Saturday, November 23, 2013

de temps perdu

I drove from Wellsboro to Erie, PA to meet with nine of my fellow Venard graduates, and I began drafting this blog post in a motel in Erie at the end of the day; I left early the next morning. The Venard was a Roman Catholic junior seminary (i.e., a high school) where we lived and studied with the intention of becoming Maryknoll missionary priests. Thirty-four of us graduated from the high school; two of us actually became Maryknoll priests: one left the priesthood and the other eventually left the order and became a diocesan priest in Erie. Father Tom Hoderny is living at a priest's retirement home there, and we met at his place. Three of us are dead.

As usual, when we get together we talk about the past, present, and future as if they were a single thing, as indeed they are. But we have gotten older and while our thoughts and words can travel up and down the flow of our lives, our bodies are carried by the current in one direction only. I was surprised at how many of us had survived cancer. After we separated for the day, I felt a twinge of uncertainty about whether the particular group that met that night could meet again. It is not that there is anything special about this particular third of the class; it is just a thought experiment that sparked a response. This feeling is a new ingredient, and one that will leaven more and more experiences. For how long does this reality last? When does a state of being become what was instead of what is? When did I become no longer young? There was a day when I could still be young the next day, but the day after that one, I could not be young again.

The reality in which we ten can meet again did not end when we parted that night because, with the will to do so, we could reconvene and, if we did it quickly enough, we would likely all be pretty much the same as we were. But the will to do so cannot be a given; it is a real contingency, and we will not know when it will no longer be possible to summon up the collective will to gather, and we cannot know when the ability to reconvene will be beyond our will. Deus vult.

We all gathered in the first place because we each thought we had a vocation, a call from God. No matter how godless any of us might have become, it is hard not to think of our time together without some scraps of tattered grandeur clinging to the memory. We gathered then to save the world; we gather in the flickering now to celebrate the time we shared so much. Tom Hoderny gave us each a card with a quote from Psalm 133 that captured the spirit of that time and explains the connection among us: Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum [See how good it is and how pleasant, to live as one like brothers]. And for us, of course, part of the deal is that it is in Latin.

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