Tuesday, March 25, 2014


It's customary at my parish to acknowledge birthdays and wedding anniversaries at the end of Sunday Mass. Not everyone cares to seek the spotlight and call attention to his or her special day, but many do, and hence the custom has continued.  So it was no surprise to me, at the end of Mass last weekend, when the Deacon alerted the congregation to my upcoming birthday. The congregation seemed happy to acknowledge my imminent milestone - happier still when I informed them that the Paulist Fathers will start collecting Social Security for me beginning next month!

Society sort of makes a fuss about turning 65. So 66 seems somehow less special. Still, I think that any birthday ought to be celebrated. I don't mean having a party or even calling lots of attention to oneself. Parties are for the young; and at my age, birthdays are certainly not about being young. But they are vey much about being alive and about being part of a family, community, or network of relationships. Fittingly, I spent most of this birthday at an all-day diocesan meeting, which meant I had "Happy Birthday" sung to me by the Bishop and priests of the diocese!

A very dear friend messaged me during that meeting. He wrote: "I think being born on the Annunciation balances being ordained on Saint Jude's day." Saint Jude is famously the patron of hopeless cases, lost causes, and things almost despaired of. It was an accident of the calendar, of course, but still certainly somehow very fitting that, after my nine years int he wilderness, I was finally a priest ordained on October 28, 1995, the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude.
But long before then I always was happy about having my birthday fall on the Annunciation, the celebration of the sublime mystery of the Incarnation. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! (Sometimes, of course, even the Annunciation gets impeded. So my birthday has also fallen on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. And the year I was actually born it fell on Holy Thursday!)

When at age 33 – at the mid-point of my present lifespan - I applied for admission to my present religious community, I attempted to articulate my sense of providential grace guiding me through the ups and downs of life and leading me in a definite direction. If anything I still feel that way today – only that much more so. (One of the things that then and since has so attracted me about the life and spirituality of Isaac Hecker was how he had a similar sense of providential grace and the great good he was able to accomplish as a result, in spite of external opposition and personal limitations). I have, moreover, learned over time to trust the lessons of my own experience even more than I was ever at ease doing earlier.

I think too of something Thomas Merton wrote in 1953: “We grow by making mistakes, individually and as a community. We must learn to profit by our own mistakes and by the mistakes of others.” (A Search for Solitude: Pursuing the Monk’s True Life, ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham, Harper Collins, 1996, p. 41).
Finally, on my birthday especially, I remember older relatives, friends, and acquaintances - among them mentors and guides now gone from the scene - to whom I owe so much. I also recognize how blessed I have been by younger acquaintances, colleagues, and friends from whom I continue to learn so much that is so significant.

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