Jim Colli died Monday October 21st in St. Catharines. He was a retired teacher and basketball coach and at the time of his death Pastoral Assistant at St. Julia’s church in St. Catharines.
I had known Jim for over thirty years since he and my wife were colleagues at Denis Morris CSS and later at Holy Cross CSS. When my three sons played high school basketball against Denis Morris or when DM hosted the All Ontario Catholic Tournament we would josh each other over who would win and lose. In more recent times we would, as retirees, bump into each other in grocery stores.
Jim was more an acquaintance than close friend and theologically and religious educationally we were at different ends of the spectrum and would also josh each other about that.
The Wake/Prayer Vigil was at St. Julia’s on Wednesday October 23rd and the funeral mass at the same location on Thursday 24th. The large church was filled on each evening. Bishop Fred Colli, Jim’s brother and a former pastor of St. Julia’s presided on both occasions.Bishop Fred brought a dignity, and as we have come to expect from Pope Francis, a refreshing humanity to both services. I reference Pope Francis, as did Bishop Fred, because humanity is not often the quality immediately associated with bishops.
It would have been exciting to see the four bishops and dozens of priests who were in attendance use the liturgy as a occasion for teaching, as it was beginning in the years after Jesus‘ death. But then perhaps they did.
The four hierarchs, resplendent in purple, sat high on the altar, and resembled nothing more than waxwork figures from Madame Tussaud’s. When bishop Fred referenced some of his brother’s distinctly human qualities the many of us in the congregation who had known Jim for many years laughed loudly in appreciation of this good man. Nary a smile crossed the faces of those dressed in purple.
The priests processed, clothed in alb and stole, and sat en masse(no pun intended) at the front of the church.
And the opportunity that was missed. Think again of Pope Francis, at the washing of feet, his cold calls and the many other examples since his election.
Imagine what might have happened if the four non-presiding bishops and the collection of priests had sat throughout the church in either alb, cassock, or even better in mufti. But no clericals and no stole. And participated in the eucharist as members of the congregation, of the community.
But no. Our ontologically different clerics chose to sit on high, regaled in their purple(the four bishops) or at the front of the community wearing their stole( symbol of office) once again emphasizing not their membership of the community, not their collegiality and solidarity with everyone present but their separateness and,by dint of clothing, colour and location, their “superiority.”
Perhaps they did not even think of this, and thereby lies a problem. But we are a sacramental community and sign and symbol are important.