Sunday, March 25, 2018


On retreat in Algeria on Holy Saturday 1950, as the Easter bells were already ringing from Oran's Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the future Pope John XXIII (at that time Apostolic Nuncio to France) wrote in his Journal

“When one is nearly seventy, one cannot be sure of the future. ‘The years of our life are three score and ten, and even if we are strong enough to reach the age of eighty, yet these years are but toil and vanity; they are soon passed and we also pass away’ (cf. Psalm 89:10-11). So it is no use nursing any illusions: I must make myself familiar with the thought of the end, not with dismay which saps the will, but with confidence which preserves our enthusiasm for living, working, and serving. Some time ago I resolved to bear constantly in mind this reverent expectation of death, this joy which ought to be my soul’s last happiness when it departs from this life. I need not become wearisome to others by speaking frequently of this; but I must always think of it, because the consideration of death, the judicium mortis, when it has become a familiar thought, is good and useful for the mortification of vanity and for infusing into everything a sense of moderation and calm. … As for my soul, I shall try to make the flame burn more brightly, making the most of the time that remains as it passes more swiftly away.”

Some sober and sensible thoughts to consider on my own 70th birthday today! Having reached the symbolic 70-year span of a human lifetime, what other kinds of thoughts would be appropriate? A lifetime treasury of memories dominates today - lessons learned from opportunities grasped, likewise lessons lost from opportunities missed, a whole mix of experiences that have somehow added up to the present.

Andrew Sullivan recently wrote that "humans in the last 500 years (and most intensely in the last century) have created a world utterly different than the one humans lived in for close to 99 percent of our time on the planet." What is so obviously true for the human race globally has had an analogue on  a more personal level in the course of just one lifespan. Thus, the world I was born into on Holy Thursday evening 70  years ago in 1948, while recognizably the same world, was also strangely different in so very many ways from the world I find myself in now.  In some ways, it was better then. In some ways, it was worse. In some ways, the present has improved upon the past. In other ways, not, thereby imperiling the future. But it has been the experience of all that change, challenging and threatening for both better and for worse, which has defined so much of my time. History happens. It has no right or wrong side, no mystical arc of meaning bending all before it. On the other hand, what anyone does during his or her history does have an abundance of meaning, as the rights and wrongs that have made up my history have made me who I now am and eventually will make me who I will be forever.

In the Introduction to his Memoirs, Louis Bouyer wrote: “the closer I come to the end the more I feel that there is a meaning to our life: the hand of God guides us, using all things for His purposes: the failures, the disillusionments as well as, nay rather more than, the successes, the happy times – or those that strike us as such – and, which is more surprising, even our glaring faults!”

So thankful today for all that has been, I am grateful to all those who have been part of my life for helping me get to where I am today. 

No comments:

Post a Comment