Farewell to Mr. Flaherty
Final Words from the Honourable James Michael Flaherty
The morning of April 10, I was at my desk at home on Wolfe Island, reviewing files for this issue of Convivium. I was pleased to see the text by Jim Flaherty that we decided to run in this issue, marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 and, later this summer, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. I wondered if perhaps we should have run it earlier, and not waited for the anniversaries. It would have been something to have a sitting finance minister in our pages, but he had just retired a few weeks previous. One cannot plan for the unexpected, I thought, before moving on to other papers.
That afternoon, the unexpected news came. Jim Flaherty had died.
The country was shocked. And saddened. I was too, but counted it a happy blessing that the last thought I had of Jim Flaherty before the sad news of his death was of his humble appreciation for the great blessing of being Canadian and his gratitude for those who had sacrificed to make it so. We are pleased to present, as it were, some final words from Jim Flaherty in this issue.
Jim Flaherty and I were not friends, but he was a good friend to me. We were not friends because we did not spend enough time together for a real friendship to develop. But he was nevertheless a good friend to me — he gave me his time and took an interest in me and my projects when he had no obligation to do so. Indeed, for his many accomplishments, he had a singular talent for friendship. The Prime Minister spoke of this in his funeral eulogy: Jim was liked even by his adversaries while, the PM self-deprecatingly joked, he had a hard enough time being liked by his friends.
We would cross paths in Ottawa from time to time, but also at various functions, Blue Jays games or, it seemed recently, most often at the airport. Last August we met in Toronto as I was flying home to Kingston and he was heading out on one of the innumerable trips that were his life as finance minister. As was his custom, he came over when he saw me, his natural friendliness removing any awkwardness that I might have felt at intruding on the few quiet moments in the life of a busy man.
He was always kind enough to ask me what I was up to. I related that he might be interested in the public discussion Convivium had sponsored a few months before on "faith and finance." I had led a discussion with then Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, on the role of moral virtue in financial sector reform. The tripartite exchange had been published in Convivium, and I asked if he might want me to send him a copy.
"Already have it, and already read it," he smiled. I was flattered that he followed our work.
"There are not so many discussions of faith and finance that it is hard to keep up with them," he added, both praising and teasing at the same time. That was Flaherty. If he thought something was worth supporting, he didn't offer only his words but his time and personal encouragement.
I asked him about his recent adventures, and he spoke about his trip the previous May to Canadian war memorials in France. It had clearly made an impression on him and, as he spoke about his visit, he shifted into one of his great passions: the importance of public service and the admiration he had for those who make contributions at great personal sacrifice.
After listening to him for some time, I suggested that he should write about his experience. He told me, with some false humility for a great Irish storyteller, that he wasn't much of a writer, but that he had kept a brief record of his memories. Then, when I had long forgotten the conversation, a letter arrived from the office of the minister of finance.
"I remember our discussion at the airport. Please edit as you see fit," said the brief note, to which was attached a short reflection he had titled "On the Meaning of Sacrifice." It was simple, direct and moving. We did not think it would be posthumously published, but that adds to its poignancy.
"Vimy Ridge is the only Canadian national memorial located outside Canada," he wrote. "It declares triumphantly that life and its sacrifice for the sake of the freedom of generations to come matters. It mattered in 1917 for these Canadian youth, and it matters now."
Great lives of service matter. Jim Flaherty had a great life, and he was a good man — a good man to his family, a good servant to Canada and a good friend to so many. Requiescat in pace.
A State Funeral — A Christian Funeral
The Prime Minister made the decision to honour his late colleague and friend with a State funeral. It would be held during Holy Week at the Anglican Cathedral of St. James in Toronto. Not a few commentators noted that it was only a few blocks from Bay Street, suitable for a finance minister. Yes, but that misses the point. Bay Street is suitable for living; it has little to say to the dead and those who grieve them.
Jim Flaherty's widow, Christine Elliott, an MPP in the Ontario legislature, made the decision not only to have the funeral at St. James but to have the Eucharist celebrated as well. The Prime Minister decreed a State funeral. The widow, no doubt in keeping with her husband's wishes, desired a Christian funeral. It was a blessed choice. The last State funeral, for the late Jack Layton in 2011, was held only a few blocks from Bay Street, too, but at Roy Thomson Hall. When Peter Lougheed died in 2012, his funeral was held at the Jubilee Auditorium; likewise, in 2013, the funeral of Ralph Klein was held at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. Concert halls are suitable for accommodating crowds in shared grief. Cathedrals are suitable for funerals that aim not only to be public events but above all prayers. A funeral is not a stage. It is, though, a drama, the commendation by the living of the dead into the great drama of the Cross and Resurrection that alone can raise the curtain of death upon a new chapter of life.
So the nation heard the Dean of Toronto and Rector of St. James' Cathedral, the Very Reverend Douglas Stoute, preach about the Cross. Alluding to Flaherty's Catholic upbringing before choosing to worship as an Anglican, Stoute quoted that most earthy of Catholic writers, Flannery O'Connor, to the assembled congregation of the great and the good.
"Jim was indeed born and raised a Roman Catholic," Stoute began. "His Catholicism was the foundation of his faith in Christ. He would be so honoured to have Cardinal Collins praying with us today. (And his mother would be so proud!) He and Christine found their spiritual home in the Anglican parish of All Saints Whitby, where Jim not only worshipped but served as a warden. His faith sustained him, informed his policies, and carried him through the sacrifices that he had to make to fulfill his service to our province, our country and the wider world. As Flannery O'Connor wrote: ‘What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross.' So the faith of which I speak is not some anodyne soother but rather the compass that guides us through the troubled sea."
The coffin was draped with the maple leaf, but the relevant symbols of which the Reverend Stoute spoke are not symbols but realities — the Cross and the Eucharist. It was a State occasion and a Christian occasion, for on the truly great occasions, the modest and humble State must give way to the realities over which it has no competence.
As one would expect on such an occasion, the congregation was in place well ahead of time. It was a sombre occasion, lightened by the green scarves worn by many mourners. From my place in thesanctuary, the green swathes gave something of an impression of the House of Commons. Yet this assembly was reverent — no applause, to say nothing of barking or heckling. Then the Prime Minister arrived, escorted by ushers. The Governor General followed. The people remained seated. When the Catholic Archbishop arrived, Dean Stoute escorted Cardinal Thomas Collins himself, and the congregation rose in respect. The proper precedence of things was likely appreciated by the Governor General, for soon after David Johnston and his wife took their seats in the front pew, they both knelt in silent prayer. It is partly the genius of the Westminster constitutional system that the Queen — and her vice-regal representatives — know that there are times when they ought to go to church and kneel. A country ruled by one who never kneels, and knows not that he should, is a country where the gifts of God are less secure.
It was a magnificent funeral in the grand Anglican tradition. The Archbishop of Toronto, Colin Johnson, did not improvise informal chatter, knowing that his task was to raise on our behalf prayers composed in the most beautiful English. The choir was magnificent. I am one of those Catholics who expect to hear great Anglican anthems and Victorian hymns in Heaven. To hear that choir sing "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!" is to know that death cannot have the final say, for death is not powerful enough to still such voices forever.
Not a word was said about secularism, or Church and State relations; the importance of faith in our common life was only alluded to in passing. Yet the funeral was a powerful testimony about the right order of things. Jim Flaherty had a great public life, but even the greatest of public lives — and our common life together — only endures to the extent that it touches on those mysteries that lie beyond death, mysteries for which a place like St. James' Cathedral was built.
In the vestry after the funeral, Archbishop Johnson said that he hoped the organizers would be able to dismantle all the television and security apparatus fairly quickly, for in a few hours he would be returning to the cathedral to lead, as one does on Wednesday of Holy Week, the Stations of the Cross. The great and good would be long gone. Perhaps the great State occasion of a fully Christian funeral would remind all those who watched that the great and the small alike are pilgrims at various stations on the way to the Cross. The Cross beyond which lies not the comfort of a warm blanket but the cold burial cloths of the tomb, and then, the joyous news of the Resurrection.
Ronald Reagan on the Rangers and the Winnipeg Rifles
One of the great political speeches of recent times was given 30 years ago at the very memorials that inspired Jim Flaherty's reflections in this issue. The speech of President Ronald Reagan on June 6, 1984, the 40th anniversary of D-Day, at the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, overlooking the beaches of Normandy, was one of the best of his remarkable oratorical career.
"Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs," Reagan said. "And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war."
It was Reagan at his best — straightforward, simple prose, with a point to make and models before him to illustrate it.
"Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your ‘lives fought for life... and left the vivid air signed with your honour.' I think I know what you may be thinking right now — thinking ‘we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.' Well, everyone was."
Then Reagan did what few ever did better, the master storyteller telling just the right story. Reagan came to Normandy not just to remember D-Day 1944 but to propose that the NATO alliance stand fast in his more assertive policy of prosecuting the Cold War. So he spoke of the allies who fought together and died together in June on the coast of France.
"Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders?" Reagan asked. "Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland — who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, ‘Sorry I'm a few minutes late,' as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.
"There was the impossible valour of the Poles, who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians, who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back."
"All of these men were part of a roll call of honour, with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colours they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armoured divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's ‘Matchbox Fleet,' and you, the American Rangers."
On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, Reagan's speech will not be matched. Not only because Reagan was singular but because at the 40th anniversary many of the "boys of Pointe du Hoc" and the Winnipeg Rifles and the Royal Scots Fusiliers were present. Thirty years on, and only a few veterans are still alive who fought on D-Day. Thirty years on, it is more difficult to speak in the unadorned, simple way Reagan did of the faith of the men who went into battle, confident that in fighting and dying against Nazi tyranny, they were fighting for what was right. They could invoke, with a clear conscience, God's help.
"Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love."
Reagan spoke of God's justice, acknowledging that that justice did not always prevail in a fallen world, but that a merciful judgment awaited those who fought to build up the kingdom of God's justice here, as the Anglican liturgy puts it, on this shore, even as the saints worship on another shore, in a greater light.
"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next," Reagan said. "It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.... All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
"Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause," Reagan said unapologetically. "And so, the night before the invasion, when Lt. Col. Robert Lee Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them, ‘Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do.' Also that night, Gen. Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listened in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.'"
Reagan delivered a speech of great Biblical power, humble in that it acknowledged that even the mammoth human efforts of D-Day would be in vain without the Lord's help, but bold at the same time in confessing that the help of Providence was ready at hand. D-Day stands among those few days in history where it is easy to see the finger of God tracing His purpose in the course of human events. War is usually more complex, murkier and more difficult for soldiers and their generals to look towards Heaven confident that God will bless what they are doing. The First World War, begun a hundred years ago this summer, is the greatest example of such a war — even now books are written attempting to explain the failures that led to the "war to end all wars."
Reagan on the Norman coast in 1984; Flaherty there a year ago. We bow our heads to honour our dead. We pray that we might raise our eyes towards Heaven — to that next beachhead — asking that we who have inherited the liberty won there might put it to purposes pleasing to the Providence who granted it to us.
Death and Providence in St. Paul
The serenity of visiting war graves, especially those on the coast of France, arises in part from the comfort that the enormous number of lives lost was for a noble purpose. Not all deaths are so, and sometimes the singularity of one senseless death leaves us shaken, not serene.
On May 9 in the small northern Alberta city of St. Paul, Father Gilbert Dasna answered the door at the rectory. He was shot in the chest and died soon after. The suspect, John Carlos Quadros, engaged in a gun battle with RCMP officers in the usually tranquil streets of downtown St. Paul. Three officers were injured. Quadros was killed, but at press time it was not revealed if it was at his own hand or by the police's.
Father Dasna was shot on the third anniversary of his arrival in Canada from Nigeria. What was a Nigerian priest doing in St. Paul, Alta.? Therein lies a marvellous tale of Providence, even if the violent end leaves us without answers on this shore.
Father Dasna belonged to the religious order known as the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy. It was founded in 1970 in Nigeria by the late Bishop of Umuahia, Anthony Gogo Nwedo. A missionary order of priests and lay brothers, it is the first indigenous religious order for men founded in Africa, by an African, for the evangelization of the world. Since its inception in 1970, the SMMM order has been growing steadily. At present, they have a total of 262 professed members, of which 109 are priests. And the future looks promising: there are 146 major seminarians preparing for sacred priesthood, 14 novices, 21 postulants and over 800 aspirants.