So Many Words – Pastor’s Reflection (March 19, 2017)
I write these lines on Monday, March 13, and by all accounts you will have had a challenging week of
weather by the time you read them. I say “you” with some embarrassment because I write you from Sarasota, Florida, which looks to feel this storm only by way of highs in the sixties rather than the seventies. My father winters here in Sarasota and I take a turn accompanying him. As you may imagine the time is precious for its climactic and personal warmth. I find also that that by living according to a different rhythm for a few days I appreciate the gift of my own life and companions.
Of course, while technology has made it easier to travel quickly to a different world, it has also blunted the effect of travel so that one can keep tabs on multiple worlds at the same time. So this morning WYNC kept me up on all the storm preparations even as I was looking out the window at palm trees. As I think of New York I am more alive with concern for those who are there, guilt at not being there myself, and glee for being here. I find this
multiplicity of experience to be a fascinating gift of our time.
I receive it as a privilege of nature as well. Living in the fifties of life confers a windfall on me, for I connect to multiple generational worlds as well. My father is thirty years my senior and it startles me that on the one hand we share much in common, but on the other, age has carried him bodily to a different world, a voyage he has managed with extraordinary humor and good grace. At close quarters lie a world of shared tastes and experiences, and a gulf of time that cannot be crossed, save by empathy.
From my sunny perch I can look north and see the multiplicity of worlds as gift to my life at home. Consider the three Friars with whom I work most closely. Fr. Joseph Allen is 79, and Br. Damian McCarthy is 77, a few years short of my dad’s 84 and Fr. Innocent is 30. The four of us have much in common by way of our Dominican life and training, but we also represent three generational worlds of the Church. That means three perspectives on all kinds of issues, ranging from worship to administrative priorities.
For the guy in the middle this offers some challenge, but mostly exhilaration, as the combination keeps one profoundly in touch. Of course the life of our Parish staff offers a microcosm of the life of our parish as a community of generations, and to look at the procession of these in a local place offers a glimpse into the very vast movement of people through time that is the Church.
One’s generation provides so much belonging. Events, fashions, and the arts support a unity of perspective that grows with time. When I speak with people my age about the 1980 election it’s almost like we are sharing a family secret. To be in a generation is to inhabit a world, and to recognize another generation is to discern another world. As a I watch the kids on spring break enjoy the sand and the waters of the Gulf, I see that the men favor swim trunks that reach their knees. Walking along with my pale middle aged calves showing proudly I am mystified by these young people. Why would anyone come to the seashore on an 80 degree day and wear that much clothing in the water? My incomprehension notwithstanding, they are having a great time, perfectly comfortable with each other in their world. (They probably look at me and think that someone with such legs should cover up.)
But with hemlines, tie widths, and favorite actors, each generation also seems to craft a narrative of its own uniqueness, seeing in itself the long awaited answer, or the fresh start the world needs. In the strength of this
conviction it makes its contribution to every field of endeavor, until it perceives the tsunami in the rearview mirror. All of a sudden there are people coming from behind with different answers and different norms. In the procession of generations time affirms in part and rejects in part, and it’s a happy old age that befriends the inexorable flux in things.
With pondering, the passage of generations reveals one of life’s quietest joys. Contempt for the past and war against the future never repay the effort, but striving to make a contribution in the present offers a double reward when it builds on the past and gives scope to the needs and insights which must come after. I believe that the more I maintain awareness that I live within the movement of time, the more I achieve both fruitfulness and humility. I can even turn things around so that time becomes an opportunity rather than a constraint, and the chance to contribute a gift rather than an episode in a culture war.
Consider that since Vatican II the Church has received the Pastoral Care of Paul VI, John Paul I and II,
Benedict XVI, and Francis. We can analyze this history politically as a series of pendulum swings, or we can see the Spirit at work in the continuity of the Church. On the “micro” level, I have had the joy of observing three different generations apply themselves to the renewal of the Church. In this ongoing work creativity and conflict have each have served an underlying and discernible continuum.
At Easter, in the Risen Christ, I glimpse humanity living beyond time in the state of glory, but I can only
prepare for this by observing the law of time now. As with so much of mortal existence living well in time means being amazed to see how much I do not see.