Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Archbishop's Last Day

Read this great little essay in Eureka Street today.  Had to pass it along to you.

The archbishop's last day


Archbishop's garbThe archbishop awakes at 6am on his 75th birthday. He makes a cup of coffee and dresses for his daily walk. He used to run ten kilometres every morning through the city, wearing his sweatpants and a sweatshirt from one of the Catholic high schools in the city, but mostly now he walks, although here and there, if the sun is out, and he feels limber, he runs. Some people know him and wave and a couple of people bow and say Your Excellency but most of the people he sees just see an old man running, which is not something you see much.
By 8am he has showered and had a second cup of coffee and prayed quietly for a while in his room. By 9am he is at the chancery. At noon he says Mass in the chapel in the chancery. Usually there are maybe 20 people at the noon Mass in the chancery but today there are 60 or 70. Ten or 20 of the people at Mass cross their arms over their chests when they come up for Communion and he blesses them and they say amen and several say thank you and one says happy birthday.
After Mass he skips lunch and goes back to his office.
You know we have to get the letter into the mail today, he says to his secretary.
Yes, Archbishop.
She has worked with him for 14 years, since the very first day he walked cheerfully into the office and soon discovered the horrors boiling under the placid surface of the archdiocese, and she admires him more than any other man she ever met, she thinks, not because of his position but because of the way he handled the rapes and lies and bankruptcy hearings, he never shirked a moment, he never was anything but flat-out honest and blunt about sin and responsibility, and even in the darkest hours he managed some thorny flinty tough cheerfulness and humour that more than once, truth be told, pulled her out of a dark place; if he could keep a smile on his face through all that, then so could she, damn it; a remark she had once made to him in an unguarded moment, which provoked his famous roaring laugh.
He has a laugh like a country, enormous and welcoming and infectious; you can hear him all the way down in the mail room, and supposedly you can hear him in the street outside, even though it is a busy street, always choked with traffic.
In his office he reaches for his dictaphone and dictates the letter. The letter is two paragraphs long. He doesn't hesitate over the language; he knows what he is supposed to say, what he is not averse to saying, but which he does not want to actually finally irredeemably say; but he says it, beginning with Your Holiness and ending with Yours in Christ's love and mercy.
He was melancholy that whole day, says his secretary later.
He turns the dictaphone off and pops out the cassette and walks out his open door and hands the cassette to his secretary. He doesn't say anything and she doesn't say anything either and he goes back in his office.
At 2pm the archbishop comes out of his office and says to his secretary you need to do the letter, remember. The mail comes early and it needs to go out today.
Yes Archbishop, she says, but I put it off and put it off, she says later. I put it off as long as I could. But that was a Wednesday, and the mail does come early on Wednesday, so I finally did it. I printed it out on letterhead and gave it to him. We have a system. He likes to see letters the way they'll look for the recipient. Sometimes he makes little changes and I print out a second copy. I don't mind. We have a system. In this case he did make a couple of small edits. He signed the second copy and I put it in the envelope and walked it down to the mail room. The letter goes to the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., and then into his diplomatic pouch for delivery to HiHoliness. I don't know who opens the diplomatic pouch at the Vatican, no. Perhaps His Holiness' secretary.
The archbishop also celebrates Mass in the Cathedral at 5pm, and this second Mass is packed.
A lot of people who can't get to Mass in the morning or at noon catch the evening Mass at the Cathedral anyway, partly because it's smack downtown and a lot of people can get to it on their way home, but it is also crowded this day because, I think, because it is the archbishop's birthday, and a lot of people have stopped by to convey their regards. I think a lot of people know it was the day he had to write his letter, also, because I hear a lot of people say thank you to him after Mass, so many people that he is almost late for a dinner he has to attend.
He's so friendly and unassuming that this happens to him all the time, where he's almost late for things because everyone wants to talk to him and shake hands and ask for blessings, and he never rushes anyone but he's never late for anything either. We don't know how he does it. I think it comes from him being a parish priest so long. He knows how to be completely accessible and friendly but not get bogged down.
He almost gets bogged down on his birthday, though. I bet a hundred people say thank you for what you have done for us and bless you for your honesty and thank you for saving the children and thank you for your service and bless you for your humor. One man says to him thank you for being a beacon of light in such darkness, it is so pithy and what so many of us think about the archbishop.
But he does finally make it to his car and to the dinner, with about a minute to spare, I think. I don't know how he does it, but he's never late. If he says he will be there, he'll be there. That's why so many of us admire him so much, I think. You can trust that man.

No comments: