Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Today is my 67th birthday. In itself, I suppose, that doesn't stand out as a very significant age marker. On the other hand, it is two-thirds of a century. So, if nothing else, being 67 means that I'm already almost certainly well past the two-thirds mark in my earthly life-span. 

Needless to say, at this particular point, there is no way to anticipate how much actual time on earth I may have left. Recognizing that sobering fact has inevitably made each year, even each day, seem so much more precious.

Paulist Fr. Jim Young, who was the Director of Formation when I was in seminary (and who sadly died way before his time) began a prayer he composed with these words: O my God, I am grateful that you have given me another day. Perhaps I may not have many left, and I treasure each one. (The Paulist Prayer Book, p. 395). I recite that prayer often, and its opening words are a sentiment that readily resonates in the inevitable twilight of life's long day.

At this age, a birthday is certainly a sobering occasion, a reminder of time passing by, another notification of one's mortality. But perhaps that makes it all the more imperative to celebrate. Life has its ups and downs, to be sure, and not every year is as wonderful as one might wish. But every year, every day, brings its own blessings to be treasured gratefully.

On this day, especially, I am grateful for - and to - my parents, grandmother, sisters, family, friends, and colleagues - all the people who over these 67 years have made a difference in my life, who have loved me or cared for me in some way, or who have taught me something that made me a better person, or that better equipped me to navigate my way through life's twists and turns. At the age I am now, many of those have already long-since been called from this life - among them, my father, my grandmother, my younger sister, all my aunts and uncles, many of my teachers, as well as various friends, acquaintances, and fellow Paulists. I will gratefully remember them all together in my birthday Mass at the Memento of the Dead. Others, still happily among the living, who have in whatever way enriched my life in the past or who continue in some way to enrich my life now, I will remember as well, at the Memento of the Living.

After the people, I guess I remain most grateful for my vocation, the great grace of the priesthood. Fittingly, I spent the last two evenings and will spend this evening hearing lenten confessions, good priestly activity. Of course, there are many worthwhile paths through life, but for me there is no other path I would rather have taken than the one which brought me to the priesthood. Despite delays and obstacles, the course has been so obviously the right one for me.

Nor has that road reached its end yet. Experience teaches us to presume little and to be acutely conscious of our limits. We go to war, Donald Rumsfeld is famously supposed to have said, with the army we have. In an analogous way, I guess, we go through life with the personality we have, with whatever defects and deficits biology and history have saddled us with. But the point is that we still do go through life, whoever we are and with whatever we have. We do things with what little or much we have to work with. What happens, in spite of everything, is grace making the most of what nature has to offer. And, while nature may inevitably be limited, grace keeps increasing. Appreciating that is surely one unmistakable plus about getting old!

That, after all, has to be the goal of a life well lived - to borrow a phrase from a worthy 17th-century Jesuit spiritual guide, Louis Lallemant - 
that grace may enliven what art and nature have formed!

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