A tale of two funerals

  • September 20, 2011

Enough has been written about the Jack Layton funeral, but indulgent readers may permit me to add a final thought to what I have written elsewhere. Not so much about how Mr. Layton chose to organize his final parting, but rather to note the contrast between two funerals.

A few days after Jack Layton was feted at Roy Thomson Hall, the funeral Mass for Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic was offered at St. Michael’s Cathedral. The difference was like black and white.

In the concert hall, Rev. Brent Hawkes and others went on at great length about carrying forth Mr. Layton’s vision of an “inclusive” social movement. And the massed ranks of the proudly progressive stood and applauded lustily, all the while patting themselves on the back for their broad-mindedness — which is anatomically hard to do at the same time, but the spirit of the occasion demanded it.

It was striking how monochrome the massed ranks of the progressives were. As the camera panned the crowd at Roy Thomson Hall, it was a sea of almost exclusively white faces. That does not suggest that Mr. Layton had racial biases — after all, his widow is a Chinese Canadian. It is a tedious thing to be counting up the various hues in any crowd, except that when a series of white speakers prattle on about how splendidly inclusive they are, it is of passing interest that they do so in the playground of the wealthy — Roy Thomson Hall — and to an audience nearly as lily-white as those on stage.

Yes, the crowd at Roy Thomson Hall did not much look like the city of Toronto. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the white and the affluent — some of my best friends are just that, and fine people too! Yet for a supposed man of the people, it rather looked like many of the people weren’t present at Mr. Layton’s last rally. Indeed, there looked to be rather few recent immigrants, and while it is admittedly hard to judge from a distance, I would wager that very few of them worked with their hands, if you don’t count the grisly work of Henry Morgentaler, an invited guest.

Over at St. Michael’s Cathedral, it was a different scene. To begin with, the cardinal himself was a Slovenian immigrant who made his way to Canada by way of displaced persons’ camps after the Second World War. Unlike Mr. Layton, his father was not a cabinet minister, nor was he a son of privilege. And inside the cathedral, well, it looked like Toronto, with people of many different races all mixing together, including among the priests, a rather more diverse lot than, say, the federal NDP caucus.

Roy Thomson Hall is not open to the public day by day, except to those affluent enough to afford tickets. At St. Michael’s you can drop in at any time of day and find ordinary people, from the rich to the dispossessed, men and women from every corner of the Earth, the gifted professor and the mentally ill. It’s been like that at every cathedral I have ever visited. If you want a social movement that is truly “inclusive,” the Catholic Church is not a bad place to start.

Some years ago, I was at St. Michael’s for a special Mass offered by Cardinal John Foley. In the sacristy he mentioned that he had long desired to hear the famous choristers of St. Michael’s Choir School, who were leading the music that day. Cardinal Foley was duly impressed, but not only by the music. He was clearly surprised and pleased that the choristers were quite a multiracial group, with Toronto’s numerous immigrant groups more than well represented. He addressed a few words to the choir at the end of Mass, thanking them not only for their musical harmony, but for their witness that the faith truly does bring together disciples from every people, race and nation.

There is room in the city for both the progressive elite at Roy Thomson Hall and for the ordinary people at St. Michael’s Cathedral. Neither need apologize for who they are, where they gather and whom they like to associate with. Yet neither should pretend to be something other. Mr. Layton’s crowd over at the home of the Toronto symphony was not the “broadly inclusive” movement they boasted about being. It was drawn from a rather narrow slice of Toronto life. If you want to see Toronto, you will find more of the people over in the house of God.

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