll put you down as a non-smoker then, shall I?
The reason that this puzzling exchange has been recalled to mind is that I found two postings in the Catholic blogsphere relating to the (possibly idolatrous) worship of the Lady Nicotine in the space of five minutes. The first was at Me Monk, Me Meander maintained by Fr Stephanos OSB.He manitains that all smoking is sinful (no matter how much or how little) and may well be mortally sinful. That's bad news for the smoking brigade generally but especially for your humble servant who likes his pipe well enough if not all that often. It happened that immediately after I read Fr Stephanos' musings on the subject I turned to an excellent new blog called English - Scottish - Welsh - Irish Martyrs which has one of my favourite saints listed on it for today, August 23rd. St John Kemble was martyred at Hereford in 1679 following on Titus Oates infamous 'Popish Plot'. (The online Catholic Encyclopedia calls him 'Blessed' because he wasn't canonised until 1970, along with 39 others who died in various English persecutions down the centuries.) What's notable about him in this context though, is that he paused on the way to the gallows for a pipe and a drink of wine. Some authorities claim that the last pipe of the evening is a "Kemble pipe" while others say it's the last pipe given to a condemned man. Either way, I'd reluctant to part with it (or any of the ones that come before it!). Interestingly too, a search of the Vatican domain with Google Advanced Search turned up nothing in English relating to smoking at all. Unless and until the Church comes out formally and definitively against it, I think I'll keep my now-and-again habit and try to imitate St John Kemble not just in pipe-smoking but virtue as well.