The small town church is the fabric to a strong community. If allowed to be. If its leader recognizes the truths beyond the institute and grows the fellowship in harmony with his continued study. If he leads through selflessness and inclusion. If his followers challenge his teachings and are open to truths brought about by other faiths in the community. This interconnectedness gives rise to discussion. In a perfect world, a discussion that would take the place of coffee row rumour talk. Appreciation for prayer of thanks in school. A tone to a populace of acceptance, compassion. The atheists, agnostics, and spiritually rich all entitled to their opinions and respect. This is idealism. In reality, the small town church does its best to house a collective of love.
Father David Banga was one of my best friends. He was an example of all the previous ideals. He was a disciple of Mother Theresa. He was a horseman and a farmer. He was the Catholic priest and my open book.
Sunday mornings included feeding horses at 6:30 am. If mass was at 9:00 am we’d feed hay after, if mass was at 11:00 am, we’d feed hay before. If mass was at 7:30 pm on Saturday night, as Father Banga oversaw St. Anne Parish in Kennedy and Kipling, St. Francis Xavier in Wawota and St. Pius in Windthorst, we’d go straight from evening mass to wherever a house party was being held. Catechism was prior to Sunday mass, from there Jarid and I would dawn our robes and assist as alter boys. My piano studies made me a candidate for church organist so from thirteen to eighteen I assumed the responsibility. I loved having control of the musical volume, was ok with drowning out the choir and found humour in playing hockey arena standards as the congregation filled. Father Banga enjoyed it as well.
He assisted me with three of the seven holy sacraments and hauling grain during harvest, The Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, and oats. I would do the driving and he would guide me. Everything was easier with him in my rear view mirror. No accidents.
A harvest night would have me grinding through gears. ‘Were Adam and Eve actually two people or did they just represent humanity?’ ‘How can creation be supported when we have scientific proof of evolution?’ ‘Did Jesus actually rise from the dead?’ – The basics. His answers included the metaphorical strength in the Word of God, the inception of the human soul, and a blunt yes. It fascinated me. The more questions I could throw at him the more he gave me answers that pandered to logistics but were rooted in faith.
It was special when he’d say grace. Even more special when he brought the meal. Hungarian dishes of paprika chicken and cabbage rolls. ‘Bless us, Oh Lord’ he’d stop and smile, glancing overtop his glasses. A large man with the daily sweat adding sheen to his side part, ‘and these thy gifts’ said slow and with heart. ‘Which we are about to receive…’. ‘…From thy bounty…’. It was as if every line had dire importance to his being and the love he had sharing them, ‘…through Christ, our Lord. Amen’. He would slowly open his eyes and single out one of us four children and give special acknowledgment. ‘…and Bless Chickie,’ as he called my youngest sister, Casey. He’d slam his hand on the table following the most thoughtful and powerful short graces. As if he was striking the force of God into table top. I always saw it as a blessing in itself. To this day, I will replicate the shocking motion if asked to say grace and not give any back story to its importance.
Father Banga and my Mother worked as a team to give me all the tools I needed to move forward in life knowing I had protection in every situation I found myself in. The power of the rosary. The summoning of the Virgin Mary. God’s Holy Angels. If I disappointed mom in not wanting to go to church, I disappointed Banga by not wanting to be a councelor at his beloved Kenosee Lake Boys and Girls Camp. Each of them because of rules.
If a circumstance wouldn’t allow us to attend mass, mom would gather us four kids on the floor of my sisters bedroom and we’d say the Rosary. Hail Marys, Our Fathers, Blessed Be. Father Banga would usually pay a house visit that night.
I woke up on Friday, December 14, 2012 to the word of his death. A heart attack building a boarding school with his life savings in Kharsala, West Bengal, India. They buried him on the spot. A broken deal on him marrying me.
My mother continues to be a staple in the development of my belief system. My friendship with Banga is the other that keeps me titling myself as Catholic. Believe me, I see the corruption up the chain but sometimes you need to appreciate and devote yourself to the bottom where the purity still exists. Hold pride in a place that was so important to others, that they devoted their lives to passing it on to you. My ideologies have changed through my experiences – experiences so profound they prove my Catholic teaching wrong. However proving teachings of Christ as fact.
Banga didn’t need another trip around – he got it right this time. But if for some reason he wanted one more physical experience it would have been of such a subtly that it could have gone unnoticed.
“I’ll fly a starship across the Universe divide and when I reach the other side, I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can, perhaps I may become a highwayman again…”
“…or I may simply be a single drop of rain, but I will remain and I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again…”
A single drop of rain.