The Bishop & Rice PuddingTuesday, July 13, 2010
As a child I was raised to be a Roman Catholic even though my father was an English non-practicing Anglican. Not only was I given my first communion (I would have worn my first long pants except I was embarrassed and I insisted on cutting the long pants that I had inherited from my cousin Robin Tow who later became Robin Humphrey) but I was also confirmed. At my confirmation the presiding priest, stressed that this sacrament (the other six are Baptism, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction) made us soldiers of Christ. He explained that it was not physical soldier-go-to-war kind of soldier but someone who would understand one’s faith well enough to explain it to anybody who would ask. It was my duty as a confirmed Catholic to learn and know all I could possibly know about my faith. It was not supposed to be that other kind, or was it, as I remember as a boy singing with my father that song Onward Christian Soldiers? Perhaps I should not have given that song much thought as it invariably was followed by my father and I singing loudly (in bed) My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.
Suffice to say that I grew up in a Roman Catholic household where my grandmother attended Holy Mass and often said her Rosary and her Novenas. I was sometimes puzzled in how my mother and grandmother would make, what I thought were unholy pacts with St. Anthony. They would promise St. Anthony of Padua, Patron Saint of Lost Objects, a certain amount of money if some precious and lost object were to be found. If it were not found they were brutal about not giving the poor saint any of the promised money!
My grandmother (seen here with me on the day of my First Communion), being of Spanish origin was vocally (but not in a hateful way) anti Jewish. She would often tell me that the Jews had killed Jesus Christ, especially during Holy Week. One of her jokes was to spot some person on the street and whisper in my ear, “That man has the map of Jerusalem on his face.” I found all this unnerving as my best friend, Mario Hertzberg, who lived across the street on Melián was Jewish. Half of his family had been exterminated in German concentration camps.
When I finished 8th grade in Northern Mexico my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school, St Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas. My teachers were Brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. This was the same congregation of brothers, priests and nuns that ran the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The congregation had been founded in the 19th century in Le Mans, France.
In those four years at St. Edward’s I was exposed to the best teachers I have ever had. I received a solid education full of liberal views and rich in what I call a parallel education. I learned to play the alto saxophone, I learned about humility from some of my teachers who were most humble. I learned about intelligence and how to use it from my teachers who were mostly all brilliant and if not at least very intelligent. They taught me to think and to write and to this day I find that the liberal and Catholic education that I received in Austin has made me competitive in an ever changing world. And from Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC I learned to be truly a soldier of Christ as he taught me how to defend my faith by giving me a knowledge of it.
It is for this reason that while I condemn the action of priests and brothers that seem to fill pages of newspapers all over the world, I keep remembering that the church is made up of individuals who are fallible and all too human. Even the nasty custom of denial, entrenchment and stonewalling is most human. It is not a defense in my part. I just accept that in the good there will always be the bad.
I remember coming back from my military service in Argentina and going to Mass in Mexico City. I was a bit confused seeing the priest facing us instead of what had been until then the normal Latin rite where the priest had his back to the congregation. But I knew I had to adjust to changing times. At a certain time during this Mass the people around me all began to hug each other and shake hands. I had no idea of what was going on! I must confess here that by stating that I thought the Latin Rite Mass was beautiful because of the Latin (I know the meanings of all words of the Latin Mass) and the mystery of knowing but not quite seeing what that priest was doing, it must make me some sort of right-wing conservative charlatan; I am not!
I may not go to Mass or say too many prayers but I try to live a life of honesty knowing that my mother “damned” me with her statement to me, “Alex, you have many defects, as your mother I know them all, but when you die, someone will put on your tombstone, he died with integrity.” I would further state that I am not overtly religious. But I love and adore the art of the architecture of cathedrals and the music of Bach, Monteverdi and many others. I love the paintings of Rogier van der Weyden and El Greco. The Brothers of the Holy Cross taught me to understand and appreciate the works of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. And I love all the pomp of the ancient rites of the Catholic Church. I guess I must confess that I am in many ways a most Catholic man even though I have an absolute doubt on the existence of a superior being who is concerned about the doings of men and women and who may even intercede at times.
The above is all but a long preamble to introduce Bishop Peter Wilkinson. I first met him a couple of months ago on board the ferry to Victoria, Spirit of Vancouver. I was indulging in my favourite buffet lounge rice pudding (with lots of cinnamon) when I spoted a friendly face with a clerical collar. I went up to him and asked him if he was a priest and of what congregation. He informed me with a big smile that he was not really a priest as he was a bishop. He was the current bishop of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, the Right Reverend Peter Wilkinson of Victoria, British Columbia. He was the presiding Bishop of a current and very active movement of rapprochement of several congregations of the Anglican Church with the Roman Catholic Church. “In fact, Bishop," Wilkinson told me, “While I was originally an Anglican priest I am now both that and Roman Catholic.” I parted, after finishing my rice pudding, with a Sursum Corda to which Bishop Wilkinson countered with a: Habemus ad Dominum. Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. Dignum et iustum est.
It was a delight to spot Bishop Wilkinson on the ferry back to Vancouver from Victoria this Sunday afternoon. I was quick to introduce him to Rosemary and especially to Rebecca. “Rebecca it is not always that I can introduce you to a Bishop.” While I have yet to read of any confirmation, Bishop Wilkinson advised me that he was now an Archbishop and that he was on his way to a special synod in Vancouver.
I hope to meet up with Bishop Wilkinson soon, perhaps over a bowl of creamy rice pudding with lots of cinnamon. Sursum corda.
Other blogs on the Catholic Church
The Littlest Atheist
A Damning Embrace