I Handed on to You What I First Received – Pastor’s Reflection (July 9, 2017)
Because of the Fourth of July holiday, you read words from June 29. Further, this essay hails from
Louisville, where I was gathered with my family to celebrate my father’s 85th birthday.
He rates organizing such celebrations as one of life’s happiest tasks, and he tackled this one with the vim of a much younger person. Dad hosted a pre-birthday dinner for out of town guests. Then, on the day itself we celebrated Mass in Louisville’s Cathedral of the Assumption, where he is a parishioner. We concluded with an al fresco party for 90. Dad drew all his worlds together. He had children,
grandchildren, and long-time friends from each chapter of his life, all the way back to Notre Dame in the 50’s. But he also had the people of his present, those who work with him in business, his doctors and physical therapists.
Such a roster of guests gives a panorama of life we do not see on any given day. Surveying the yard, I perceived that one vibrant life touches many people, and draws on those encounters to reach out yet more widely. My dad’s has been a transactional life. People have met him as buyers and sellers, owners and tenants, employees and providers of services, and they have stayed on for decades as friends. There they were sharing the happy twilight with him and with each other. They were tucking into biscuits packed with Country Ham (the prosciutto of the Bluegrass) and washed down by “Walt’s Old
Fashioneds.” This was summer happiness purveyed by one in whom such happiness abides all year long.
The scene showed me the gulf between my father’s life and mine. My dad’s celebration showcased the fruits of constancy in life, building a business, improving a home, fostering a parish and widening a circle of friends. His is a rooted life, lived in place and relationships attach themselves to it like ornaments on a Christmas tree. By my choice, and through the nature of my vocation, I have reached my mid-fifties as an unestablished person and wanderer through life. At the stroke of a pen I could be in a different city, with a different assignment.
But for all the differences, his life shaped mine. As reveler after reveler recounted the story of “knowing Walt,” I realized that without any lesson plan I had learned from Dad how to live the
transactional life that is ministry. I enter people’s lives as the purveyor of an event. They come to me
looking for a baptism, a wedding, or a house blessing, and sometimes the encounter ends with a
handshake and a “Thank you, Father.” At other times it becomes the first of many chapters in an ongoing relationship. All as God disposes! Such a training leads one to take each encounter seriously by meeting its demands and respecting its limits.
As I look back I see the practice of civility giving backbone to my parents’ way of life and providing a seed ground for the enduring relationships that anchor them to this day. Civility lies at the core of their traditio, that which they received and handed on. Though I have no lasting dwelling, and will bequeath neither money nor monument, I nevertheless carry around with me a real rootedness, and that I operate out of all the time, often without realizing it. How many times have I entered a stranger’s living room, or welcomed a couple into my parlor, or entered the melee of a crowded ballroom and not realized that I was prepared for this by my Dad’s gift of knowing no stranger and my mother’s understanding that friendliness is an obligation, not a favor.
I am mindful that we are about to enter upon July, the month of St. Anne and St. Joachim, the
parents of Mary, and the grandparents of Jesus. What a great time to recognize the living tradition that has stealthily equipped us for life, so that we navigate life’s ways without a map. To ponder one’s
ancestry is to survey a procession of gifted and challenged people, and to discover oneself as the bearer of an inner heritage that enables and limits invisibly. What a blessing to reflect on this patrimony in the light of faith and to realize that both its gifts and its deficits provide ways to God. In a culture that is unsettled it becomes helpful to realize that we are grounded relationships of nature, and in that amazing relationship imparted by grace.