Tales of the Divine Comedy

by      Thomas Ragazzi   and Dr. Philip A. Pecorino

Chapter Six                                                                                  Chapter SIX



Walking along Sheldon Avenue in New York City, the skyscrapers towering above him and the traffic and beeping of horns drowning out most other sounds, Father Conklin of Castleton Parish, an older man in his early sixties with grey hair dressed in the traditional black priestly garb, was single-mindedly focused on his purpose.  He turned the corner onto Heller Street and in the center of the block at building number six-hundred and fifty-eight was the headquarters of Hamilgate Financial, the largest and most prosperous investment bank in the Northeast.  Father Conklin had an appointment with the CEO of the bank and its namesake, Craig T. Hamilgate.  That Conklin, whose preaching was often viewed as Christian criticism of the excesses of the financial sector, would be here of all places could be explained by only two reasons.  One possibility as to the drawing of the financial and religious sectors together, despite that they operate on almost exclusively contradictory grounds, was that this particular bank needed some degree of holy sanction to keep up its credibility amid two major scandals publicized in the local media and papers, which involved illegal accounting practices, bribery charges, and misleading information given to investors.  A second possibility was that since the Church was set on a mission to convert and, as they saw it, civilize the peoples of Central Africa, the Holy See needed funds that were once accessible but recently lost in their effort to fight through the courts some of their own scandals, which were widely publicized in the local media and papers likewise.

                But Father Conklin never had any part in Church abuses and was always an advocate for the rights and protection of parishioners, and especially of the children of the faith, at times even going against the wisdom of his superiors if he felt his actions were the right thing he believed God had wanted him to do.

                The truth of the matter was that both these possibilities were likely correct; each side had an interest in the meeting and thereby agreed to it.  So as with meetings of this nature, Father Conklin did not know what to expect.  Being a man of prudence, this being why his superiors had chosen him for the part, he was aware of the one great good the business sector is looking for, and that is positive publicity.  He also, being one who studied economics at Saint Mark’s University, was well acquainted with the great end of business, namely profit.  In a word, he was aware of the basic angle Craig T. Hamilgate would be coming from, but was agnostic as to the particulars.

                With all this in mind, and his Christian purpose firmly in his heart, Father Conklin walked through the doors of the headquarters of Hamilgate Financial.  He took the elevator to the top floor in the one-hundred and forty-four story building.  At the end of the hall was the room that was Hamilgate’s office where all major decisions of the bank were finalized.  There the priest was greeted by the secretary, who said:

                “Father Conklin, correct?”

                “Yes,” he responded.

                “Mr. Hamilgate is ready to see you.  You can just go right in through this door.”

                “Thank you.”

                Father Conklin walked into the office and there was Craig Hamilgate sitting at his wide, polished wooden desk with his papers.  He was a man in his mid-forties with a finely shaved dark-brown beard and dark-brown hair whose strong and angular facial features showed that he was one who had firmness of purpose etched into his very being.  Hamilgate looked up and smiled as he saw his guest walk into the room.

                “Father Conklin, please, sit down,” he said in a voice that was deep, steady, and indicative of the authority of his position.

                Conklin looked at this extraordinarily spacious office with awe.  The room was in the shape of a moderately elliptical circle, and all along its walls were bookshelves containing thousands of works on banking, economics, political science, philosophy, and the natural sciences.  Among the authors who were well represented were Addison, Hume, Quesnay, Smith, and Turgot, as well as other lesser-known writers of the Enlightenment period who were champions of economic liberty.  Of the writers of the natural sciences, Galileo, Newton, Bacon, Priestly, Darwin, Spencer, and Dawkins enjoyed considerable representation.   The works of the great poets were practically non-existent, save for Marlowe’s Tamburlaine and some volumes of that notable poet laureate hailing from the United Kingdom, Ted Hughes, whose works were heavily influenced by the study of archaeology and anthropology.  Upon Hamilgate’s desk were The Federalist Papers, that classic work of American political theory, open to essay number ten.[i]

                Directly behind Hamilgate’s desk, and in between the tall, rounding library bookshelves, were large glass windows, through which was a breathtaking view of blue skies and the cityscape.

                Hamilgate stood up and with an open hand pointed to the seat in front of his desk.

                “Please sit.”

                The priest smiled and sat.

                “I hear that you have a reputation for being a man of unwavering faith.”

                “I hope so,” responded Conklin, still smiling.

                “Good, very good.  Now to business.  So, Central Africa is it?”

                “Yes, Central Africa.  Southern Chad, specifically.  The major problem with this nation is its shaky economy, which we believe primarily stems from an unstable political situation.  But nations with the rule of God as their firm foundation will create harmony and unity through religion, which thus will lead to political stability, and this will lay the groundwork for foreign investments as investors will feel safe putting their money into the nation’s financial infrastructure.”

                “Ah, trickle-down economics according to the Church,” chuckled Hamilgate.

                “Something like that,” said Father Conklin, smiling.  “Now of course religion won’t solve all their problems, but we believe we can serve the people of Chad and thus do God’s will.  But we don’t have an unlimited supply of funds.”

                “Which is what prompted your superiors to request this meeting.”

                “The Church humbly beseeches your assistance,” said Conklin as he smiled.

                “I thought the Church had already tried proselytizing to Africa.  But to your credit, historically you have had some success with that.”

                Conklin nodded.

                Hamilgate continued:

                “Chad has a significant Muslim population, so you know you will have competition.”

                “The Church believes we can work together with peoples of all faiths for the improvement of the country.”

                “I see,” Hamilgate sighed.  “Well, you know the procedures.  My VP discussed this with your assistant Father DiBenedetto, and we’ll work out the details, but I’ll mention a few particulars here.  One of my people will have representation at the next New York Conference of Bishops, and at the end of the first day of the conference he is guaranteed a meeting with your superior Cardinal McNeal who will be in attendance.  My company will have preferential status in the financial plan packages of Church employees in the tri-state area.  And there will be a permanent line of communication opened between our offices, mine and yours.”

                “Yes.  But of course the fine details will be worked out.  But yes, that is the agreement,” said the priest.

                Suddenly Hamilgate exclaimed:

“The deal!”

As he said this, he pounded the desk with his fist, which was not done in anger, but with a keen sense of amusement. 

“Let’s be honest with each other, Father Conklin.  It is a deal, not an agreement.”  Hamilgate laughed, then smiled.

                “Sir,” said Conklin, who was understandably startled and a little confused.  “Is there a problem?”

                “No, no,” said Hamilgate, as he shook his head.  “It’s just that I wish we all would see the truth of the matter, you know, ‘was blind but now I see’ and all of that.”

                Conklin was slightly offended by that last comment, but given that he had seen much abuse and even outright hostility against the Church, and the fact that Hamilgate had agreed to be a generous benefactor for the African mission, the priest said nothing.  But Father Conklin was an intelligent man and he knew what Hamilgate was alluding to.  The truth was Conklin did not like these “agreements” that the Church often made.  He, in fact, thought that it cheapened the Church, but he knew of no other way for it to accumulate enough capital to do the good works it set out to do.  In a word, he felt it was a necessary evil.  The positive ends outweighed the questionable means.  But Craig T. Hamilgate, being the man he was, and deeming himself a philosopher of some sorts, did not let his point end there.

                Hamilgate continued:

                “I just believe that humanity, particularly those with the altruistic bent, would benefit by seeing reality for what it truly is.  Then those heart-wrenching crises of the soul that periodically afflict man would be less prevalent.”

                “And what reality would that be?” interjected Conklin with a strong degree of skepticism and a stern face.

                “Ahh!” Hamilgate said with eagerness as he saw an opening to espouse his philosophy.  “That is the reality of human nature and the culture that stems from that nature.  Life, at its very essence, is political.  It consists of continuous series of power struggles, sometimes among individuals and sometimes among groups.  Life is best defined as a struggle for dominance, which involves both conflicts and alliances as means to achieve that degree of dominance.  Even other species of animals act on this nature, although the politics may not be as complex as that of their human counterparts.”

                But Father Conklin was not satisfied with being a passive listener, and as he thought of himself as not only a theologian, but also an intellectual, and priding himself on his reputation for being a superb debater, which he first achieved at Saint Mark’s and which remained with him throughout his tenure as a priest as Castleton, he interjected:

                “Okay,” Conklin laughed.  “You want a discussion.  A debate, philosophical and theological, if you will.”

                Hamilgate smiled, then nodded.

                “Mr. Hamilgate,” said the priest, “I’m familiar with the view that man must be aggressive and ruthless in order to survive and thrive, but in the end this view causes more problems than it corrects.  With your philosophy there is no trust, no love, and no security.  Everyone is out for their own gain.  This is simply not true.  There are good people who have Christ as their guide who are motivated to help mankind because of their love of God and their neighbors.  And the view that one should be aggressive and uncompassionate to achieve success is un-Christian.  Scripture explicitly states that the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers will have great rewards in Heaven for following God’s teachings.”

                “Oh, let’s be serious here, Father!”  Hamilgate exclaimed.  “Those behaviors you just praised as Christian behaviors will only lead to people being taken advantage of.  People will instinctually view those behaviors as weaknesses.  By taking the Beatitudes, where you apparently get your philosophy from, as the law one should live by, you will basically go about life with both hands tied behind your back.  And in life, you have to have both hands ready at all times because life is a battle and it is all about winning against your opponents.”

                “Mr. Hamilgate, stop right there.  See, this is the problem with reading Scripture on your own without the aid of one who is well-versed in exegesis.  You may know particular passages, but you need to study it as a whole to understand the spirit of the law.  I do not believe that Christ wanted no resistance to oppressors or to wrongs done to us, but there are times in which we must bear wrongs done so as not to cause greater conflict.  Saint Paul said, ‘To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  To them all I have become everything in turn, so that in one way or another I may save some.’[ii]  It therefore follows that to the strong one must become strong.  To deal fairly in life and at the same time not be taken for a fool, one must know how to read the personalities one deals with and one must be able to use both their strong and weak natures accordingly.”

                Father Conklin smiled, as he knew his argument was not only was based in logic but steeped in Scripture.

                Hamilgate then thought for a bit and said, “Very good, Father.  Very good.  But that would not be clear to someone reading the Bible on their own because one passage often contradicts another passage, as the Hebrew Scripture’s injunction of ‘an eye for an eye’ clearly contradicts the Beatitudes and Jesus’ injunction to ‘turn the other cheek’ and love one’s neighbors.”

                “Again, Mr. Hamilgate, one cannot read Scripture alone.  One will need the aid of someone with an expertise in that field in order to prevent any misinterpretations that could easily occur.”

                “Then my question becomes why did God allow for the Bible to be created in such a way that it is so easily misread.”

                “People are fallible, Mr. Hamilgate.  Not God and His Holy Writ.  People misinterpret, but the truth of God remains.”

                Hamilgate breathed deep and then smiled with eagerness as when one meets a worthy opponent in battle after failing to find a challenge among all the men he has faced and defeated.

 “Fair enough, Father.”

Conklin continued:

“Mr. Hamilgate, I sincerely respect what you have done for our Holy Church all these years, but I would be remiss if I did not state my honest opinion.”

“And that would be…”

“Biblical theology would unequivocally deem your naturalism to be given over to worldliness, and frankly, to be promoting evil thoughts and evil actions.  As a chosen emissary of God whose purpose is to bear witness to the truth that man must follow the ways of Christ, I see your views as a direct attack on the Christian faith.  To say that mankind has a dictate from Nature commanding that he be ruthless and that he view life as a battleground where he must win against his opponents is beyond mere error.  It is evil.”

“Evil?” Hamilgate laughed.  “What is evil?[iii]  How is it determined?  Is it the intent behind one’s actions or the results of one’s actions that matter?  If I, as a businessman, selfishly pursue my own interests of wealth and prestige, and through my ambition and entrepreneurial spirit increase job growth, am I not improving the lives of others?  Am I not good, regardless of my intent?  If you, Father, as a clergyman of the Church, selflessly, if such a concept truly exists, work towards bettering human lives, and through your altruism create or allow for overpopulation and the contagion of fatal disease due to your policies of restricting methods of birth control, are you not harming the lives of others?  Are you not contributing to world suffering?  Are you not evil, regardless of your intent?”

At this point of subtle accusation, Conklin felt mildly dizzy for a moment and his heart skipped a few beats.

Hamilgate noticed and asked, “Are you feeling alright, Father?”

“Yes, yes,” said Conklin, as he composed himself.  “I’m fine.”

“Shall we end our discussion for the day?  Will you concede my point?”

“No, no, no.  Let’s continue.”

“So be it.  My point is that this is how you must think and act in order for you to be successful in business and in life in general.  I can speak for my field personally.  If I choose not to cut excess employees from my corporation because of my love and compassion for mankind and my fears of going against my principles, then my corporation will be weaker than that of my competitor who does not follow the same principles that I do.  My competitor will have more business options than I do, and this will make his corporation that much stronger than mine.  In the end, it is likely, if he is a direct competitor, that he will bankrupt or buy out my corporation.  So the ultimate result is that the business that held to rigorous principles is no more and the business that did not is successful and employs thousands of people giving them livelihoods so they can support their families.  As the primary decision-maker of this investment bank, I have not followed a code of compassion, but a sound business plan.  And in the end it is my bank that will be giving a grant to the Church’s cause.  In the end, the Church and the people of Central Africa benefit from my lack of compassion.”

Father Conklin thought deeply about Hamilgate’s argument, and made great effort to understand its intricacies.

Hamilgate continued:

“My business is brinkmanship.  I know just how far to bend the rules to maximize profit.  I’ve learned just how far I can go.  It is a skill; it is an art.  Traditional morality, if I adhered to it, would only hold me back.  So I learned the rules – I know them well – and I learned how to get around them.

My next question is this.  Are we not so different after all?  My motivations are pleasure, power, and prestige, and I readily acknowledge them because I am honest with myself.  But what of your motivations, Father?  Your true motivations.”

“I am not without sin, Mr. Hamilgate.  No man is.  But I believe my intentions are pure and based on a genuine love of God and mankind.”

“Are you certain about that, Father?  Are not your motivations for helping the poor people of the world selfish also?  Do you not hope for the rewards of the ecstasy of Heaven for your good deeds?  Do you not hope to rank high in the Abode of the Saints and take a glimpse of God’s benevolent face as the just wages you deserve?   Thus, are not your motivations pleasure, power, and prestige?  Are we not truly the same, save for the fact that I am honest with my motivations and you are content to live in a lie?”

“Sir, I just don’t believe that all of my actions should be considered selfish.  That goes for all of humanity for that matter.  There are those who are solely concerned about themselves and always live this way.  But there are others who are altruistic who get pleasure out of improving the lives of others and making them happy.  I don’t see human motivation as a one-dimensional thing as you do.”

“You don’t, do you?  Father, I was not trying to question your motives in particular.  Nor was I trying to question the motives of mankind.  All I am doing is elucidating human truths and pulling the veil from over our eyes.  I am here to bring truth, just as you say you are, Father.”

Conklin shook his head.  “I disagree,” he said.  “This is not where our discussion began.  I was not given a chance to fully address how you define life and its struggles.”

“So what of the merits of my original argument?”

                “Alright,” said the priest.  “As to your supposition, I will say this.  It on the surface appears to be based on the sciences of human psychology and sociology, that is, individual and group behavior, but beneath the surface there are too many holes.”

                “Like in evolution?” said Hamilgate with a smile.

                “Ah,” laughed Conklin.  “Yes, there is debate among Catholics about that.  I hold that evolution is based on science, but I maintain that it is in no way contradictory to the teachings of the Church.  Other Catholics, and some Protestants too, who tend to be strict literalists, hold that it does conflict with Scripture, and thus they make their case that the theory must be thrown out, but this tangent has no bearing on our original discussion.”

                “Then please continue about my supposition, as you put it.”

                “Well,” Conklin responded, “there is much more to life than what you say.  There are so many unknowns.  Science has yet to create a complete theory of the world, and by the same token, so has theology, as man has severe limitations as to his understanding of Nature, Existence, Time and Space, and the ways of God Himself.  In other words, and I don’t mean to sound too harsh, but your theory is frankly a bit too simplistic.”

                Unfazed by the priest’s words, Hamilgate stated:

                “Simple truth miscalled simplicity, Father.  Simple truth miscalled simplicity.[iv]  But let me give my argument some depth.  Let us look at our culture, the source of which is our nature.  In fact, this culture has supplanted our religion. This culture has, dare I say it, become our religion.  This religion that we all follow may be termed Instinctism.  We may say we are Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Orthodox, Quaker, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Unitarian, Atheist, or Agnostic, but in fact we are all practitioners of Instinctism.  This religion has five pillars: Sex, Money, Status, Power, Respect.  And we worship at these pillars.  We worship at these pillars every day!”  This last sentence was said with a relish.

                The priest shook his head.

                “But religion is the very cure for this problem,” said Conklin, as he thought about Hamilgate’s words introspectively.  “Any Christian of any denomination will tell you that human nature indeed has inherent evil, but if man is encouraged to love God and his neighbor, then this will promote a higher purpose to be followed, which it is hoped will eclipse the lower purposes of our natural desires.”

                “Has this happened in truth, Father?  Are you telling me that with religion necessarily comes holiness and righteousness?  Take a look at the history of Medieval Europe when the Catholic Church had enormous, unprecedented power.  And how many scandals of intrigue and murder occurred?  Look at the Borgia family that put one of their own into the papacy.[v]  Did the prevalence of religion pacify human nature?  No.  Religion just became a powerful tool of the ruthless and the ambitious. And it will continue to be used in this way so long as the people judge by the appearance of things rather than by the way things truly are.  That is to say, religion will always be an effective tool of the strong as the people will always judge in this way.”

                Father Conklin was hit hard by this retort, as he knew a sound argument was made, being that he had studied Medieval Church history in depth and in particular knew of the abuses of the Borgia family that once had enormous influence over Church politics.

                “But this has no bearing over the Church today,” the priest said rather weakly. Then he regained much of his composure and said, “This in no way proves that the Church’s doctrines are wrong,” and finally gained the rest of his confidence and said “and it in no way disproves the existence of God.”

                “Father,” said Hamilgate as he smiled, “I was not trying to proselytize the tenets of Atheism to you.  This was never my aim.  And I really do not think you want to bring the discussion in this direction.”

                “No.  We can go in this direction.  That is fine.”

                “Are you sure about this, Father?  Are you truly willing to delve into this murky, unclear area?  If you really want to bring our discussion to the question of God’s existence, so be it.”

                “So be it then.  So what about God, Mr. Hamilgate?” said the priest, as he started to raise his voice.  “What about God and His design?  How does this fit into your picture?”

                “What about God?” responded Hamilgate, calmly.  “That’s a good question.  Where is He in all of this?  He is neither here nor there in my equation.  If He does exist, then He apparently lets all of this happen and lets ambitious men use His name for their own political gain.  That is incontrovertible fact.”

                “Then for argument’s sake, let us put aside theology for the moment and argue solely on your naturalistic terms.  Love is a natural, instinctual emotion.  All human beings, no matter how good or how evil, have felt it.  How do you explain Love, Mr. Hamilgate?!  What about Love?!”

                “Love?!  Love?!  Are you serious, Father?  Love is just a myth, like Heaven, Hell, Santa Clause, and the Easter Bunny.”

                “Oh come on!” yelled Father Conklin, who by this time was visibly upset.

                “No, I’m serious.  Love, or should I say, what we like to think of as Love, is really just the human need to feel emotionally secure.  It can be a very threatening and dangerous world and to feel that a loved one, whether a parent or a spouse is protecting you, gives a necessary feeling of security.  In fact, that is the origin of the myth of God, that is, in man’s emotionally insecure nature, i.e. his fears, and the consequent need to feel protected that arises out of his insecurity.  Do you not notice that there are many who have not been religious all their lives, who suddenly become religious when their last days appear ahead of them, when that final destination, that undiscovered country, death, comes near?  Does this not tell us that the reason that God lives, or should I say, the reason that we perceive that He lives is due to human fear, fear of the unknown, the fear of death?”

                “You’re wrong,” said the priest.

                Hamilgate continued:

                “The myths of God, Love, and morality are for the weak-minded.  The only truth is our instincts.  Nature rewards strength over weakness, not righteousness over inequity.  This is the dark wisdom of the age.  The age that always was.  The age that will ever be.”  Hamilgate thought for a moment, gathered his thoughts, and passionately said these words: “To Hell with God, whatever He, She, or It is.  Would I have ever gotten this far in life by believing in God?  I want you to seriously and intelligently look at the situation we have now.  You, an emissary of the Church, are at the mercy of me, a man who has no belief in and fear of God, and who acts accordingly.  And this situation is time and time again repeated throughout human history.”

                By now Father Conklin had started to feel ill.  He was getting older and just did not have the penchant for debate as he used to.

                Then, the intercom on Hamilgate’s desk began to flash and buzz.

                “One second, Father.”

                Hamilgate pushed the button and the secretary’s voice said:

                “Mr. Hamilgate, the Reverend Richard Johnson of the Episcopal Church of South Westchester has arrived for his appointment.  He’s inquiring about some terms you suggested in your agreement with him.”

                “Ah, yes,” responded Hamilgate.  “Send him to my office in five minutes.”

                “Yes, Mr. Hamilgate.”

                He pushed the button on the intercom to end the call and stood up.

                “Come.  I want to show you something,” Hamilgate said, and he motioned for the priest to follow him to the large windows behind the office desk.

                Conklin complied somewhat reluctantly and joined him.

                The view of blue skies and cityscape were fantastic.

                “I own all of these towers,” said Craig T. Hamilgate with pride as he pointed out the windows with an open palm upwards.  “To think that man could have all of this if he only bow down and follow his instincts.”[vi]

                “I feel ill,” said Father Conklin in a more than airy voice.  “We’ll have to continue these business dealings another day.  Please, show me to the door.”

                Hamilgate calmly walked to his desk and through the intercom told his secretary to get someone to escort his guest out of the building safely.  A man from security answered the call and did so, but just as the priest was walking out of the building, he mentioned to the man that he felt dizzy, and then he collapsed.  An ambulance was called immediately.  Later it was found that Conklin was treated for exhaustion, anxiety, and a newly-discovered heart condition that made him bed-ridden for two weeks.  He eventually asked to be relieved of his duties as Church liaison to Hamilgate Financial, as he could not conduct business in his existing condition.  Sadly, after much intensive care and many sincere prayers, Father Conklin died a few days later.  Though as for his prayers before he died, they indeed were heartfelt and as expected came at a greater frequency, yet there was a noted difference in the way the priest said them.  That is, there was a sense of heavy-hearted questioning in his prayers, so much so that they ceased to be requests and became more like questions he wanted answered by the Creator.  It was said that Father Conklin died in peace, though the nurses at Saint Mary’s Hospital had mentioned to those who asked that in his sleep before he died they often heard him mutter the words “dark wisdom” and “the age of Instinctism.”

                It may be asked, following the tragic death of the much admired and respected Father Conklin, what of the newly-made ties between this widely influential investment bank and the most powerful Christian church in the world?  Did either side regroup and put off for a time this potential alliance as the first Church liaison ended his visit with an argument before he so abruptly left due to illness beyond his control?  The answer to this question, it was found, was in the negative.  The agreement was by no means severed due to what was perceived as a minor inconvenience, and Father DiBenedetto was summarily appointed in Conklin’s place.  In fact, Church authorities cited the well-regarded Conklin’s perceived emphatic support for this alliance as evidence to go through with it.  None made mention of Conklin’s reservations that were made privately to his close confidants, except for one young and idealistic priest who was a very good friend of Conklin, but whose inexperience and seeming naiveté were used to argue against his position to nix the deal.  So in the end, it went official; in fact, it was Craig T. Hamilgate himself who met with Cardinal McNeal at the Conference of Bishops.  Indeed, Hamilgate proved to be a regular saint with his knowledge of Scripture and Church history, and so impressed the attendees that they questioned whether he was a man of business or a man of the cloth.  And when this man prayed at the opening and closing prayers, it seemed so sincere that two senior priests sitting close by asked themselves whether he had been blessed with the rarest of spiritual gifts from God.  So thus the original meeting between Conklin and Hamilgate had been a productive one.  The Church would eventually receive the capital for its African mission as promised, and the long chain of business connecting the financial and religious sectors of life remained intact.

                But in order for the reader to know the entire story, our narrative must not end here.  It must be said of the impact that Father James Conklin had made in the lives of myriads of people from all over the world.  He was a man with an undying thirst for justice and he lived out his principals.  In the prime of his intellectual and moral vigor, when he was in his mid-thirties, he would work with local Central African government officials and set up chains of schools in the most impoverished areas.  He did this for three years until he was called by his superiors – as they knew of his background in economics – to aid in the business development of Bolivia and worked closely with their national leaders to establish a more free market economy.  And as he spoke fluent Spanish, he was assigned to the Roman Catholic Church of La Paz, where he would speak against the evils of Communism and urge his parishioners never to vote for anyone who had ever been a member of the Bolivian Communist Party, as he knew of the tension, divisiveness, and even outright violence that historically resulted from nations enacting policies of this nature.  In the lead up to the Kosovo War, Conklin was called by the Vatican for a mission to foster peace in Southeastern Europe.  He was sent to Serbia and did his best to urge restraint among the leaders of their ruling party.

                And in the last few years of his life, Father Conklin was assigned to Castleton Roman Catholic Church of New York, where he served as a gentle shepherd of the Lord, giving hope to a people who were uncertain and who questioned whether hope was real.  His sermons were moving and his parishioners adored him.

                Father Conklin was laid to rest in the Matherfield Cemetery in Boston, the city of his birth.  His funeral held at Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church was attended by hundreds, many of whom were influential people from different parts of the world.  Craig Hamilgate was invited, but was too busy with matters which he considered necessary to the national interest to attend.  Leaders from London, Paris, Washington, Sarajevo, Rome, La Paz, N’Djamena, Sydney, Tokyo, Beijing, and many other world cities were in attendance.  They were all there to pay their respects to a great man.

                During the service, most of Conklin’s parishioners were in tears.  The most notable part of the service was the eulogy given by one Father Joseph F. Matthews, a man the same age as Conklin, who could put into words what everyone in attendance was feeling about this uniquely special servant of God. 

                Father Matthews stepped up to the podium and said:

                “Father James Michael Conklin was…”

                Matthews’ voice then started to crack up.

                “I’m sorry,” he sniffled.  “I’ve known James for my whole life.  We went to seminary together, and even then his dedication to Christ was unwavering.”

                Matthews then composed himself and continued:

                “James Michael Conklin was a man who never lost his innocence.  Christ asks us to come to Him as a child,[vii] and James remained with his youthful hope for his entire life, which he never hesitated to share with the rest of the world.  I remember a conversation I had with him after he returned from Kosovo.  He said the measure of a man was the amount of Love he has in his heart, regardless of his race, nationality, or religion.[viii]  ‘It is biblical!’ he would say to me emphatically.  His eyes would beam as if he newly discovered some hidden revelation.  ‘This is Christ’s most important commandment,’ he told me. ‘Love one another.’  I am shaking before you just remembering that conversation.  But this is who the man was.  And he went out in the world to act on his beliefs.  His love was too strong for him to do anything less.  So my advice to you all is to know this man.  Know him for his heart, a heart that has touched all of us in some way.”

                Father Matthews then paused for a second and mused aloud:

                “James Conklin was not a one-dimensional man.  He was indeed complex.  He always questioned simple solutions to in-depth problems.  And I know of times when his doubt was a plague unto his soul.  Father Conklin was not a man without doubt, but a man whose love was stronger than his doubt, whose hope was stronger than his doubt, whose faith was stronger than his doubt.  It is that strength of character, it is that strength of will that made him who he is, who we remember him to be.  ‘Strength and love, strength and love,” he would tell me.  ‘These are the laws we must live by.’  And I questioned him on this.  I questioned him on the impracticality of it.  I asked him, ‘How can you follow the laws of strength and love when there are so many people who do not live by this code of love?  Will not one’s strength waver under these circumstances?’  He just smiled and laughed.  He did not have to say anything after that.  I knew what he meant.  He would lead by his example and prove to the world what he meant.  He would show the world the principal of love.

                He opened his heart to the world for a reason, my friends.  He wanted us all to follow his example.  He wanted us all to risk everything for love.  It could be done, was his point!  It could be done!  And this is what he did.  He proved it to the world, and this is what we will always remember him for.”

                Father Matthews then stepped down from the podium and everyone stood up and clapped.  So enthusiastic was the applause that the walls of the church started to shake and some thought the engraving of the Lord hanging on the apex wall would fall if it continued.  Some perceived this as a sign. 

When the applause subsided, a pianist passionately played “I Believe” for the attendees.  Her voice was as angelic as her playing was enchantingly beautiful.  Many more tears were seen among the people.  It was here at the end of the song that the service ended.   Then there was much discussion about Conklin’s candidacy for canonization, the processes that this would take, and whether he would meet the qualifications.  Most of the attendees believed he would


[i] The Federalist Papers were the collected essays of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.  The work was an effort to persuade the people of New York State to ratify the Constitution of 1787.  In “Federalist #10,” Madison wrote of the dangers of direct democracy and antagonistic political factions forming from different economic interests.

[ii] 1 Corinthians 9:22

[iii] “As a chosen . . . What is evil?”  Cf. John 18:37-38

[iv] William Shakespeare, Sonnet 66

[v] Rodrigo de Borgia, also known as Alexander VI, was pope form 1492 to 1503 and was infamous for his corruption.

[vi] See Matthew 4:8-9

[vii] See Matthew 18:2-4

[viii] See Romans 2:12-16

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© Copyright Thomas Ragazzi and Philip A. Pecorino 2010. All Rights reserved.