“This great season of grace is your gift to your family to renew us in spirit…”—from Preface of Lent II, The Spirit of Penance
Back in the ’70s, Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., one of the greatest church theologians of our time and considered the modern-day Thomas Aquinas, celebrated his golden jubilee (I believe it was) as a Jesuit. In his homily, he shared the story of how he entered the Jesuit novitiate 50 years earlier.
He described how he walked up the road to the novitiate and knocked on the door. He retraced and remembered the story of his journey. Toward the end, he said if he were to live his life over again, he would walk up the same road and knock on the same door.
Many of us have that moment when we can clearly identify the inspiration that started it all; the call of great clarity that made us respond, or the voice within that made us go out and begin the journey.
This is the renewal of spirit. It is remembering the moment of grace when we knew what the meaning and mission of our life is.
Let me share with you a moment of renewal in my own journey. The following are excerpts from a letter I wrote in 2002, the year I was reintegrating after going through a long midlife crisis. Almost three years earlier, I was assigned to a job which was not my core competency, but which I accepted out of a sense of duty.
The letter was to Joe Lynch, a student I worked with in 1994 when he was a senior in Jesuit High School-Portland (Oregon). He is instrumental in defining my vision and philosophy of education.
22 July 2002
Am a few hours away from Manila; tomorrow I go back to work, somewhat recharged and renewed. The moments with you and Sarah were certainly such graced moments, so much more than I had imagined…
Remember what I was sharing with you in the car as we were driving back to the city, about how I was now discerning the “how” of what I thought God was asking me to do? Somehow, the “what” and the “why,” my mission in life, seem clear to me now.
You asked what it was I thought he was calling me to do as a life mission, and I said it was to help young people like you and Sarah discover your own mission in life…
Those extraordinary moments in the restaurant during dinner, when “consolation without previous cause” (this is Jesuit jargon for tears or crying) visited you and Sarah, were very moving moments for me…I have always found it so awesome to see God moving in other people’s lives, and simply letting his grace make all things fall into place.
You’ve always been a special gift to me, Joe. Eight years ago, I was blessed enough to be witness to the start of your journey—the journey I accompanied you on, that journey that started in the long walk along Central Park listening to you trying to articulate your hopes and dreams.
(The following quote is from a homily delivered in 1995 describing that moment with Joe in New York.)
“He was then a freshman in Harvard where he was awarded a full academic scholarship by the US Navy. As we were walking around the city, he was sharing with me his plans to pursue a career either in medicine or law. After discussing the pros and cons of both possibilities, he paused and told me, ‘Well, I guess, it doesn’t really matter where I’ll end up. I can live on a farm, for all I care, so long as I have a good and happy family.’
“…Then in the unusual silence we shared in the busy, noisy streets of New York, he added, ‘Father, whatever makes me a more loving person…’”
Then four years later, right before you visited me in Manila, we had that phone conversation as you were choosing your medical school, and most recently, the hospital for your residency.
You always had the best of choices, Joe, and you always made the best choices…
Valedictorian of your high school class, missing summa cum laude in Harvard by 0.0-something (was it 0.07?), graduating at the top of your medical school class and belonging to the top one percentile of the national board examinees, you had everything the world had to offer on the road to greatness. Yet you always chose something so much more.
You always chose what was in your heart, Joe—love for family, love for your faith, love for our God and all the fundamental values. All this was etched in your heart…
You have the fame, the wealth, and the power that this world cannot offer because they are graces that only God can give, and such fame, wealth and power from God only become real when we have men like you, Joe, who say “no” to the “temptations” of this world, and “yes” to God.
When I was alone in my hotel room, I could not help but thank God for bringing you and Sarah together. The moments of “consolation without previous cause” in the restaurant were more than enough signs of confirmation of this reality. I was awed by how good and great God is…
Tears were also welling up in my eyes when you had your moment in the restaurant; tears of joy and tears of awe at how good and loving God is. I held back, though, because it was your and Sarah’s moment.
For some funny reason, no matter how tired I was, I watched a movie in my hotel room, “A Beautiful Mind.” At the very end, I broke down and wept when John Nash delivered his thank you speech at the 1994 awarding ceremony for his Nobel Prize.
“I have always believed in numbers, in the equations and logic that lead to reason, but after a lifetime of such pursuit, I ask, what truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me from the physical, to the metaphysical, to the delusional and back. And I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reasons can be found. (At this point in the movie, he turns to his wife and continues.) I am only here tonight because of you. You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons.”
I wept because I realized that this is the love that God wishes me to help young people like you discover in their lives. His showing me that night your love for Sarah and her love for you was his way of leading me to the path He wants me to dedicate my life to.
When I returned to Manila in 1995 after my studies in New York, I told the people I worked with that the most important thing I learned was that to be a good high school principal, I need to love people into excellence, particularly my faculty, who in turn will love my students into excellence. You helped me a lot then, Joe, to discover this most basic truth.
We now come full circle. Loving people into excellence is loving them into becoming loving persons.
There are moments of grace that God blesses us with such as this, when we see with a renewed spirit the mission God asks us to live out, as a way of living out the Paschal mystery in our life. Such moments remind us of the road we took and the door we knocked on—and how this had made a difference in our lives.