This year is a year of anniversaries for me. Please allow me this bit of indulgence:
On this date, I was born in 1949. Do the math. Yep, I’m 60 today.
On this date, I made first vows as a Jesuit in 1969. That’s 40 years or 2/3 of my life.
This summer I celebrated 30 years of priesthood. That’s over half of my life. Dang!
Where does the time go?
That being said, let me relate a story that is very dear to me. Some months before I was ordained, I ran into one of my professors on the street in Berkeley, California. I was a student then at the Jesuit School of Theology there. Fr. Michael J. Buckley, SJ stopped me on the street and said, “Roc, priesthood will unlock the secret of your life.” And he walked on, grinning like a very satisfied Cheshire cat, I’m sure. I was taken aback. What the deuce did he mean by that?
I find that this part of the letter to the Colossians helps me answer that question. I don’t understand all of what St. Paul says in this passage, chiefly the part about “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Notice, though, that he connects suffering, ministry, and the mystery hidden from ages and generations.
I find these connected in new ways as I enter my 60’s. It seems to have to do with the purifying effects from a more delicious encounter with mortality, shall we say.
I am grieving the loss of at least some of the illusions and delusions that characterized my younger days – boundless energy, youthful optimism, dreams of greatness (on my terms), and a trouble-free life. It’s not that my life has been a piece of cake. It’s that I’ve been able to hang on to these illusions in spite of loss and suffering. I’m pretty stubborn. And, definitely, my ministry as rector of this Jesuit Community has allowed me to be welcomed in to the lives of Jesuits older than me who are also dealing with such grief.
So, I look at this birthday as standing on the threshold of “the rest of my life.” I am tasting the realities of our intrinsic and very human poverty and vulnerability that I’ve been able to hold at bay for so long. I’ve hardly begun to embrace this part of the cross, but I’m blessed by the memory that this is what the great saints did and met and embraced Life more joyfully.
That is the mystery hidden for ages, as I take it. It’s the way the secret of my life is being revealed to me. It is the mystery of embracing poverty and vulnerability and the cross, and finding great delight in that. At least, I’m toying with the idea.
So, is this an example of being Irish, or what!
To paraphrase St. Paul: May our hearts be encouraged as they are brought together in love, to have all the richness of assured understanding, for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
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