Tomorrow, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, will be the 30th anniversary of my Final Profession as a member of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle. The community is, of course, better known by its unofficial title as The Paulist Fathers, but I didn't actually become a Paulist Father for another 9 years. On January 25, 1986, however, that "time in the wilderness" was thankfully hidden from view! On that gray and very slightly snowy winter afternoon in Washington, DC, I and my 3 remaining classmates (out of an original novitiate class of 8) made our final promise together in the Saint Paul's College Chapel. We were the last class to do so before the chapel's transformation into a library. (The photo at left shows the old chapel's current life as a library.)
On that occasion, Fr. James Young, CSP, in his last year as Director of Formation (and unknown then to us all also in the last year of his life), spoke beautifully about the significance of our promise and of how - in terms of our life together as a religious community - it was an event as important as our eventual ordination (a somewhat consoling consideration in the context of my subsequent personal history.)
One of the many unfortunate developments of contemporary life in recent decades has been the weakening of community bonds of all kinds and at all levels. Even religious communities have experienced such unwanted stress. As we approach the end (in another nine days) of a year especially devoted to Religious Life in the Church, perhaps a corner has been turned in this regard as well. Last summer, we Paulists had a wonderful community retreat together, which was a particularly positive response to the challenge of the Year of Consecrated Life, precisely (I thought) because it focused our attention on our life together as religious rather than on our work in the Church. In a similar way, I hope that the current Holy Year may also be an opportunity for spiritual renewal and course correction in individual, community, and parochial life. (The challenge will be to take adequate advantage of the opportunity the Holy Year offers and not to lose the spiritual momentum it creates - as sadly happened with the last Jubilee, which was almost immediately followed by a time of global crises and internal Church problems).
Thirty years ago, that was all in an unknown future.Whether short or long-term, we never really know what the future holds. The task of all human communities, including officially constituted religious communities, is to maximize our life in the present, to be what we are supposed to be, and trust God's great mercy to steer us into a hopeful future.