The summer is a great time to wind down, reflect, read and take stock. It is a time to ‘retreat’ into holidays, a time to rest and let go. It is an important time for many Canadians. During the past few weeks I have thought about three people in particular who have been good friends and who have invited me to ask myself not “what am I doing” as one hears often in our culture, for our identity is often tied to what one is doing, but rather “who am I” and who am I in light of the Gospel. I would like to share with you a few thoughts about the lives of Jim Corbett, Martin Royackers and Joe Maier. Jim and Martin died recently. Joe works among the poor of the slums of Klong Toey Bangkok, Thailand who are dying and many from HIV/AIDS.
JIM CORBETTJim Corbett died on August 2nd, 2001. He was the best of minds and the biggest of hearts. He was the best of friends – to the earth, to the animals, to every last one of us. He was a kind and loving herder of goats and cows and refugees. A few years ago Jim wrote a wonderful book entitled: “Goatwalking.” He would take long walks into the desert of Arizona with a few goats and nothing else. He would live off the land and what he found in the desert. He would drink the milk from his goats. He would often take folks along – a kind of retreat and he invited all to develop ‘desert eyes.’ I spent wonderful time with Jim in April past and we talked at length about Jubilee, refugees, the whole God question today and the need for mysticism and resistance. He encouraged and taught me to develop desert eyes, the ability to see much life in desert places. How important at this time in church and culture. On pages 12 and 13 of “Goatwalking” Jim wrote: “Before going to the San Francisco Bay area and turning Quaker, when I withdrew to the Black Bear slope of Miller Peak, I considered fitting in – finding something to do that would pay better and be more respectable than cowboying or shepherding. (In college, I’d planned to become a philosophy teacher, but the main thing I learned from studying philosophy was that I knew nothing to teach.) Mulling it over, I saw that I was really concerned with doing something notable with my life. When I sorted it out, I made a memo to myself:
- Life is just a moment they say. One’s name must be carved deep into history’s bedrock, to last a moment longer through time’s endless erosion, they say.
- On the Prairie, when the wind wails a dirge and snow sifts in rivulets through the sagebrush, I’ve hugged the sticky-pink, death-chilled body of a newborn lamb under my coat, and its heart fluttered in reply.
- And on a desert mountain, amidst the hush or soaring granite, I’ve opened a forgotten spring. The few who remembered thought it had long ago gone dry, but I found the hidden place and dug down until a stream ran clear and cold in the summer sun.
- So what are epitaphs to me? I’ve shared life’s warmth with a lamb. I’ve opened a desert spring.
- Still in my twenties, I could already write as good a remembrance as any I could imagine for myself at ninety. “He kept a lamb or two from freezing, he found and opened a forgotten spring.” Jim Corbett presente!
MARTIN ROYACKERSIn February, I was invited to Jamaica to be with students from St. Francis Xavier University as they lived an experience of another world. I was invited to hang out, do some theological reflection and give a few presentations here and there to different local groups. During this time I met an old friend with whom I had worked in the seventies here in Toronto in the area of Justice who is now the local superior of the Jesuits in Jamaica – Jim Webb. Jim invited me to Annotto Bay on the North Coast of Jamaica to be with the Jesuit community over a weekend and to continue my reflective hanging out. It was there that I met Martin Royackers. Three months later Martin was murdered on June 20th as he returned to his parish from the hills. Martin and Jim had founded a co-op to help the local farmers. They were given some land, had fenced it off and were doing their little bit to realize in a small way the ‘in breaking of the reign of God.’ On the Saturday afternoon of my stay in Annotto Bay, I was with Jim Webb in the hills and we encountered another man who with a few locals was fencing off land. He was a man of wealth and saw the possibility to grab more. We had a verbal confrontation. Later both Jim and Martin had received death threats which the police said ought to be taken seriously. Shortly thereafter Martin was murdered. Reports out of Jamaica say that a 23-year-old man who carried out the hit for $300 American murdered Martin. The person who authorized the hit is reported to be out of the country. It is also said that the police killed the murderer days later in some sort of encounter. Jesuit father Martin Royackers was just 41 years old. He was committed to the poor and preached the gospel with his entire life. He is surely a martyr and God has truly visited the people in his life.
JOE MAIEROn July 10th, 2001 Redemptorist father Joe Maier and his Human Development Foundation opened the long anticipated new center for children from the streets of the slum of Klong Toey, Bangkok Thailand. Fr. Joe founded the Human Development Foundation in 1972. It has over 20 programs serving the poor of all religions, including over 30 pre-schools throughout the slums of Bangkok, an AIDS hospice, a home for moms and kids with AIDS, a shelter for street children, homes for abandoned and orphaned kids, outreach community programs and a variety of skill-teaching projects. It is a miracle of hope for many in terrible life situations. Was it not St. Francis of Assisi who said: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Only use words if you have to.”
I have known Joe Maier for years and we have spent long hours reflecting on the meaning of religious life for these times. It is often the ones on the margins who have the insights and the hope that is so needed in these our difficult times as we move from a modern to a post-modern culture. Concepts of reality as we have known them and thought about them are changing. It is those marginal to power and the victims of power who often have insights and with their lives are able to suggest new ways for the human to relate to one another and to our mother earth. When we refuse to listen to them we do so at our own peril.
On Monday November 5th here in Toronto there will be a fundraiser to help Joe and his work in Thailand. Our Canadian Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson and her partner John Ralston Saul, who have supported and helped Joe and his work in the past, are invited to be the guests of honour.
Jim Corbett, Martin Royackers and Joe Maier, three truly heroic and biblical lives, all lived deeply rooted in the Gospel, all followers as disciples of Jesus the Christ and all inviting us to be able to see the signs of these our times and to respond.
Paul E. Hansen