Sunday, August 14, 2016

Book Four Chapter 28

    Every virtue has two contrary vices, opposing it from the direction of either extreme. Consider, for example, humility. The most obvious enemy here is arrogance, but false humility, although probably more subtle, is just as pernicious. Chastity is the same, with the obvious opposition of all the various forms of lack of self-control that afflict us, but it also has an indescribably dangerous foe in what sometimes passes as purity or modesty but is really hardness of heart and a bitterly cold way of looking at the other half - from one-self's sex - of mankind. The reasons for this bitterness may be almost legitimate, that is, that they spring from abysmally bad formation of the soul, chiefly in one's family, but also from many other sources, not one of which, incidentally, and many pseudo philosophers of the modern school to the contrary, is the traditional teaching of the Church, especially in its saints, and doctors, although sometimes the saints who are not great contemplatives do give off a somewhat puritanical aura that the early Christians, and indeed perhaps all perfect Christians up to the incredibly unfortunate follies of the Protestant insanity would find - if they had to live on this earth still - quite intolerable.
    What this means, in simple language without reference to moral theology, spiritual theology, or history, is that many modern people, including many Catholics, have dirty minds. And yet, to be fair, we have to remember that the problem is not entirely modern. St. Paul had to deal with it, defending his right to travel with a woman companion, and even before that, Our Lord struck the first and last blow against the vices of less-than-single-mindedness by placing that most attractive of woman, His mother, in the care of the plainly masculine - but also very virtuous and considerate - St. John the Evangelist. How many of the early Christians, a notably brave people, considering the hatred of the Pharisees and the power of the Roman military, nonetheless were stupid and thick around the Apostle and had to be told.
    So, although much less of a man and Christian than St. Paul, and certainly only the shadow of Our Lord's last hours on the cross, I'm telling, on Meinred's behalf. Chastity is a virtue for the sake of the whole man, not part of man. The fact that there are so many part-men, infallibly the child of one or more vices, even though they think these are virtues, does not diminish the freedom and obligations of the whole man.
    "At this point the disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman."
    Ah, such a loaded comment. And equally weighty is the sequel: "Though none of them asked, 'What do you want from her?' Or, 'Why are you talking to her?' "
    I agree with Philippe Gagnon's deliberations on this part of the Gospel, which he comments on more than once. Our Lord must have seemed particularly awesome to his followers on this occasion. His authority was not to be trifled with, and this is doubtless a great part of the secret of wisdom's dealing between the sexes. No man lacking the inner authority of Christ or St. Paul should avail himself too much of the company of women, even spiritual women, but neither should lesser men challenge the responsibilities, nor envy the freedom, of a man who does have that authority. And for man, more or less, one can also read woman, certain current excesses in the name of feminism notwithstanding.
    All of this, of course, in the Calgary bus depot as he collected Angela Davies' luggage, was pulsing through the brain and heart of the new bishop of Sterling; and through my own faculties as I think about this incident pulses a kind of regret that, in order to build my case - and the Lord's case - more thoroughly for the sake of pilgrims in the spiritual life, I am not simply writing Meinred Schwartz' biography. It would be a secure and pleasant thing to simply start with the day of his birth and year by year lay down the record of his journey toward this point of encounter with wisdom, to show the massive tradition of single-mindedness - the perfection of which, remember, is a beatitude - which justified his capacity to think both clearly and strongly in this predicament. But my original committment was to the goal of the spiritual life, the transformation, and I am only allowed to loop back, as it were, to the various stages along the way.
    However, as the Lord said, "By their fruits you shall know them," so if the apple tastes good, the trunk and the roots must be sound.
    As he hefted the suitcases, incidentally, Meinred felt grateful that he had retained, not too badly for a man dedicated to a life of the mind, some of his sturdy farm boy's physique. No doubt for a week away from home for herself and two boys Mrs. Davies was travelling light - there was also a large shoulder bag which she carried - but the blocks loomed like exercise. Meinred grinned.
    "Oh, dear," Angela said. "We should have brought the car!"
    "We should not have brought the car. We wouldn't have had time to get talking away from the kids. Besides, someone needs to do penance for your relatives."
    "Would you like to wait with the bags on the sidewalk? I could get the car."
    "You drive?" Meinred asked.
    "Yes. Originally, I planned to come home in the car. But Kirk got called to the mill in MacGregor Bay two days before we were to leave. He doesn't like staying down there on the weekend and he's been painting the house in case we sell it, so it only made sense for me to come on the bus."
    "Well, that's good news. The part about the driving, I mean. If we get into a situation where it looks like we'll be provoking tongues to wag too much, you can drive. I'll enjoy being chauffeured, and the onlookers will think it's you that's kidnapping me rather than the other way around. That way the Church can be thought of as being the persecuted rather than the aggressor." He was laughing.
    Once more, her appreciation of length and breadth and depth of his soul suffered a further increase. Another Gospel phrase came to mind: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you." This new bishop certainly had a lot of life in him. He must have gone to communion a great deal. Well, a priest went every day, more or less. And so had she, from time to time, and especially in the last six or seven months.
    "Shall I get the car?"
    "Nope. Strike while the iron is hot. You've turned me into the doctor already. That's good. This is not the first time I've run into this problem, by no means, but it's not too often that I get down to the facts of the situation so quickly. Some people - women especially - would have taken half the distance from here to Revelstoke - travelling in a road grader - to bring up the basics. Of course, you have had an advantage. You stuck to your conscience. That makes an enormous difference." They were out the door, encountering a knot of people coming in, harvesting the predictable curious glances. Too bad, though Meinred tersely. Honi soit qui mal y pense. It was something one had to drum into the heads of seminarians from time to time, so why not a little education for the good citizens of Calgary or wherever it was these people were coming from or going to? There seemed a pleasant similarity between the feeling of hefting the suitcases and the feeling of stepping into the parish pulpit of a Sunday morning and laying down the law.
    Even what he had to say to her seemed like something they could all do to hear, even if they only got part of it. He had studied at some length the life of the great open air preacher, St. Bernadine of Siena.
    "Where did you get such a firm conscience from? It's the only way to have a lively mind and get to the point of a problem quickly, but that doesn't make it all that common. The sources of the species should be identified so they can be studied and imitated."
    And then the thicket of people had passed and they pretty much had their section of the street to themselves again. "I went to Catholic schools," she said. "Right through from grade one to high school. Then up to the college at Edmonton for two more years before I went to normal school. I can actually read St. Thomas' own words, you know, in English at any rate. I liked Latin in high school too - the nun who taught us was awfully good at it - but I never really enjoyed reading Thomas in Latin, and I just loved reading him in English. It seemed very precious to be able to do that - to read him in my own language. It even sort of made me think of becoming a translator for a while, because I could feel how wonderful it was to be able to read a great mind, a classic, in the language you thought and felt and prayed in . . . ."
    "You remember what you learned in Philosophy?"
    "Of course. While we're driving I'll regale you with the housewife's version of the differences between substance and accident, major and minor premises, the problems with St. Anselm's proof for the existence of God . . . . '
    "Did Kirk listen to you on these subjects?" Oh, dear, Meinred thought. That doesn't sound too hopeful, and I feel a lot of hope for the situation. "Does Kirk listen to you on these subjects?"
    "He used to. He has." She took as long and as strong a glance at the mental and spiritual muscle hustling her and her children's belongings down the sidewalk as negotiating the foot traffic allowed and said, "Maybe he will again. It's been the talking, you know, the communicating, that has made it a good marriage, has made us happy up to this point . . . ."
    "How did you meet? You told me you met in Revelstoke when you were teaching but I don't suppose you met him in a classroom."
    "No. In a restaurant, actually. It was just an ordinary Saturday morning in a restaurant, the second year I was teaching there. Providence is funny, you know. In my first year I was so busy with trying to do a good job of my job that I never really thought that much about men. You can believe it or not, but it's true. I had the kids on my mind from the time I woke in the morning until I fell asleep at night. I think it was then, in fact I'm sure it was then that I understood - I mean really understood - how some people could live their entire life single. I believed in celibacy because the Church said it was possible and necessary and God provides the grace, and because I knew all sorts of priests and nuns who were happy, in fact happier than plenty of married people I knew, including my parents from time to time. When I was teaching, I really understood why. When you work in a job which is caring for other people, especially children, you have so much to care about, so many little people to love, that youu can get by very easily, maybe a lot better, without a husband."
    They were stopped again at the light. Meinred rested the bags. But not from fatigue, only modest prudence. He had warmed up and was beginning to enjoy the exercise. Also, he was reminded again of his thoughts on buying a rowing machine. "So how did the light on the vocation of marriage change from red to green?" he asked when their own signals let them cross.
    Angela laughed. "It was all the fault of one of the men teachers. A young, single, man teacher who decided he should fall in love with me. It reminded me that, oh, yes, marriage was a possibility. Home and a family - there was something else besides the classroom. So I suppose I started to think about men again. But I didn't like thinking about him! I don't think he was a very good teacher, for one thing. He didn't seem very happy with the profession and I wondered if he were trying to find his happiness in me. But I couldn't find it in myself to tell him I was a confirmed old spinster, although I used to find myself talking in the staff-room about nuns that I had admired very much. It was a public school - there is no Catholic school in Revelstoke - so that was interesting. I told myself that if I couldn't see myself unmarried forever then maybe I was suppose to think about finding a husband. Also if I had a boyfriend then this other fellow wouldn't pester me . . . ."
    "Did you have boyfriends before?"
    "Oh, yes. One true love in high school, a few more fellows when I was at college and Normal school, but nothing too serious, when I look back on it. Kirk wasn't the first young man I'd felt something for, but he was the first one who gave me any sense of a permanent romance, something that lasted more than a couple of months. I could really talk to him. That's what attracted me, that he could talk, and about important things, although the first time I saw him he was only kidding a waitress. My girlfriend and I were in this restaurant on a Saturday morning having coffee. He walked in by himself, this lively boy - and I thought he was cute - and I haven't been alone in my judgement - and started teasing the girl behind the counter. They obviously knew each other. But he struck me as being sweet to people and happy with himself, and I found myself suddenly attracted to a man!" She laughed. "It was very adventurous. It gave me a lot to think about, and I was nervous about going back to the cafe again. I had to examine my motives pretty thoroughly." Again she laughed. "I learned to appreciate Saint Thomas all over again. . . ."
    "You had a Summa with you?"
    "No, no. Father Farrell's commentary. You must know it."
    "Yes." What an interesting person! "And I also know you don't find even Father Farrell in too many lay people's travelling libraries, let alone a Summa."
    "Actually, I started thinking about getting a Summa some time ago, and more since. That would have given Kirk something to think about! Maybe I shouldn't have waited."
    The holy soul knows what St. Teresa said about the sharing of information regarding great and unusual spiritual events: that these should become public knowledge, not for the aggrandizement of the subject but for the sake of the glory of the omnipotent God, and also for the encouragement of brave and generous souls if they indeed had reason to think that God might be leading them along an unusual path to his service and love. Certainly Meinred knew her thoughts on this question well, and likewise he prudently encouraged any of his seminarians with the least capacity for direction to keep Teresa's teaching in mind throughout his pastoral career, remaining open to whatever God might arouse in this regard in souls under his care. But parallel to such an open and hopeful - and I might as well say by way of repetition, obedient - attitude toward the great and unusual, he had possessed an equally expectant opinion, nay conviction - and this is even less open to argument - that great reading habits were not to be discouraged in the hearts of the ordinary faithful.
    "Parishioners who read well are a support to your work," he never failed to insist. "You may not even be aware of this in many cases, because their effect will be felt often well outside your range of vision, in their associates who are not Catholics, not parishioners, and in those they know that do not practise the Faith they were born into. The reading soul is a rebuke to the worldly, a sword against the intellectual stagnation and sentimentality and shallow judgement that make such breeding ground for sin, and without you even identifying the cause, the thinking mind in your congregation draws you secretly to better preaching. You must believe this, and you must never stop challenging your people to read if they have the ability, which most people in this country do. To fail in this regard is to assume a sense of superiority, to think of the faithful as dumb animals, to become a Pharisee. There were enough of these in Our Lord's time, there are too many of them now; you do not need to add to their ranks. But you cannot help but do so if you do not yourself set the example of being a reading man, and let it be known, kindly and patiently of course, that you expect them to try their best in their own way to keep up with you. Remember what Aristotle said, and what Our Lord has left us an example of within his own apostles: without friends you cannot accomplish anything really worth while. How will you as pastor accomplish anything without friends from within your parish? How will anyone in your parish be your friend if they do not have something in common with you - and do not delude yourselves with shallow contentment in the brotherhood of the externals of the Faith - and the most interesting thing they can do in common with you is to be familiar with the same good teaching that comes in good books."
    And so on, again and again, in many different circumstances and manners. Thus it was entirely in character for Meinred, although not always for his fellow priests, to say what he said now to Angela Davies. "Well, you do have to wait for the right time to present the solution to his problem. But it certainly sounds as if he has at least two brains to rub together, and therefore he is almost certain to need to read well in order to nourish himself through his predicament. A prudent confessor cannot simple tell him to try to increase his devotion to Mary, or present him with any other simplistic formula. Does he have any kind of prayer life? Oh. I'm assuming he's a Catholic?"
    "Yes, he is. He was when I met him, although he had not been practising very consistently since he left home. He grew up in a not too happy family and I found his determination to be happy in spite of that quite enchanting. He had a mixture of melancholy and magic in him, like one of the Romantic poets. Lots of good qualities, but there were also kind of frail, in danger of turning sour."
    "You honestly loved him?" Meinred said. "You didn't just take him on as a charity?" He looked at her. It was not that he didn't trust her, but later his conscience, which he knew very well could make a fine-toothed comb look like a giant's hay rake, would check through every detail of what he had always thought of as the counsellor's unbreakable rules.
    She blushed, a little, with the vehemence of her memories. "Oh, yes. I loved him. And I still do, although part of me would like to break his neck. But I can show you the restaurant when we get to Revelstoke, if you like. The booths are still there, right in the same place, although I think they've changed the seat covers. I can still tell the whole story over again."
    He looked again at her, and winked. "I don't know if that will be necessary, but I'm sure it would be interesting."

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Book Four Chapter 27

    Among writers, only an idiot fails to try to keep an eye on his audience. This means, for one thing, that he makes a good attempt to figure out just who it is that he is writing for, and for another, that he have some recollection of what of his own habits of exposition he has accustomed them to expect. My readers, bless them, have by now come to assume frequent infusions herein of the Transformation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, commenting on whatever it is that takes His fancy. It has been some chapters since this has happened, and they might be curious as to what He has to say about the section under way.
    Well, they may be assured that He has appeared, and I might say with a great deal more sweetness and authoritative sense of approval of my labours than my limited skills and clumsy habits of observation deserve, but of course His appearance was primarily to approve the substance of my report and not the style. And it was He, in His Providence, who arranged the substance. The frail human heart does not always see this, of course, which is no doubt why He had to appear, perhaps why I was anxious that He appear, though not so much for my heart as for the sake of those of certain students of our most interesting of dioceses. Spiritual direction - thither we goest, in our patient and painstaking way - is feared and hated in Hell almost as much as strong devotion to Mary, and as the devils are so full of wiles, some incredibly coarse, some unbelievably subtle, by which to destroy direction at every stage along the route of its progress, I have been certain I could not chart its course in any soul, much less a bishop's, without concrete assistance of the best kind the Lord knew how to give me.
    So, it has come. But for at least two reasons I do not narrate it here, at this time. For one, out of respect for, and a tribute to, the considerable credit with Heaven that Meinred Schwartz had at the time of discussion already built up. He was, we might say, a grown man who could look after himself. And, after all, he had to rely totally on the promptings of the Holy Spirit during those initial hours and days, living in faith, mining the memories of previous experience, exercising his devotion to Mary and the graces earned on his recent retreat. And last, but by no means least, he had to draw manfully and courageously upon his new state as bishop. Never, he thought, had he felt so much need of the example of St. Paul! But no transformation for him, in those days! Sheer pluck, excellent reading habits, and a capacity for standing up against the abuse the liars of the underworld were bound to hurl at any man who took such a stand and tried to be so useful. The medium is the message, as I have quoted before, and Meinred's medium was not vision, but faith, which, in a sense, sometimes seems to take more courage. (A little foreshadowing here, of the reasons for Jerome's great admiration and affection for him.)
    The second reason for leaving the Transformation out of this one - at least for the time being, you never know when the Lord will change His mind; in this respect He has even more rights than a woman - is rather serious, although simple enough to understand. It has to do with the context of the Transformation underwriting my exposition so far.
   That is, the Transformation was not merely concerned, in that appearance, with this little work. He had other things on his mind, other things that he was not cheerful about, subjects over which there was no affability whatever. Narrating all of these would have taken much space, and been aside from the questions at hand, at least indirectly, but as it does not seem fair to have one without the others, we will have none. Moreover, the others were in reference to a different order of being, that is, not aimed at the approval of some good already accomplished - the story of which beginnings I am trying to tell herein - but to do with good that had not yet been done in order to offset bad that had been given too much freedom. These are all from decisions, or lack of them, in high places, somewhat outside my present jurisdictions, although not beyond the cognizance and effect of Nick and Jerome.
    Oh. There was one cheerful note. A certain internationally known radical, one of the progenitors of this century's most noted form of bad government, along with members of his original council, had been released from purgatory. Nick and so forth had known this for weeks, but the information had just been passed on to me. The Transformation had been pleased about this, but not at all delighted by the general inability of schismatic churches to pray their own out of the slammer. Nor was He excited about the correspondingly smaller capacity of churches less than schismatic! Another cheerful note: He was grateful, from His love for souls, for Catholic contemplatives. And that is related to what I am dealing with here.
    But perhaps I should not leave this aside without an important distinction. If certain leaders had finally been released from the place of temporal punishment - can anyone imagine sixty or seventy entire years in such pain? - certain others of this century's criminal tyrants and their associates had never made it even that close to eternal bliss. Not even contemplatives can save them all.
    But now back to a tale of those who try to grow upward in their faith rather than downward.
    Bishop Meinred, never a man to waste time - this is a different habit than making use of real leisure - suddenly on the Calgary street, hot in the noonday sun of a warm week in early May, had had his first severe thought. His initial concern had been to be of help to someone obviously in difficulty, now he had to be wary of being useless either by way of being too much help, the wrong kind of help, or not enough help. There was only one way to avoid any of these mistakes, and that was by finding out how quickly young Mrs. Davies answered yes for yes and no for no. The severity of a good man, of course, is about the same as Christ's.
    "Well, Madame, now that we have a few minutes out of earshot of your husband's sons, why has life thrown us together on the rocky road to Revelstoke?"
    She felt the weight of his iron will and his clear mind, but she was positive as well, taking a quick sidelong look at his mouth, that there was a bit of smile there. Was it just his words?
    "Because my son's father wants to break the law of the Church regarding the spacing of children and wants me to help him do it."
    The sidewalk was not especially full. They were well after the lunch hour, and most of the downtown eaters had gone back to work. The talking was easy.
    "Ah. An ancient story. And you have not been too co-operative. Otherwise you would not have come to Calgary?"
    "I have not been co-operative at all. But he's been persistent, so I came home for a while, I thought to get a break."
    "And it wasn't a break?"
    "No."
    He felt her closing a little, and did not like it.
    "Why not?"
    She looked at him again. Why was she afraid? Because he was older? Because until now she had thought of parents and the hierarchy as on the same side? Because two of the men she had already talked to, one of them a priest. had not really taken her side? Was he going to be like them? If you couldn't trust a bishop, could you go to the Pope?
    The sudden knot in her stomach was very unpleasant, but the whirling thoughts of the fights with Kirk, recollections of having stood up to teachers when she was a child, and parents when she was a teacher, and something very deep and clear and comfortable in her soul told her that she could swear at this man like she had sworn at her husband if he betrayed her. (As the Lord said, it is the violent who take Heaven by storm.)
    "Have you ever felt that you were turning against your parents?"
    Meinred shook his head. "Only vicariously. Only because someone I was advising was doing it. Had to do it, for the sake of their vocation."
    "Advising? Like who?"
    "Like seminarians whose parents were too eager to be grandparents rather than the father and mother of a priest. It's more common than you might think. Like girls who have to fight their parents to be sisters. Every once in a while there is some young man with false ideas of the priesthood - he wants the prestige, a car, God knows what instead of the real work - or some girl who's got the Nun of Monza written all over her, but those are exceptions. The fantasy you have to watch for is usually in the minds of the parents. Sometimes parents are the worst enemies God could ever dream of, after Satan himself. Yours are taking Kirk's side?"
    She nodded. He was looking, because he felt that the words might not come easily, or still be different than what her face or the tone in her voice actually said. It was also the first time that he actually noticed the colour of her hair, a sort of tawny colour. Fitting, as there was possibly a lioness in there.
    "Yes," she said.
    "You were surprised."
    "Yes."
    "Because they took his side, now, or because they'd always been on that side and you didn't know about it?"
    "Yes twice, but especially to the second part of your question."
    "Ah. So it was not a very good week in Calgary. But your children seem to have had a good time. I think I heard Roger say that he wanted to go back to Grandma's."
    "Maybe. They're very good to the kids. There were good to me, too. I suppose. They told me the truth. But Roger doesn't want to go back to Kirk and I fighting. He misses his friends, though. Who, or what, is the Nun of Monza?"
    "A character in a novel by Alessandro Manzoni. Most people call him the greatest Italian novelists. The Nun was a girl who became a religious sister because of her father's ambitions. She was very unhappy about the arrangement and finally murdered another nun in the same convent. Or had her murdered. At the moment I can't remember which."
    "Either way, it sounds awfully ugly. Do you read many novels?"
    "I suppose you could say I have one on the go most of the time. The ancient Romans had a saying about hating the man of one book, and I suppose, except for special cases, that applies as well to people who study only one subject. I love the subjects I teach, but I also love to read outside them. And you have to remember that wisdom is actually one whole thing of which all knowledge is a part."
    They had reached their second intersection and it was busy. Someone stared at them from a passing truck and Angela felt like making a rude gesture. But she pondered instead the image of the lady of legend who had wiped Christ's face with the towel as he staggered under the cross. What was her name? Oh, yes. Veronica. "You were a teacher? A professor. Oh, yes, I remember reading something in . . .Toronto. What subjects?"
    "Moral theology and history."
    "Did you like teaching?"
    "Very much."
    "You weren't sad to give it up?" The light changed and they were crossing the street.
    "Yes, I was. Perhaps I still am. But I suppose you could say that now I'm bishop I'm the principal."
    She laughed, quite gaily. "And you'll have an office where we can send bad boys when they need the strap!" But then the little doubts and the knot in her stomach came back again, as they reached the other side if the street. "Were my parents right to take Kirk's side?"
    'Of course not. If your parents were practising birth control they were in sin, and if they were still going to communion they were even more in sin. Your holding out against them and your husband is all the more remarkable. How have you managed to do it? And why did you go home to the folks? What about your present parish priest?"
    "We have a new one. That's part of the problem. He talks about the present law of the Church as something we have to obey but might be changed one of these days. He says the Pope can change it with the stroke of a pen."
    "What about the old priest?"
    "Father Grimaldi? He was fine. But he was from the old school, as they say. He loved the Pope, he had a great devotion to Our Lady. He said suffering was part of every good life and only a fool and coward tried to run away from it. He was a very gentle sort, and he didn't say that in so many words too often, but that was what he meant. The new priest is younger. He obeys, I know that; but he doesn't really believe it and Kirk caught on to that. Then, to make matters worse, Kirk started working sometimes down in MacGregor Bay. There's a sawmill there too, owned by the company that owns the mill at Revelstoke where he works. But the priest at MacGregor Bay - I don't know who he works for! He told Kirk he should go ahead and do whatever he thinks is right. He told him that the Pope and the cardinals don't know anything about life in the parishes. So Kirk tries to tell me that I don't know anything and I should be obeying my husband and the parish priest. He wants to move to MacGregor Bay, too." The knot in the stomach was gone.
    "And what did you tell him?"
    "I told him to go to hell and take his . . . backsliding clergyman with him."
    "You know," Meinred said, "I wish I'd come in on this story at the beginning. How long has this battle been going on?"
    "Since the fall. That's when Father Grimaldi left. It had probably been simmering away in Kirk for a while - maybe - and I hadn't noticed. Or maybe not. He can be quite complicated when he wants to be. That's one of the things about him that attracted me in the first place. He had a lively mind. Sometimes I knew what he was thinking but other times I had no idea and he'd completely surprise me. It was nice. All the single teachers I knew then weren't half as interesting. And he was good looking, too. At least I thought so, and I wasn't alone in my judgement. I'm telling you this because you're probably wondering why I married him." She was also telling him because it felt extremely good to do so, but sh was not about to say that. There were moments when she felt as shy as she felt bold in other moments.
    "No," Meinred said. "I mean it's nice to hear the reasons - I must admit that I've been wondering what he's like - but I don't doubt that you had the right instincts when you married him. You loved him, and things have gone well for . . . eight, ten years?"
    "Nine."
    "And I can see why he married you." He smiled and looked straight at her as he had back in the restaurant. It was not the sort of thing he said too often to women but once in a while it was not only possible but useful and in this case it seemed important for her to understand that he could see them - or was trying to see them - as they understood themselves to be. They had reached the entrance to the depot and it was an appropriate place to stop for a moment.
    She blushed, just a little, but gazed straight back at him, and though they were so obviously the words of a man, she knew he was eminently trustworthy. He had blood in his veins but the steel of virtue in his soul. Somewhere in the past, Kirk had shown some of that. It felt to her that this surprise in her life was trying to find the Kirk that was. But that was not just it, either. Not the Alpha and Omega of the situation. The Church was too far beyond sentimentality, happy little couples running around holding each other's hand and smiling blissfully behind their white picket fences. Was it because he was a bishop that he presented such a sense of something else? Or was his spirit so strong and provocative because of what it bore in itself, irrelevant of the office?
    She found herself wishing she could ask someone these questions, and then realized she could probably ask the cause himself. And that, strangely enough, made her feel even better than how she had felt from being able to talk so freely about her problem with Kirk.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Four Chapter 26

    Being such an approachable man and priest, Father Meinred had, in the course of his professorship at the seminary, been asked a great variety of questions, and not a few of them very deep and very personal questions. It is always a little painful - sometimes not a little at all - to see an excellent man leave a good working situation; there are many real regrets, and one of the sorrows that had attended his exit from the seminary and the priesthood of Toronto was the knowledge that the Catholic community, and indeed much of the non-Catholic as well, was losing one of its most open hearted of men. Those who were used to asking Father Meinred just about every question under the sun wondered to whom they were going to turn now, and not a few resolved to think of holidays and other journeys fulfilled in a more westerly distance than hitherto had been their custom. And, of course, there was always the mail. More than one seminarian, and others as well, knew that Meinred could read a letter well and answer to the point. You could say without any kind of exaggeration that Meinred was an expert - exclusive, of course, of the mystical life - at explaining why the Cross, generally and in particular, was not only necessary but tolerable.
    And yet, let me say, Father Schwartz was, in his own humble but thoroughly studious way, an authority on the mystical writers. As I have said earlier, he knew their irreplaceable value to the health of the soul, their unrelenting and constantly victorious enmity to mediocrity and compromise, and, without being a mystic in those years, he had a kind of co-natural ability to respond to many situations in the spirit and practical context - within limits - of their teaching. This was the fruit of his constant study of their works, and yet, as it was a habit for him to say, he had always found the study too enjoyable to be labelled as work, and would accept no compliments for his labour. And, I might point out, both Jerome and Nicholas, to say nothing of their associates, were grateful for the labour.
    Jerome used to say - if I have mentioned this before it is nonetheless worth repeating over and over again - that he was aware of few men not mystics who had as good a handle on the devil as Bishop Schwartz. And Nick - I have been in Meinred's company when this happened - would ask him where such and such a text of Teresa or John of the Cross or others might be found. Meinred had a great grasp of chapter and verse, so to speak.
    Yet, peculiarly enough, Meinred had never been able to acknowledge himself as a spiritual director. A spiritual counsellor, a spiritual advisor, yes. No question about this. People had made important decisions, continued in or left the seminary, pursued a vocation, entered a religious order, because of his guidance and capacity to listen. But, for all that, and knowing he was wiser than the "half-learned and timid men" St. Teresa had deplored among theologians and confessors - also more courageous - he could not grant himself such an awesome title, and he winced - often noticeably - when it was applied to certain clergy that he knew.
    "One man in ten thousand" St. Francis de Sales has said should be a spiritual director, and Meinred knew as well Philippe Gagnon's stinging addendum that among the anti-intellectual, anti-contemplative, work-ethic and utilitarian mentality of North America a better figure would be one man in a hundred thousand. As de Monfort had so precisely pointed out, it was always a miracle, considering the chronic poverty of devotion to Mary, when even priests and religious were not contaminated by the mud and the dusts of their time. In this time, in this place, there was much mud and plenty of dust.
    This was a personal rule of Meinred's, not something he insisted on for others. Even casually applied the title of director could confer certain benefits in grace, and do much to provide the occasion of an obediential attitude. Yet his own heart and mind had been captured, between Father Aelred and his reading habits, by the standards of the great Carmelites, which of course Philippe Gagnon had made his own and , one might say, added thereunto. That is, Philippe - those who have read him know what I am talking about - had in great detail enforced the logic of the title of spiritual director as applied in its perfection only to that soul and spirit which knew the Transfiguration in Christ.
    "To die, and to rise again," had been Philippe's standard, and Meinred, bless him, had imbued the theoretical effect of such an entirely rigorous, yet entirely happy, doctrine. Does this sound extreme? Perhaps. But it had kept him basically youthful as well as mature, and aggressively pliant, like new leather. And perpetually inquisitive, probing the constant unfolding of the Infinite, even in the apparently material confines of earthly existence.
    And all of this was coming together, among the shock of the news of his appointment in Rome, his retreat, and this incident in the Calgary restaurant, upon his entry into the diocese of Sterling.
    He had picked up Mrs. Davies' check and added it to his own. She had protested, and he had reminder her of St. Nicholas. To himself he had said that he was becoming more and more convinced that he was being given the opportunity to enter his diocese, the circumstances of his salvation, the destiny to which had all his life directed him, on the solid ground of the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
    But the waitress looked oddly at them. She glanced from the collar under the face of the plainly virile man to the increasingly softened and attractive features of the young woman, and registered a mental registration as well as a figure in dollars and cents rung up by the combining two bills on the cash register. The Most Reverend Meinred Schwartz, as I will have many opportunities to demonstrate later, was quite the wag as well as a staunchly moral man, and never at a loss for words unless there was a reason for it. He took out his wallet, counted out the bills for the meals, then took a studies look at his watch, even checking it with the electric clock on the restaurant wall.
    "The morning discussions were very interesting," he said to Angela. "But I think the two o'clock conference on catechetics is where the fireworks will really hit the sky. What do you think? Oh, and two ice-cream cones for the boys," he added to the waitress.
    Mrs. Davies, already blushing slightly from the restaurant woman's curiosity, glanced at her own watch - it was an hour before two - and said that she agreed, although she hoped that the theological questions that had surfaced earlier would be handled so that all present could understand them according to their different abilities. She also told the waitress that both boys like chocolate, and catching on to the spirit of the occasion, and beginning finally to feel that she could trust the new bishop's generosity, said that they would like doubles. "It will be a little too much for Timmy," she said to Meinred, "but Roger can eat a double and Timmy would have a fit if his wasn't as big. One of us can help after he realizes his stomach isn't as big as his eyes."
    Ah, Meinred thought. Running a parish, teaching seminarians, and motherhood have a great deal in common.
    And then, out on the street, he said this. They had a few blocks to stroll on their way to the bus depot and in searching his conscience he could find no reason to hurry anyone along. As with all small boys, Roger and Timmy had been sent to Heaven with the chocolate ice cream and he was growing in the feeling of certainty that Angela Davies was one of those souls who could be enormously benefited by an opportunity to talk - to a trained and honest ear - until her mind was emptied. Possibly he would run into some or other obstruction in the will, but for now she seemed entitled to - and grace would facilitate - a pretty thorough unfolding. Furthermore, he was the bishop, was he not, and entitled to complete and accurate information as to what was going on in his diocese?
    That happy phrase came to mind: The prudent man is given foresight. Meinred felt kindly toward his retreat. He also remembered what his father had said about the mistakes henceforth being blamable only on himself.
    In that vein, the children would make it difficult to talk as freely as would be ideal. But it happened that he had parked the car just down the street from the restaurant, on the way to the depot.
    "No point the boys trudging down and back with us," Meinred said. "Or is there too much for us to carry?"
    "Two suitcases," she said. "We had to travel light."
    "All right, you two. In the car with those ice cream cones, and easy on my seat covers." He unlocked the car, and opened the back door for the boys. "They'll stay put?" he asked the mother. They looked tractable, but as he closed the car door a little doubt went through his head. Roger was probably strong enough to release the emergency brake, and there was just enough grade for the Ford to roll backwards into the car behind. A priest, a bishop, with a strange woman in a strange city should stay out of even the least of automobile accidents, especially if he had a choice.
    "They're usually pretty good, and I think they're quite afraid of displeasing you."
    "For now," Meinred said, remembering some of his little relatives. "The charm will probably last until a few minutes after we get back."
    He's an interesting man, thought Angela. He has so much presence, yet he doesn't seem especially aware of it. The boys certainly were in awe of him, and it would take more than a few minutes for their attitude to wear thin, A child was a child, and they would not be spellbound or behave like little angels for ever, but the hours ahead, to a mother who knew her sons, loomed awfully tranquil. It had been necessary to get away from Kirk so she could think, but travelling without the boy's father had not been an easy thing to do, and it was obvious the return, in contrast, would be a holiday. They started down the sidewalk again, and she knew that she felt younger, freer, than she had in quite a while.
    But also responsible. He was sticking his neck out, this unknown priest, this bishop. He did not know her, he could only guess, so far, at the circumstances that had sent her to Calgary, and he would have no idea at all, probably, of what she had run into when she got there. He had said very little about his own family, but there had been so much affection, so much regard, in those few references - what were they? to his brother-in-law, a sister? - that it was hard not to think that he came from a great wisdom, in his family, as well as from the great wisdom of whatever corner of Heaven it was that God sent bishops from.
    But he was a man, and she was a young woman whose looks and sense of life had more than once raised her husband's concern in mixed company. He was a good man, and a tender man and this, in some way she was not quite handy with words for, but knew deep in her heart, made him even more vulnerable. But only as long as she was honest! She understood this too, with something of a start. She remembered how he had suddenly looked at whatever it was one of the teenagers had said in the restaurant. Should she ask him, at some point, what that was? It could not have been simply a few rough words. This Bishop Schwartz looked too vigorous to be bothered by the habitual language of youngsters; possibly he spoke the same himself., in private and when the occasion warranted. He was from the Prairies, was he not? Had he been raised on a farm?
    But what of his mind? What was the book he had been reading at the restaurant table? It had not been his breviary. That she had seen in the front seat of the car, with some other books. The image came to her mind of this man's automobile pulled over to the side of the road, or parked in some out of the way place, while he took time out to read. He gave off such a sense of being thoughtful yet constantly on the move at the same time, a kind of relaxed bulldozer. She smiled to herself and wondered what the diocese would be like under his direction. She had not know Dalton well; Sterling was a fair journey south, by none too perfect roads and, until lately, by paddle-wheeler, but he was universally acknowledged as a sweet man, considerate, inspiring, well-educated. And all these qualities in sufficient degree to get him promoted away from the places he had been known to love very much.
    She remembered that it had crossed her mind to make the trip south and talk to him about the problem with Kirk, but before she could think about it twice had come the news that he was being transferred to Vancouver. For a moment she had hated Vancouver for existing rather than the Pope for moving Dalton, and then simply prayed and decided to go home to Calgary for a while. And Calgary, because of her family, had been no use whatever! That had been a shock. Strange, how one could grow up in the middle of falsehood without knowing it. And stranger yet, to have the sudden realization of its having been there make her doubt her own sanity!
    He looked like he could listen, indeed, this one. And as if he enjoyed listening! Yet she was puzzled. What was there to say? She knew she did not need to go to confession. In the midst of everything, she had no serious guilt; she was the one who had been threatened with wrong-doing. If she had been too angry in her retaliations, that was only a fault, a defect in her otherwise righteous action. So what did she say to this priest? What was it like to talk to a priest as if he were your brother, or a father you had always been on easy terms with?
    She had been a Catholic all her life, and the ordinary tenets of the Faith had come with relative ease into her lifestyle, so she had always felt friendly toward the clergy and known a number of them fairly well. But there had never been much of a need for an acce4ss to regular conversations. Marriage instructions had been as close to this as she'd come, but they had been quite formal, and she'd listened more than she's spoken.
    She had been happy to do that. Why did the thought of not being able to speak out her heart to this man make her unhappy? It was not a little mysterious. Well, she had quite a few hours ahead of her. So she should use them well. He was not simply a priest, he was bishop for the entire diocese, and she would see him very little again. Even the next scheduled confirmation, she remembered, were two years away. A touch of sorrow nudged its way into her buoyant spirits.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Four Chapter 25

    It was at that point that the Wurlitzer in the booth behind struck up another tune. Once again, Meinred thought, God bless the young. There was nothing for it but to get up and cross the aisle to the little family. Meinred may never have struck anyone as looking gallant, but he had a gallant heart. The Cyrano de Bergerac of Saskatchewan, someone had called him once, except for his most ordinary sized nose and the fact that he would no more tell lies about the condition of his heart than jump off a bridge.
    "Did I hear you say you were going to Revelstoke?" he asked the young mother. He had heard her say much more than that, and no doubt much in the face that fronted his complex mind revealed this to here, but as the discrete clergy know all too well, there are many times and many situations in which what is not spoken of is much more pressing and relevant than what is plainly discussed.
    "Yes," she said. "You did. We are." She looked at her watch, although the restaurant clock hung on the wall directly in front of her at the end of the room. "And we have to catch our bus soon."
    She struck him now as cornered, between the facts of her life as apparent and an obscure hope shrouded in the mystery of his calling as she recognized it. The priest, after all, was the most outstanding miracle worker mankind could ever know. He changed the bread and wine of the earth into the Body and Blood of Christ and he forgave sins and admitted men from darkness into the light of grace. But she was cornered because she thought she had to bite the bullet. She had to trundle her lads out into the bright sun and Alberta wind and take up the long bus ride to whatever trials awaited her back on the other side of the mountains. He thought of Jews being herded into the cattle cars of the Third Reich.
    "I heard you say that too," Meinred said. "Which is why I'm intruding myself into your business." The boys looked at him with unmistakable awe and the woman began to relax. In recollection, he always subsequently maintained, it was exactly at that point that he felt himself again to be the parish priest he had left behind when he went to the study for his professorship. "If you'll let me, I'll drive you to Revelstoke. I have a car outside with plenty of room and I happen to be going to Sterling.
    Some Catholics are up to date on the public events that are going on in their diocese, some have little idea. Was this woman's problem that she had not been practising for some time, and therefore was out of touch? Or was she a regular and struggling with the forces that inevitably tried to drive the devout away from their faith?
    She gave a little start of recognition. Right, he thought. The diocesan paper, also founded by the great Dalton, had asked him for a photograph. Nonetheless, he knew that her eyes had not until that moment been opened to his real identity.
    "I'm Meinred Schwartz," he said. "Almost your new bishop. If this were next Tuesday," he joked, "I'd almost be able to order you to come with me, but as it is I can only invite you."
    "You're the new bishop?" the older boy said. "And you've got a car?"
    "Not only a car," Meinred said, "but a Fifty-three Ford that will climb those Rockies like an antelope." Meinred grinned at the boy. He was not the sentimental type of priest the movies so rarely seem to improve upon, but he had never had any trouble with children. They seemed to know instantly that he was the sort of man who knew how to punish the bad and reward the good and rarely be confused as to which was which.
    "Hey, Mom! Can we go with the bishop? I hate the bus anyway."
    "The Bishop is very kind, Roger, but . . ." she turned to Meinred. "But going to Sterling via Revelstoke is the long way round. Did you have someone you wanted to see there?"
    A bishop is a father, Meinred not only thought, but was relieved to be able to feel. And what father does not sit at his own table? He moved into the booth. Moreover, he thought, it was still lunch time in the restaurant and he was blocking the aisle. "I have an entire diocese to see, sooner or later. Is there anything wrong with Revelstoke?"
    "I like Revelstoke," the smaller boy said, "But I'd rather live in Meadow Flats. They've got horses there."
    "I like horses too," Meinred said. "I was riding one last week on my brother's farm."
    "Do you live in Meadow Flats?" the boy asked.
    "No. My brother's farm is in Saskatchewan. I've never even seen Meadow Flats. You can tell me about it in the car. If your mother says we can all travel together."
    "Can we, Mom?" said Roger.
    "Yeah," said Timmy.
    "I've never thought of the Church as a democracy," said the woman, "But I suppose sometimes it is. Yes, we'll come with you. But how could you have room? We have luggage in the depot. Not a lot. We were only in Calgary for a week. But you must have your belongings in your car?"
    "I shipped a lot. I have boxes of books, too many to bring in a car when I was already driving three priests to Saskatoon. So I had to use the train, for the baggage. Perhaps God saw you coming."
    "What colour is your car?" asked Roger.
    "Light blue."
    "How fast will it go?"
    "Fast enough."
    "We'll help pay for the gas, of course," the mother said. "By the way, my name is Angela. Angela Davies. This is Roger, and this is Timmy. There is an Elizabeth, too. She's seven and she's at home in Revelstoke. I left her in school."
    Meinred nodded. Ah. Three children. A nice-sized family. It was easy, and with good reason, to feel that one had done one's duty in bringing three children into the world.
    She offered her hand and Meinred took it. The boys too grew solemn and offered their own little palms. Meinred took them as well, and shook them man to man, which pleased the boys, but he did not let the interruption distract him from thinking about how the woman's hand had felt. It was warm, relaxed now, and quite firm without being hard. He was reminded of his mother, and his sister who lived in Humboldt and taught music there. He liked women as much as he liked men, but he was not indiscriminate, and there were women he did not especially like at all, although he was aware of his Christian duty to regard them as children of God and to remain open to whatever corner of their hearts might turn to the light. But this woman was not a little likeable, he realized. They seemed to have something in common beyond whatever it was that had engaged his attention in the first place. Was she, or had she been, a teacher? She seemed well-spoken and he was conscious of a need to be somewhat deft and subtle with his own words, although she was by no means stilted or artificial. And now she was at ease with his being a bishop, and perhaps, in fact, with being her bishop, although Meinred had no doubt about this being a title the honouring of which he would have to earn.
    "Angela," he said. "An angel. Well, then. You should understand how help can drop down out of the heavens. Your husband wasn't able to come on this trip?" There was no point saying "I assume there is a husband?" She knew he had heard Roger and herself.
    "He's working in Revelstoke. Or perhaps down in Meadow Flats."
    "He works for the railway?" What else besides horses existed in Meadow Flats? The name was not as sweet to her lips as it was to Timmy's.
    "There's no railway in Meadow Flats," Roger said.
    Meinred knew this, but for the purpose of finding out something useful he did not mind seeming to be a little stupid, like Maritain's good poet.
    "Kirk works in lumbering," she said. "He's a saw filer. You know what that is?"
    "We have sawmills in Saskatchewan," Meinred said. Had a touch of the suspected bitterness toward her husband filtered into her question as to his knowledge or ignorance of the lumber business? Or did she simply like him instantly and was anxious to help the new bishop find his way gracefully around his new responsibilities? Obviously, she was not a thick woman if so little of a dialogue could raise so many possibilities of interpretation. She had a lot of genuine refinement of soul, he ventured to think - a good bishop, remember, is more cautious than a film director, and requires more nuances from his parishioners' living than the screen does from acting - and he found his feelings reacting against whatever steps her husband might have been taking to brutalize those sensibilities.
    But he must not judge. Women may be the weaker sex, and suffer corruption infallibly if their true selves were not cherished, indeed as St. Paul had ordered, as Christ loved His Church, but they had their own ways of inflicting incalculable harm on their men. A man in the counselor's chair had to be careful that his gender did not influence his judgement. (Some men have a deep-rooted antipathy for women, and this in priests as elsewhere, but Meinred had no share in this problem.) Yet in the dock, he felt, he would have to attest to an air of innocence about her. Otherwise, why had he been so disturbed when he saw her begin to wear the face of a woman who is starting to make a philosophy out of control?
    And the attitude of the children. Being a man who automatically won the affection and respect of all but the most perverse of youngsters, he had an instinctive accuracy for rating the relationship of children with their parents and, for that matter, the other adults in their lives. (This was to make him an interesting figure in the diocese, in certain rectories, homes and convents, and to also make him a noted enemy of much of the folly that was to subvert the Church in other areas. More than one bishop was to wish in the depths of his heart that he could hire Meinred to come in and sort the sheep from the goats. But then, how would Meinred have gone without his army? Other bishops, of course, either feared or hated his reputation.)
    He had been thinking during the pause which Angela Davies had taken to wonder if her question had been rude, or had seemed ungrateful. Her first thought on first seeing him had not only natural delight to see a priest in the restaurant, but also that he had such a very kind face, a face that automatically gave a heart hope and joy. Why had she wondered if he knew what a saw-filer was?
    "In fact," Meinred was saying, "I have a brother-in-law who is a foreman in a sawmill." He smiled. "In Saskatchewan."
    "Yes," she said. "I was an elementary school teacher. I know that at least half of Saskatchewan is covered with trees, so there has to be lumber mills." She sighed and even collapsed somewhat against the corner of the booth, even though she half-wondered if she were supposed to sit up straight in the presence of a bishop. But in the circumstances that seemed to be like worrying about sitting up straight in the doctor's office, with a broken back.
    "Where did you teach?"
    "In Revelstoke, where I met my husband. You'll have to excuse me. My thinking has been disarranged of late."
    Again Meinred smiled. "If you're mind is out of order, all the more reason to accept some help. You might catch the wrong bus."
    "You have to let me help with the gas," she said.
    "Saint Nicholas was a bishop of ancient times who helped three young women find dowries. You have to let me begin my new job on the right foot. Besides, the gas was already budgeted for."
    It had occurred to him to order some dessert for the lads. as the conversation might go on for some time before they hit the road, but the two little fellows were riveted to this sudden invasion of a remarkable kindness making it so easy for their mother to be a mother. Both of them, were wondering if it was permissible to sit in a bishop's lap. They did not really have the words for it, but they knew it had been some time since their mother had begun to look so at ease with things.
    So their appetites got the best of them. "Can we have some ice cream?" Roger asked.
    Their mother looked at Meinred. "Might as well," he said. "You can afford it now. In dishes, or shall we get it in cones and be on our way?"
    The kids in the booth behind where he had been sitting were working another song out of the juke box. It happened to be Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line. Meinred had heard it before. Frederick liked country and western music, and during his retreat Meinred had found himself applying the lyrics to the spiritual life. A thing went into a man according to his disposition. Meinred was already involved in a lengthy and complicated internal discourse on the symbolism of lovers in poetry and song as representative of Christ and the Church, but if you had looked closely at his feet as the little party moved down the aisle - everyone had agreed on cones to go, the highway west suddenly becoming a magnificent prospect for everyone - you would have seen them keeping time to the beat of the song.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Book Four Chapter 24

    I'm tempted, naturally, to dwell at great length on Meinred's first meeting with Father Aelred Cochrane for its own sake. There are few pleasures keener than a visit to one's old home town, even a mental visit. But "I have miles to go before I sleep" - by sleep I mean to dream of the places of my youth - and by miles I mean the distances left to go in this tale, so the encounter will have to be dealt with in the same context in which I introduced it, within Meinred's retreat and the immediate use he made of it on his entry into his diocese.
    We left him, you will remember, in a Calgary restaurant, spooning his soup and thinking about a piece of pie. Apple, blueberry, mince, coconut cream . . . his mother made a great pastry, and so had Aelred Cochrane's housekeeper . . . again Father Aelred was in his thoughts . . . the image of him had pretty well taken over the retreat, especially the last two weeks . . . pretty good for a man dead for so many years . . . taken over the retreat and steered him through some excellent reading and not a few nightmares and some other confrontations with the other world that Meinred sometimes thought really should be granted the status of the dark night of the senses, but did not feel he could actually discuss with anyone, beyond a few words with his parents . . . but he had not failed to be enlightened and consoled and made to feel at home by reading further into the John of the Cross than the Ascent . . . and that was a provocative sign in a man who had previously read the mystics from a sense of duty, while at the same time admitting considerable ascetic and theological comfort, encouragement, humbling, instruction, and so on . . .
    The teenagers, by the way, disturbed none of this recollection. They had been noticeably quieter since they identified the profession of the man in the next booth, and the woman had smiled to herself more than once over the change in their attitude. Meinred saw the smiles and guessed at the reason and a little smile escaped across his own lips. And this was a reflection, as well, of a larger smile buried in his interior. He was remembering how he had felt sixteen at his mother's question - just mentioned - and had to admit he seemed to be somewhat in the predicament of youth again: what does one say to a young woman one has never met before but believes he has a reason for knowing?
    He was an interesting mixture of action and reflection, our beloved Bishop. A man of much feeling, a man of firm control of his feelings. Also a man sometimes understanding St. Thomas when he said that passion perfected virtue, sometimes knowing he did not understand. In the case at hand, for instance, it was hard to see where passion, at least in its lowest sense, would be in any way helpful. Quite the opposite, in fact.
    But, in a higher sense, there was indeed the passion of tenderness. And Meinred had always had plenty of this, as a boy, as a youth, as a young parish priest. He had been by no means lax, neither in the pulpit nor the confessional, and there were those who had not returned to his marriage instructions and gone off and been married in another church, but he was patient, forgiving, and understanding; these qualities could not be absent from the very manner in which he walked, let alone spoke, although as I have said, he had a sanguine temperament and was not incapable of putting it to work in a good cause.
    And this habit of tenderness insisted on probing the situation in the booth across the aisle.
    He had been hunting with one of his older brothers once, when he was twelve. They had lain on top of a little hill for almost an hour because Meinred had maintained that the thicket ahead of them had a deer in it. Whispering - it was safe, with the breeze from the trees - they had argued until the buck finally appeared and Meinred's brother, affectionately calling his sibling a lucky unprintable, dropped him with on slug from the family .270. Frederick was small on patience, but he was the best shot in the family.
    Meinred often recollected that thicket, and during the retreat had even driven out to have a look at it. The aspens and the willows were still an image of the reward of patience, and of the sense of all the mystery that lay behind the reasons for patience. "A thing is what it is." The Trinity was a mystery, therefore mystery was a reflection of the Trinity. The humble searcher could almost say that mystery was the Trinity, although he would have to be careful in what context and company he said this. A man could expand his understanding by moving only from the known to the unknown, and that which was mysterious could not help but point in the direction of what was, at least for the moment, the unknown.
    Some things that seemed mysterious turned out, on investigation, to be no mystery at all. The woman across the aisle, for instance. Would she have been eight or ten years old and a member of the parish where he had begun his life as a priest? Lots of people moved west from Toronto sooner or later. Perhaps an older brother or an uncle was a priest and had even studied in his old seminary. Strike up a conversation, talk of where one came from and who one knew, and perfect strangers became old friends, the riddle was answered, the mystery disappeared. That was one of the possible adventures of travel. And it was also one of the possible adventures of the Faith. Perhaps she had a relative who was a nun, someone he might know very well. Or she had attended a school run by sisters from an order from which he knew a dozen or more.
    On the other hand, one had to remember that the silver sky of travel adventure sometimes held a cloud or two. One struck up a conversation with a perfect stranger and at the height of bonhomie realized he or she was the close friend or relative of an enemy, either of oneself or one's friend.
    For a priest especially this situation could create a most interesting challenge, and it was in fact a predicament he addressed every year when he taught on the sins of speech. Discretion and the new priest in the parish. Or, The travelling clergy and circumspection. How not to put one's foot in one's mouth, or, if the offending member had indeed found its way there, how to gracefully remove it. In fact, how to humbly remove it. And if neither were possible, then how and why to play the man and modestly admit that one had wandered into stormy waters before learning how to handle the kayak.
    The kayak was a good image, because he who turned over his kayak wound up with his head under water and was likely to drown. And just as the kayak was one of the more difficult crafts from which to hastily abandon ship, the priesthood was one of the more difficult professions in which to hide one's identity, especially after having made a mistake. So much of the public, even the Catholic public, would like to blame a priest for having faults rather than excuse him for being human.
    And beware of God! Meinred would further teach on this interesting subject. He too has his reasons for the clergy, that most honourable of callings, to taste humiliations if they deserved it. Only the humble could recognize the voice of the Master at the door of the sheepfold: and so great was Christ's love for His beloved priests that He would happily use the occasions of indiscreet conversation to bring them down to condition wherein He could recognize them. Ah! What was that disturbing element on her face now?
    Caution, caution, and again caution. But also charity, charity, and again charity. With too little caution, charity would be squandered and dissipated; with too much, it grew cold. In the Reverend Meinred Schwartz there had always been a profoundly strong will against letting charity grow cold.
    What sort of kindness did this woman need? That seemed to be the question, and as far as he knew, he had no way of asking it, let alone answering it. Again, the inner man smiled. The confessional, as a rule, was a much more efficient adventure than travel. Both the penitent and the priest came prepared; each knew what he expected of the other, and what the other expected of him. The priest could always ask the ancient question, "Anything else?" but that always came after the soul on the other side of the screen had made a fair advance toward bearing her soul to God.
    But this was idle speculation, was it not? How many dozens of priests were there in the diocese of Calgary? What an annoying quandary. What a test to patience! Yet why did he have such a fear that he was going to walk out of this restaurant a failure and by no means enjoy the rest of his journey to Sterling?
    And then, as priests do so often, Meinred laid hands on a corner of truth because of something said by a child.
    It sometimes happens that what has been a noisy room grows suddenly quiet, and a word that was meant only for ears close by, conceived when the room was at full tilt, hurtles out into the silence for everyone to hear. It was not quite that dramatic here, but the hub-bub of talk did soften, and the song the teenagers behind him ended - in a moment to be followed by another - and Meinred heard the older of the two little boys say as he finished his hamburger, "Mommy, I don't want to go back to Revelstoke. I want to stay here. I liked it at Granny's."
    "So did I," said the mother. "But we have to go home. Anyway, I've already told you we might be moving. We might not be staying in Revelstoke."
    Now it happens that Revelstoke is in the diocese of Sterling. It is the northern-most town in that episcopal jurisdiction. And jurisdiction, as I have been labouring with at some length, was a question uppermost in Meinred's mind. The young woman and her two lads were part of his flock.
    It felt as if a river full of ice, frozen solid from bank to bank, had suddenly broken up and started to flow. Perhaps it was not polite to have let on that he had overheard, especially as the boy seemed to be making more than just an offhand remark, perhaps because he liked his grandmother's cooking, but it seem co-operative with the grace of the moment to let the broad smile fill his face, and he looked full at the woman.
    He was pleased, too, because the boy's question had displaced in his mother's own face a certain drift toward the will to be in control that no good confessor could be happy with. An open face meant an open heart, and Meinred had initially found the young mother an attractive soul because her face did seem open and her responses natural and uncontrived. Now, whatever mastery of her predicament she had temporarily been striving for was, at least for the moment, gone, and reality had another chance. How much had his own soul been confused by the presence of that will to self-determination? Moderate independence was desirable; after all, it was freedom that the Truth was to make; but too much independence was more trouble than it was worth.
    And God writes straight with crooked lines. One had always to remember this. Mystery was equivalent to the Trinity, in a sense, because if you said "The Trinity is a mystery" you gave a predicate of mystery to the subject Trinity. Yet as God was infinite the predicate could not be said to have broader application where the subject was God. So, mystery was God. Meinred had believed this for a very long time, but it was the sort of article of faith with him that, as with everyone else, had need of regular confirmation.
    Was this whole thing just an exercise in theology?
    He was finished his soup and sandwich, now. And the decision about the pie seemed to have been made for him.
    The little boy spoke up again. "But you said we might stay in Calgary until Saturday. Why do we have to go home now?"
    "Because we have to. Doesn't Grandma want us there?"
    "We have to go home before we run out of money."
    "Do we have enough money to pay for lunch?"
    Meinred saw the mother smile, and he knew that she knew she was being watched with a now more particularized interest.
    "Yes, we have enough money for lunch."
    "Do we have enough money for the bus?"
    "Yes, if you don't eat too much for lunch."
    Ah, thought the bishop-elect. Risibility. Notwithstanding the weight of whatever burden she was carrying, she could find a moment for humour. He had long ago understood, without having to learn the hard way, that a woman who took herself too seriously was rarely profitable company for a priest.
    "Have you bought the bus tickets yet?"
    "No, We have to go back to the depot pretty soon, and do just that." She turned to the smaller boy. "Timmy, you'd better hurry up with your hamburger."
    "I wish we were staying here," the older boy siad.
    "Don't you want to see . . . all your friends again? And your Daddy? Don't you want to see Daddy?"
    Now we are getting down to it, Meinred thought. The graces of state must be having their effect. The collar was putting on the pressure, whether or not - and it was not, of course - she would know he was her new bishop. If that question wasn't as much for his benefit as for the boys, I'll eat my collarless shirt.
    "No, I don't," the boy said.
    "Why not?" It was not straightforward now, between her and the boy. There was much more to it, and something bigger than both of them drove the questions.
    "Because you don't," the boy said. "You don't want to see him."
   

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Four Chapter 23

    Sitting in his room in his parent's home gazing into the little forest, walking or driving about the Muenster countryside or around other old haunts - Quill Lakes, for example - the bishop-elect found this recollection of his first meeting with Father Aelred recurring rather often. And of course the abbey or any other church, especially at a quiet time, brought him back. One night, in fact, attacked by what it would be probably quite correct to label a scruple, it was so persisting and annoying, in fact downright vicious, Meinred was only bailed out of his misery by recalling, as clearly as if he had written them down in point form, many of the things he had learned from the English priest. The devil was very busy telling the zealous exercitant that he'd no business whatsoever trying to run his own retreat, that it was a first class piece of arrogance, totally in opposition to sentire cum ecclesiae, that he was making a terrible beginning to his new responsibilities and would be punished by the most flagrant displays of independent thinking by the priests of the diocese of Sterling, that he might even fall into heresy as a result of his exaggerated individualism and have to be excommunicated, thus bringing a mountain of shame down on his family and his heritage . . . .and so, and so on. Who was he to think that he knew more than the learned Fathers Such-and-Such, S.J., O.P., or O.F.M. Cap?
    And the devil really had poor old Meinred going, too, because not even the heart and brains that one usually expects as qualification for the bishop's chair are proof against the first of the angels unless theh poor victim takes a firm grip on his devotion to Mary and uses her tender foot to kick the devil through the door. Meinred had been pretty well clinging to her image throughout the onslaught - no need for a lot of fancy prayers here, just "Hail Mary, full of grace, help!" - but the battle was fierce and he was finding that he needed to bend his will with a great deal of strength, until finally the king of hell overplayed his hand, as the wise know he inevitably does, and tried to tell Meinred that this problem of his arrogance had all started when he had questioned the wisdom of the learned American priest and toddled off to see that meddling and opinionated Aelred Cochrane.
    Meinred had been wondering just when Our Lady was going to do more than simply hold his hand and perhaps load his rifles in the heat of the battle, that is, when she was actually going to step in and fire off her own cannon. But when he suddenly had the enemy in his own sights, and finally understood his battle plan, it was almost as if he did not need his Divine Mother anymore, and the devil fled, as it were self-scorched, hoisted by his own petard, as Shakespeare said. It was an interesting lesson in patience and endurance.
    The assault had started after supper, after he had said evening prayer, continued through a good hour's walk in the low light of evening, and followed him back to his room to continue there. He was half-way through his retreat, with the third week just beginning; these were his darkest hours so far. The consolations of the homecoming had plainly had their day, and the harder work was well begun. But there is, in a well-ordered retreat, a rhythm of consolation and desolation, and his having been so desolated led naturally to his being consoled, and in the period of consolation the desolation became intelligible.
    It was by then ten o'clock in the evening and time to join his parents, talking in the living room before they retired. He felt fine as he emerged from his own room and the short hall but the gravity of what he had been dealing with plainly showed on his face. For the first time since he had come home his mother did not wait for him to introduce the topic of conversation. Ursula herself had been pleased, but surprised, that he would want to make his retreat in the family home, but even before he had arrived in Muenster had explained some of his reasons - as they then appeared to him - she understood that he must have serious thinking and praying in mind and knew he must be left to himself unless he invited company.
    So they had spent a number of pleasant hours together, but not at her provocation. For one thing she had always been a concerned mother and friend, but not a meddler. For another, she was quietly and definitely joyful simply to be able to observe the great soul of her son grown to manhood, now about to enter the fullness of the priesthood as he prepared for his future. From their conversations she had gleaned one item at least, very precious to her: he was not nearly so excited about the day of consecration - although he was not some dog in the manger who refused to be happy at his own success and the joy it brought his family - as he was concerned about the gravity of his new burdens and opportunities.
    Seeing him come into the room, obviously trailing some unusual spiritual adventure, she did not feel out of order asking him his thoughts. "You look as if you've been having a difficult evening. Are you ready for some tea?"
    Benno looked up from his book, registered his son's face, and felt a good deal of sympathy for the exercitant. Meinred had not looked as fresh and happy as he usually did when he had returned from his walk. He'd always been a good walker, that lad, and there had never been a problem, specifically sacramental and spiritual cures aside, that he hadn't been able to solve with a good hike.
    As for Meinred, he enjoyed suddenly feeling sixteen again and knowing that his mother was hitting the nail on the head. "I'm fine now." He sat on the couch beside his father. "But it's been a long night, and tea is a great idea."
    "Would you like something stronger?" Benno asked.
    "Not tonight. It feels better to stay high and dry after this particular episode of being low and murky. I'm probing, and I'm wary of relaxing." He chuckled grimly. "Offer me a drink a week from now."
    "Hmm," Benno said. Once, with the monks, he had made the month's retreat, and he regularly thumbed through Ignatius' little guide book, although that was not the book he was reading now. "It struck me tonight as you were coming back to the house that you were starting the third week, the week of the Lord's passion and death. I didn't think you'd be feeling like a picnic for a few days." He nodded solemnly, but there was also a twinkle in his eye. "You have to prepare very carefully for being a bishop. Now you will have no one else to blame if anything goes wrong."
    Meinred had been looking at his mother as he collected his thought from their ravaging in his room. But now he turned and gazed upon his father's seasoned and much-loved face, and burst out laughing, the rumble in his strong voice and broad chest filling the room with a suddenly lively and grateful mirth. "Oh, mein Papa! You are a genius and now I know why I came home for my retreat!"
    "Hmm?"
    "What you just said? From now on I will have no one else to blame if anything goes wrong? That's the theme I've been looking for! It's been a very good two weeks, you see, until tonight. Well, most of the day perhaps. Not so bad at first, but not the usual clarity of understanding of what I'm up to, although I have been doing a lot more remembering than I expected. I thought old familiars would have their way for a few days, and then I'd just get on with my meditations. But that's not been the case. But that was fine, for God has been underneath it all - no problem there. Then today was different, and tonight was especially miserable. There has to be desolation, of course, but this was not of the nature that I would have expected, although it was the nature of my decision - to come here - that made me vulnerable. . . . "
    His mother had left for the kitchen, but she was listening, and had yet to arrive. "Are you saying that you shouldn't have come?"
    "No, no. I knew I should come. But tonight the devil was saying that I shouldn't have come, and now I know why."  He winked at his father. "After my triumph of discovery I should have a drink, but I'll stick with my plan and become a Pioneer for a week. They're an honorable group anyway and one should join them from time to time even if one hasn't taken the pledge." Now he was merry, delighted with his father's offhand stroke of insight, "But if you don't get into the kitchen, Mudder, I'll change my mind."
    He grew sober again. "No one to blame but myself?  'If anything goes wrong,' the wizard said. So what can go wrong? 'The prudent man is given foresight?' Or, what has gone wrong? Is the prudent man given hindsight? For the sake of the future, perhaps? Yet Alexander Dalton has been a very good bishop. Everyone knows that. A learned gentleman, loyal to Rome, a founder in the face of considerable odds in the case of his little university."
    "What odds?" asked Ursula from the kitchen.
    "In that province the government has not been friendly to the Church's role in education. This is hard on the patience of a philosopher, let alone a bishop, but it's a fact. The Church gets no share whatever of the school taxes."
    "But it wasn't this that was weighing you down?" Benno said.
    "No, no. I wasn't thinking about the diocese at all, actually, or not very profoundly. I seemed mostly to be trying to get a handle on myself."
    "What were you reading?"
    "Nothing, really. That was the problem. I couldn't. I tried several books. Nothing caught my fancy. Even the breviary was quite perfunctory. That happens easily, but of course that's no excuse for not reading with it."
    "So what brought you out of your pit?"
    "Remembering Father Cochrane, my old friend when I was in the seminary. The devil was playing amateur psychiatrist, I think, trying to create difficulties deep in my unconscious, as he would like me to think it to be, and that is exactly where I caught him." He turned to his father again with a smile. "And then you helped me put him in the cage. Benno Schwartz, O.C.S.O."
    His mother laughed. "Now he'll be wanting to go off and join Thomas Merton."
    "Right," Benno said. "Just so I can get out of helping with the spring planting. Or should I hang out my shingle in Saskatoon?"
    "If I thought the rest of the family would tolerate it, I'd take you both with me to Sterling," Meinred said.
    "It is too bad that you can't take the monks," Benno said. "They would be a help."
    "In more ways than one. How are they doing with vocations?" He had never had any guilt about not becoming a Benedictine, but he had remained concerned that they maintain their numbers, and offered many a prayer and mortification for that intention.
    "Not too badly. But I don't think they have any they can spare. That is too bad. I'm your father and I'm prejudiced, but I don't think there's anyone they'd rather give them to. And they know you could make good use of them where you're going, so they'll be praying for you anyway."
    " 'For this relief, much thanks,'" Meinred said. He was relaxed now, therefor easily amused, but the spectre his father had raised so lightly, that of making mistakes that would simply be his own fault, was waiting for him to return to his morrow's meditations. Well, the virtuous man always had enemies, especially if he were a bishop. To know where they were located was of no little help.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Four Chapter 22

    Of all events in the ordinary life of grace, there is possibly nothing more interesting than the first time one meets a particular priest. For better or worse, few events are more memorable, because there are so few alternate situations for encountering someone who is both man and a professional representative of the Son of God. First communion is not as naturally intelligible; getting a job rarely has anything to do with salvation; even meeting a future spouse is not for so many at first blush expected to be a religious experience.
    None of the qualities of these apparently lesser predicaments are the fault of God. He is no dualist and no doubt would have it otherwise, but man generally refuses to prepare for the real milestones of life as he should: in his whining and his fantasies he is so busy looking the wrong way that the genuinely worthwhile passes by on the other side, unsought for, therefor unnoticed.
    Not that encountering a priest cannot for some be negligible. Some hearts are that hard. some intellects so pitifully informed. But I persist in my logic, which comes from observation. The presence of a priest registers, even when the observer is unaware or unwilling, and the image possesses, by the grace of God, an enormous capacity for retention, either to bless and encourage, or to rebuke and provoke the conscience, or, sorriest of all in the heart of the misinformed to inspire malice and resentment. (Some good consciences have to deal with the other kind of priest, but that is not my concern at this moment.)
    Potentially, the priest represents so much. And often, actually, as in the case of young Meinred's first encounter with Father Cochrane. Meinred certainly never forgot the meeting, nor did he need the recollective concentration of a private retreat to bring its salient features to his mind. As a matter of habit he had kind and grateful words for his old teachers at the seminary - the negative remarks were items I wormed out of him, or grace extracted, long after the genuine responsibilities of my chronicling - but he was not capable of speaking of any of them with more enthusiasm and appreciation than he gave to the memory of the transplanted Englishman and almost-Oratorian. Moreover he remembered him so well that at that point where my spiritual growth had become sensitive - or perhaps simply  because it was important to the quality of my story-telling - Father Aelred's dear ghost would seem to come among us and I assure you with a blessing on the conversation. In fact, there was one startling evening with things were getting extremely interesting for Meinred's spiritual progress as it was unfolding in Sterling . . . .
    But I am getting ahead of myself.
    As I was saying, Meinred had been disturbed rather deeply, saddened, and then, true to the inevitable outcome of an unwanted foreign object lodging itself in an irascible temperament, he became angry at what the visiting priest had said about the easy entrance of sickness into the mystical life. He finally spoke about it in study hall to a senior seminarian, who recommended Father Cochrane. If I said that Meinred was not then scrupulous I do not mean that he did not have a sensitive conscience. The older seminarian discerned this and assured him that the seminary's professor of ascetic and mystical theology, not yet a subject of Meinred's official list, of course, would give him the same advice.
    "Father Heinemann always says that Father Cochrane has more experience than himself in these matters anyway. For one thing, he is older. I have heard it said that they would not mind having him in one of the Roman universities, but he says he is too old to learn Italian, and what is wrong with having parish priests around who understand the prayer life? That visiting fireman really bothered you, eh?
    "He didn't bother you?" Meinred had asked.
    The other shrugged. I don't do all that well in Father Heinemann's class anyway. I'm not really the type to discriminate between different theories of prayer. Too esoteric for me. I've never had any feeling for mysticism and I can't think of myself as ever wanting to be a spiritual director. But I can see you're honestly troubled, so I think you should go and talk to Father Cochrane. The American priest did sound pretty stupid - I don't think he understood, for one thing, how solid Heinemann is - but it didn't bother me and I don't know if it bothered anyone else except you very much either. It's bloody hard stuff to grasp, old man. If you've got a feeling for it, more power to you. Someone in the Church has to be an expert on prayer, but I don't want it to be me."
    "You still don't think I should just talk to Father Heinemann?"
    "I know he's up to his neck in papers to mark this weekend. He might be happier himself if you went off to Cochrane. It's only a good stiff walk from  here to his church, you know."
    At the suggestion that he might be trying to avoid physical exercise, Meinred almost bristled, and was decided.
    So the next afternoon, a Saturday, he was waiting for the tall, lean, Englishman when he was done with the confessional. He had not phoned to request an appointment. Only death or a fire would have kept Cochrane from his Saturday afternoon with the repentant, so he was sure to be there, and Meinred, still much agitated by what he could not escape feeling was at the least very clumsy doctrine, wanted a look at the priest before he unburdened himself. There seemed to be more to it than the weight of a matter on which you could simply flag down a priest in a doorway.
    It was Advent, close to Christmas. The light was low in the church, a little flickering red from the sacrament lamp at the front, somewhat more light at the back by the confessionals. There had been a steady crowd - Meinred had arrived a quarter of an hour before five - but by the time Father Aelred emerged only a handful were left saying their prayers of penance. They were all close to the front, while an elderly lady was making the stations of the cross.
    Like anyone with a bent for recollection, Meinred was curious at the behaviour of his nervous system. He simply did not seem to be ill at ease, now that he was inside Cochrane's actual domain. The building had the tidiness and sense of order of most churches, but it also held a consoling calm and the spirits of the pale walls seemed to guarantee that any honest question would receive an honest answer. In fact a kindly answer.
    Meinred was thinking of the Saturday afternoon a decade earlier when Abbott Michael had spoken to him about his vocation, in the confessional, when he heard the priest's door open. He was sitting at the back of the church, keeping an eye on the door from the side, but his attention had been distracted by a child leaving the church with his mother. This is what had put him in mind of his memories of the abbey at home. So although he had been happily relaxed and ready in his heart for Father Aelred, his mind had slipped away. Now he had to jump up and catch the priest before he left the church: he was not going to have the luxury of having a look at him! Well, perhaps that was silly anyway, in an atmosphere in which he felt so much at home so easily.
    The priest had been in the dark. He closed the door of the confessional and paused for a moment as if accustoming his eyes to the partial light, but nonetheless, light, of the church. Meinred noticed that the woman with the small boy did not stop to talk with her pastor, although she was in front of him as he emerged. The priest did not turn away. He gave the slightest nod, acknowledging the pair, but invited no chatter: it was all most obvious.
    Yet he was not cold, and the woman gave no sense of feeling rejected. Was Father Cochrane smiling, or was he stern? He had yet to move again, and could have been a tall, thin statue in some ancient gallery of apostles, Meinred thought, although his cassock had obviously evolved from the days of Galilee.
    Ah, Meinred understood. She has not only been to confession - she knows he's still praying for her! He always prays for her, and everyone else who enters this church! He never stops praying! And his prayers are heard in Heaven. Like most children who are loved much and brought up properly, Meinred had always had a sense of humour, and, as I said before, a firm sense of independence. His lively and confident mind assumed that he suddenly beheld the sort of priest that Heaven not only listened to, but listened to from a loving and prudent fear of having its ears boxed if it did not!
    No one could hurt the Infinite and Omnipotent, of course, but men of prayer, Meinred knew from growing up within earshot of the abbey bells, could certainly arrange some interesting privations whom Heaven was bound to consider its own!
    But an abbey full of monks was a group of men. And even if the abbott was an enormite of intercession this was usually considered to be because of the hooded army behind him.
    Meinred got the feeling that this single pastor, standing upright with his tranquil, granite face in the half-light, was an army unto himself! No wonder the older seminarian had said that Father Heinemann had said that Cochrane knew more about the interior life than he did!
    They were pleasant shocks, not disturbing the sense of equilibrium that had fallen upon him as he entered the church, but they were shocks nonetheless. He had prayed to be able to express himself clearly and as kindly as he could. He had not been prepared for this quiet onslaught of grace, and now he prepared to be properly disposed for that.
    The priest was now looking at him. Obviously, Meinred thought, I must look as if I need something. He had loved the monks and respected them, thought not only of the abbott as a great man, and he knew a great sense of honour towards his parents, as well as affection. From time to time, with reason, he had held his parents in awe. But this Aelred Cochrane, a dozen feet across the floor with the answers to those troublesome questions! Meinred was sure he had never before, not even when pondering his vocation, not even in confession, felt so much like a young man facing the Day of Judgement.
    Father Aelred, mind you, had just come from administering, for a steady two hours, a not unimportant sacrament. And the sacraments being that which, for an honest will, guaranteed the separation of man from eternal lose, he was bound to come out of that dark cell of blessing trailing not a little grace himself.
    Yet there was more to it, Meinred could not help but be convinced. The older seminarian's words persisted in echoing in his brain: " Father Heinemann says Cochrane knows more about these things than he does anyway." Besides, Meinred thought, he had seen plenty of different priests emerge from an hour or two or more in the confessional; it had always been a significant moment, particularly since he had thought himself of becoming a priest; but it had never seemed quite like this before.
    Yet is was not difficult to approach the priest. "Father Cochrane. I'm from St. Augustine's. I've come to ask your opinion on a matter that's been bothering me for a week. A theological question."
    Father Aelred smiled. The enormously imposing moment, for the time being at least, seemed to vanish as suddenly as it had come. Besides, Meinred had cut the distance in half. The lines in the priest's narrow face were long and deep. He was tired from his afternoon - now this was easy to see - and the human in him was easily visible. He seemed relieved that his surprise visitor was not a last-minute penitent.
    "A short theological question, or a long theological question?" He smiled again.
    Meinred was surprised by the English accent. He had not thought to ask any biographical questions, and assumed that Father Aelred was Canadian, even thought his Christian name was uncommon to the Dominion.
    "I think it might take some time," Meinred said hopefully, but also with simple honesty. "It's about the interior life. We had a professor visit the seminary last week and he said a few things that I couldn't agree with."
    "Ah," said Cochrane, "A priest professor, or a layman?"
    "A priest."
    "Hmmm. And you've been sent into ecstasy and have decided that you should become a Carmelite, or you've been scandalized."
    On the one hand Meinred wondered if he were being taken seriously; on the other he was relieved as well as surprised at Cochrane's sense of humour. It was in such contrast with what he had observed only moments before.
    "I'm not sure if I know what being scandalized is like, and I've no interest in becoming a Carmelite. I already had a chance at the Benedictines. But I see myself as a parish priest. In Toronto if they'll have me. Or perhaps Hamilton."
    "Ah," Father Aelred said again, nodding and smiling the welcome of a man who finally realizes who he is dealing with. "You must be the lad from the Cassinians in Saskatchewan. Schultz, Schulmeister?" He stepped forward and offered his hand.
    "Schwartz. Meinred Schwartz, Father."
    "Schwartz. Yes. Schwartz. Mr. Black. A good name for a priest. And they tell me you're quite the philosopher. That you read the great Aquinas neither from beatings nor bribery, but from hones love and prudent estimation of the swamps and chasms you will avoid by taking note of his distinctive footsteps."
    At various times in his life, and rather often, Meinred had felt the glow and encouragement of deserved praise. But at the moment, none of it had ever seemed more bracing then that what he was hearing now.
    "Yes, Father. I don't know if I deserve to be called prudent but I do like Aquinas."
    "And you have a question about the interior life?"
    "Yes, Father."
    "Well, I have a question for you, considering the hour. Have you had your supper?"