Thursday, April 14, 2016
Had it somehow come about in the Creator's original design that there were no angels, only men, good or bad, it is highly unlikely that Toby and Jelena Skinner would ever have been inspired, or even permitted, within the ordering of Providence, to take up permanent roots in the diocese of Hastings. That particular region of the Church, by the time the couple arrived, had become so remarkably corrupt, especially in its bishop, as well as in other significant areas of leadership, that it had acquired the mood of an insane asylum wherein the inmates run the building rather than register for treatment.
This is not to say that the bishop and a significant proportion of his priests were crazy in the clinical sense. They were in fact quite in control of their faculties, and knew very well what they were doing, especially when it was inordinately sinful and perverse. Nor was this diocese, tucked quite out of the way in the south-east mountain ranges of British Columbia, totally unique within the Church of that time, of just before, and painfully long after, the Second Vatican Council. The Church Universal was suffering throughout itself, on every continent, from the incontinent, especially the incontinent clergy preying on the young, of both sexes, and each other. But the diocese of Hastings could boast, in its own perverse way, of being. proportional to its modest population, one of the front runners, and could also claim the special uniqueness of both a bishop and a president of its little university as clerics in high places who had blandly bid goodbye to their clerical vows of chastity. And, in order to hold on to their sinecures in the land of sinful behaviour, these men collaborated, whenever necessary, to prevent the honest clergy, the reverend sisters, and any informed or suspicious laity from getting at the roots of this extremely ugly problem.
Nor, for some time, were the other agencies of protection of much use over these questions. The police, the relevant government ministries, were slow off the mark, not entirely from want of information, but from want of knowing how to deal with the information, or having the will. It was a social predicament, in certain ways similar to the chaos in the Church preceding the reforms of the Council of Trent, which could be changed only by extraordinary virtue and an indescribable intensity of the spiritual life, the infallible activity - and passivity - of the determination to get to perfection, on a personal basis, and thus drag the institution of the Church, at least, into the aura of decency. For, if the Church does not lead, every other organization must fail.
And it also could be said, that had the Church Militant been the only segment of the organization that God was concerned about, that there were not in fact the Church Triumphant, or the Church Suffering, that Toby and company would as well have been prohibited from bringing their manifest abilities to this, in so many ways, unfortunate segment of the visible portion of the entirety of Catholicism. After all, no matter how naturally talented, intelligent, and strong-willed a man might be according to his native fashioning, he is still a life-long victim of original sin, vulnerable to his own inherent frailties and limitations and further vulnerable to the iniquities and indifference to real value of his fellow human beings. In Toby's case, the difficulties of the diocesan personnel - I speak here of the professionals - would have been so disappointing and discouraging that without the assurance in faith that all his frustrations, accepted in Christ's patience, would do a good deal for the souls in purgatory and, at least elsewhere in the universe, the conversion of sinners, he would have no doubt given up and gone elsewhere, for he was a man with a mission in his mind and a fire in his belly, and the sort of being who could not abide thinking that he was not always of some good use or another.
But the angels quite naturally make it possible for a soul that contemplates to be useful everywhere, and in their own turn know of so few that take the way of contemplation and the perfect spiritual work seriously, that they are forever bringing their own jurisdictions to the habitually prayerful ones quite hand over fist, putting him or her at work now somewhere in deepest Africa, next in China, and a little later in Moscow, or Rome, or New York, or even the Pasadena Playhouse. Thus, in a certain sense, and except for the sorrow in the lack of salvation in the derelict clergy and religious he had to live amongst, Toby was even grateful for the horrors of the Hasting diocese. They gave him something to endure, to be tempted to despair over - without ever surrendering to; he had the glorious vocation of the contemplative, against which all other callings suffer a certain lack of lustre, a conspicuous dullness vis-a-vis the constant and omnipresent light of the angels - although, in this life, not always the pleasant light of the good ones.
But that was, in its perfect degree, in retrospect. In the reality of the unfolding present, the diocese was unquestionably a nightmare, especially to someone seemingly inspired to such high expectations, of both the educational and spiritual lives.