He Walked Beyond Life . . . .
by Dom Martin
Life, symbolizes in us the ability and the tenacity to manifest perfection or imperfection. It also provides us with the options to exercise these abilities with or without moderation. What we become in the process of exercising these abilities, in essence, accentuates our personalities in life. Or, in the corroborating sense, we proficiently make ourselves be who we are as opposed to who we were destined to be.
On the other hand, life comes with no permanence. This looming aspect of our impermanence pits us directly against death, whose irreversible objective it is to either retrieve us into its dark galaxy, or transcend us into a man-made one. In one such bright human galaxy, now belongs my friend, Fr. Chico Monteiro, who last walked this planet on October 29, 1990.
We met each other as a result of a social worker's inadvertence as to where the key to the Holy Family Chapel was to be situated that morning. Fr. Chico was informed by the social worker, that the key would be in the custody of my late father. Unfortunately, my father explained, the information Fr. Chico was given, wasn't complied with. And to his greater dismay, my reverend friend had no idea in what part of the neighborhood the social worker resided.
Could my father, therefore, be kind enough to have some one lead the way to the social worker's house? Indeed, my father obliged, and deputed me, as I happened to be standing conveniently nearby. And thus, Fr. Chico and I embarked on the short journey to the social worker's house, unintroduced, and oblivious of the lapse in social etiquette.
Under the auspices of that mutual anonymity, I surmised Fr. Chico to be a charismatic looking padre. In turn, he probably configured me to be a providential happening at my father's tavern, or a trustworthy patron. Prior to that first meeting, we each had curiously heard of the other, though we lived in the same neighborhood, and relied on the same means of public conveyance.
There was something utterly human about Fr. Chico that instantly evoked my admiration for him. This, in consonance with his simple minded logic and ever radiant smiles, gave his most ordinary questions a personable importance. At one instance, as we progressed our way, he kindly asked: "So tell me, what do you do?" I answered, "I cook!". My answer was in appropriation to my chief occupation, which, at the time, was occasioned by the untimely passing away of my mother.
Fr. Chico acknowledged my answer with an enthusiastic nod. My circumstantial avocation, quite apparently, did not seem to attribute any shades of complex in him. In subsequent years, I saw for myself, he had the same degree of enthusiasm for a being coming from the lower ranks of life as he did for the elite. He was, in all sincerity, a man genuinely attracted to people as human beings, as opposed to those whose importance in society was formulated by wealth, or administrative powers.
In corresponding succession, I inquired into his activities. Fr. Chico merely presented himself as someone who was working with retired priests at the Clergy Home, and running different errands for them. It did not consciously occur to him to assert, that aside from being the Rector of the Clergy Home, he was also the dynamo behind its creation and existence. And when the conversation got to the inmates of the Clergy Home, I intoned: Yes! I do happen to know the zealous historian, Msgr. Francis Xavier Gomes Catao!
This reference of my acquaintance, brought Fr. Chico's nimble feet to an abrupt stop, and eying me half curiously and half astutely, he questioned: You know Msgr. Catao, I see ..... but tell me, how did you happen to know him? From that moment on, our beings collided into a friendship that bonded with endearment to the end of his term on earth.
In the 14 years that we had energetically known each other, I cannot recall a single time of anything about Fr. Chico that could possibly irk me, bearing in mind the outstanding fact, that our minds came from opposite latitudes. He, a traditional priest, deeply ingrained in theological objectives. Myself, a non‑conforming realist.
Naturally, to those acquainted with both of us, the substance of our friendship drew some enigmatic questions and comments. Chiefly, how might two persons, whose respective mission in life were based on equally diversified tenets, possibly achieve any compatibility, let alone, one of any seeming permanence?.
It was simple. Neither of us had any mission with the other. I wasn't planning on making him an agnostic, and he wasn't feeling the spiritual obligation to convert me to a life of religious fortitude. We accepted each other for who we were, and confided on matters from the mundane to the divine. And in time of anxiety, we had the saints.
Our common saint was St. Anthony, in whom, we took the relief of troubling him with our mighty problems and petitions. At times, we indulged in the innocent humour of passing on to him our sundry problems as well! After all, in Fr. Chico's fond intonation: "Amcho force, San Anton!"
My last meeting with Fr. Chico was at the St. Anthony's Chapel in Candolim. It wasn't a chapel in an architectural sense, but an open ended shed. The lack of architectural awe, however, was more than made up by the religious fervor invigorated by the ever devoted padre, bristling about unfailingly, every Tuesday evening.
To the congregation of the faithful, Fr. Chico might very well have been St. Anthony's confidant. At times, St. Anthony himself, stepping down from the altar and taking care of business as usual. The congregation of the faithful came every Tuesday, because Fr. Chico would be there. Perhaps, because they felt that St. Anthony and Fr. Chico were inseparable friends. They went places together, and where one would happen to be, thereunto, the other could also cheerfully be found.
Another devout element in Fr. Chico’s personality, though reflective of human frailty, was that he seldom left home without a mini statue or two making residence in the pockets of his cassock. One, was the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which had virtually established permanent residency in his pocket. The other was of St. Anthony, which appeared to accompany Fr. Chico on certain significant outings. This one of St. Anthony, in particular, often taunted my conscience.
It was a well cast bronze statue, some two inches high, and shimmering in places from years of religious handling. I fondly recall the times the statue would stand, helplessly diminutive between Fr. Chico and me, inducing me to time my move, and then walk away with it in my pocket. Would it have mattered to Fr. Chico, if I had carried out my temptation? In finding the statue gone and associating its disappearance with my last visit, Fr. Chico would probably have leaned back in his chair and let out a chuckle. And then, as though St. Anthony were listening, he would add: "Oh well, at least now you will get a chance to be in America!
Characteristically, Fr. Chico the man and Fr. Chico the priest, were both profoundly integrated by an uncompromising regard for Truth. If living one's life in defense of truth were to be the Statute of Existence, then, it can be said in all fairness that Fr. Chico had so lived his life in solemn compliance. As for his smiles, they had long become a patent of his aspiring gentleness. They were vibrant with sincerity and ungrudgingly impartial.
In retrospect, we can let memories dictate the nature of our sentiments towards those who are no longer in our midst. But in the end, what remains ever predominant are two distinct realities to which we stand condemned to from the first moment of existence: Death is an awful thought, and, Life is a terminal disease. And somewhere, imminently between this moment and the next, we progressively die. There are no exceptions, except for eternity. Only eternity is deathless. And only death has a glimpse of eternity.
Where do we walk from here, and why was it necessary in the first place for us to be here if our stay was to be positively short lived? If death is such a straight forward fact, why then is it so painful? Why is it that heaven and eternity are only accessible through the gates of death? Why can't we simply resurrect into eternity without having to go through the ritual of death, burial and tears? Alas, why must the human clock have death for its pendulum?
Obviously, we are only afforded with the means and the resilience to endure these questions until our life sentence on earth is commuted by death. From then on, it is an altogether different reality, the ignorance of which is as illusively comforting as intimidating. Only dreams, it would subconsciously appear, provide us with fleeting links between the living and the dead.
On October 13, 1990, I saw Fr. Chico for the first time in a dream. The background was an effusion of non-terrestrial clouds. No words were exchanged. He stood briefly in a cadence of silence and smiles. Two weeks and two days later, I was to learn, he had died peacefully in a swift stroke of death.
Thus it is, that every life shall inevitably follow the one that preceded it and likewise perish. And thus it shall also be, that this world will continue to be divided between the material and the spiritual. While the material defines or aggravates our mercurial needs, the spiritual attempts to modify them.
It would therefore seem that life is an intended conflict between the material and the spiritual, from which we evolve and become an inspiration to others or an intimidating example. In the spiritual hemisphere, Fr. Chico was the kind of a priest whose walk on earth neither perturbed one's faith nor stepped on any one else's. If being a conscientious human being is the first step to sainthood, in that regard, Fr. Chico, undoubtedly, walked much beyond life.