John Tang

A Man and Priest in and of Vacaville

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on June 2, 2010

A Man and Priest in and of Vacaville

Usually in a knitted sweater, in muted colors of chestnut or midnight, he enjoyed sweeping the portico of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; under where many autumn leaves and spring petals collected in due time in Northern California’s capricious weather. He was soft-spoken and in the deepness there was a slow resonation. He was a plump Irish man, not obese in the American sense, when swinging your arm was considered “exerting energy,” but has mildly suffered from high-cholesterol before; now he walked every morning around the church, school, its gym, and the store where he bought groceries and a bagel with eggs, perhaps. I would see him around whenever I visited the annex of the church; with a smaller alter, dark with teal carpeting and furnishing, it was a sanctuary open to the public.

He was leaving now, a “transition himself,” as he called it, by the end of the summer 2010. Participating in Sacramento Diocese, he chose to relocate to a small town near the city. I understood why, too. He built a stone foundation in Vacaville’s community, influencing me as well, a rather secular humanist, who discovered hope and love and faith in what the average atheist called  “the absent” that was God. He was well-read, as he learned about my college pursuit in English. With my God dilemma—the reason for God— the first author we touched on was Nietzsche: When was God merely a fringe on the imagination? What was existentialism?  We stood outside the annex of the church. I had a hand shy away from the glass door. “I don’t know why there is a God, even further why we exist, but I enjoy being conscious.” He said. “But if you tend to draw your life from Nietzsche, also read his letters on the wars and what kind of person you must be to believe the self is so, or can be so, alone.”

Over the course of eight seasons I had my small quibbles: Why couldn’t Christians unite? How come miracles were difficult to test (how God hid so well)? Why recite the Hail Mary; was that the correct manner to pray?  He answered each one thoroughly and had left in my palm over the years: “But what are you willing to believe? Within their own reasons, not every church reads the Bible in the same light; I believe the Catholic Church, the oldest amongst the denominations, have read and changed their canon accordingly. It is fine to keep questioning God, if you’re afraid. That life will be there waiting, and don’t anticipate too hard on its difficulties.” Father Dan addressed the last query in his office behind an oak desk. “Who said there was a right way to pray? I can share with you, John, my light on things, but don’t find all your answers in these abstract logics—live a little. There’s sweetness in cookies, there’s green in leaves.”

“So you don’t have any works of Karl Rahner, St. Aquinas?” I asked. “No Ratzinger to share?”

“No,” he said and gave me an empty notebook off the shelf. “And please don’t write in the Bible. These are Holy Scriptures.”

Where did this man draw his patience and wisdom for the human condition? Soaked in plagues, wars, anarchy, famine, infidelity, judgment, and especially irony, the Bible did not seem to bare any kind of paradise one would hope on earth.  When I did, however, update myself with current affairs the world was filled with these issues, except perhaps, in smaller units in America: AIDS rising in metropolises; college students protesting against universities, many of which sadly failed; crude oil slowly declining off the peak of the bell curve; so on and so forth. Although technology would find solutions, it would be difficult to avoid the human nature each predicament possibly bred. The Bible only shared its perspective on things, and the man who inherent its qualities seemed to understand forms—diseases, wars, and so forth—were constantly changing, but their content remain homogenous. Sometimes a little patience and allowing situations to pan out have their advantages for the best timing in treatment. Father Dan understood there was life beyond the grandiose, the self and his/her beliefs of the simplest things, again. While we treat issues and wait for updates, let us celebrate in choosing the difference between a cookie and a cupcake, little pleasures that are, nevertheless, part of our lives and ultimately reflections of ourselves.  Father Dan’s wisdom of human condition will be dearly missed.



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