Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boxing Has Its Hour

At the moment, everything is going so well that it almost seems contumacious to bring up the bad patches of the past. For one thing, five trips to Kaslo, three of them in the blazing sunshine of autumn, along one of North America's widely acknowledged premier motor cycle routes, have been an unforgettable gift, yet all in the service of getting the Mass said as it needs to be, on the weekend, in even the most remote corners of the earth. Kaslo is not really that remote, but set amongst our minor Himalayas as it is, it often gives that impression, and contemplative that I am I have to trouble meditating on such a resemblance. After all, its surrounding mountains have to be seen to be understood, and twenty miles to the south, and across the lake, there also stands Swami Sivinanda Radha's gift to the Kootenays and the universe, the Yasodhara Ashram. In this context, the Almighty tends to come on like Joe Louis, had Joe's lethal gloves been loaded with spiritual intimations.
I think of Joe, of course, because the reason we have gone to Kaslo for five lovely late Saturday afternoon masses is because it is an opportunity to spend time with a Capuchin priest born, raised, and theologically instructed, in the Congo. Father Matthieu Gombo Yange is therefore black, at a time when, thanks to various forces, not the least of which is a pretty well universal admittance of the fact that the people who were once the preferential option for slaves have become one of the very, very, obvious preferential options for artistic and spiritual excellence. Here in North America we are all very well aware of the physical genius of black athletes, and the artistic genius of black actors and musicians. Matthieu probably could have been either of these, or maybe both. Every time we give each other a hug, I feel the muscles in his shoulders, and he has told us he has played Balthazar at Christmas pageants. I also remember the summer of 1956, when I realized I could figure out the chords to the songs on the Harry Belafonte record in the fraternity house I was living in while I worked as a reporter for the Vancouver Sun. But Matthieu was keen on the Franciscan priesthood from his boyhood, and we are all the more blessed because of his choice.
Matthieu has been around for over three months this year, all in our cathedral parish as well as the adjunct missions, because the regular pastor was on sick leave, in need of a heart operation. Father returns to Rome in a week to do the final work on his doctoral dissertation, and then returns in time for Advent in Trail, where once again and even more so his skill in Italian will be appreciated.
I realize, of course, for rather a number of decades, all over the world, blacks as well as other hues of the human rainbow have been proving that they are just as capable of filling the highest office open to the sons of men; so why am I so appreciative of what is so merely ordinary to so many others, and has been for some time?
Because the Kootenays are very much paleface, and Nelson is the palest of all, with never even a population of permanent native Indians of its own, and having lost its resident First Nations neighbours to a Jesuit reserve in the state of Washington in the 19th century. Least of all has it known emigrants from Africa, as that modest number who did come by way of the southern states to British Columbia settled on the south coast.
But it was only in general that I was not long a resident of Nelson, an immigrant myself, that I decided that one of the things wrong with the place was that it contained neither enough Jews or Blacks to consider itself any sort of a truly cosmopolitan culture. Now, we have a lot more sons of Moses than we used to, God bless us, and a small handful of the darkest race God gave out to fill the human palette, but I never imagined that my observations on the sociological mix of the locale, obviously overheard in Heaven, would land us the presence of a priest, and especially not a priest with the natural and spiritual abilities to be the first black minister general of the Capuchins, or even better, the first black Pope.
Matthieu will thank me for none of this, of course. For one thing, his cousin, Jean Bertan, his provincial back in the Congo, will begin worrying about his ego. This is always the responsibility of superiors and spiritual directors, naturally. But I happen to hate, despise, loathe, condemn, consign to the Devil, all forms of racism, so I naturally like to take advantage of any and all opportunities to give it a thrashing any time and place the opportunity arises. And then there is the fact that if Matthieu gets too big for his boots, even if he is thirty years younger than I am, they can always send him back to deal with the upper levels of the mansions. He has done a little work on John of the Cross, and until proven wrong, I am willing to assume that the Capuchins still know how to teach ascetic and mystical theology. I can talk the phenomena of mysticism with Father M. more easily than I have been able to with any Canadian priest except his bishop, also, as my readers know, a Capuchin.
And now we are ready to deal with that  horrific example of another kind of Franciscan, the Atonement father that Emmett Doyle took on as the president of Nelson's little Catholic university, the womanizing Aquinas Thomas. Only when we see the good, do we fully, clearly, understand the iniquity of the bad. The deadly hand of Providence, even if it seems to take forever, eventually shows up in its steel gauntlet.
Steel is a good image. It would seem to be essential to the gauntlet that is closing in on more priests from than lamentable era.

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