Monday, November 5, 2018

Marianist Monday

November, 2018

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

Yesterday, I had occasion to remember some immortal lines from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour; . . .
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a warm, breezy day in spring – more like an uncharacteristically cold, windy Sunday in October. The skies were cobalt blue, and temperatures hovered in the low 40s. And on this Sunday in mid-October – October 21, to be exact – several Brothers and lay teachers escorted a group of sodalists on a pilgrimage of sorts, from Mineola to Lower Manhattan. We gathered at 8:30 a.m.,

Image result for pilgrimagewalked to the Mineola Train Station, rode the Long Island Railroad to the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, and from there pounded the pavement northwest on Flatbush Avenue and over the Brooklyn Bridge to the Church of St. Andrew, right next to One Police Plaza. Fr. Garrett said Mass for us at St. Andrew’s, a church established in 1842 and recently acquired by the Sisters of Life to become the downtown headquarters for their outreach programs to unwed, pregnant women.

All told, we walked three or four miles, for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, at best. So, the distance and the strain paled in comparison to what those hardy pilgrims of the Middle Ages endured, or even many of our contemporaries who have hiked the Camino de Santiago.

Still, for me, making this “pilgrimage” was a major accomplishment, because it was the longest walk I have taken since my hip surgery back in June. I was a little nervous before our departure, wondering if I would be able to make the trip without slowing down the group. For better or for worse, I don’t get much exercise, so I was certainly not in the same shape as our younger teachers and our even younger students. But I made it! I kept up with the group and sometimes was even in the lead, despite one replaced hip, another hip that will need replacing a few years down the line, some 62 years of age, and more extra pounds than I care to admit.

I was reminded of a lot of lessons that day, so I am particularly grateful that I did not let my fears dissuade me from taking this next major step of my full recovery.

Related image
And what exactly was I reminded of? Of the many parallels between life and a pilgrimage, of course. Life is a journey, a pilgrimage, and we complete it by putting one foot in front of another, in spite of all the temptations to take it easy, to stay at rest, and to stagnate. You set out, you put one foot in front of another, with faith that somehow, someway, you will make it to your destination. Without that faith, all is lost. With that faith, what is daunting becomes doable, and what seems impossible becomes possible.

There will always be challenges and difficulties along the road. But there will also be great rewards. The view of the New York City skyline, the sun glinting off the glass-sheathed One World Trade Center, the sturdy arches and the graceful cables of the Brooklyn Bridge all took my breath away, as they do every time I see them (these days, usually by car). And then, of course, was the satisfaction of reaching our destination, much less worse for the wear than I had imagined.

To reach your destination, it’s not a bad idea to have a guidebook, a subway map, GPS on your phone, a Bible and a Lives of the Saints in your backpack.

Here’s another important point: I made the mid-October pilgrimage in the company of many fellow pilgrims. We would do well in life to travel in groups, to rely on our fellow travelers for support and encouragement. Are our fellow pilgrims perfect? By no means. I found myself getting annoyed from time as our more athletic pilgrims bolted way out front, sometimes as much as a football field’s length ahead of the group. And exasperated when other pilgrims would dawdle and stand stock still, staring at the sights, as if they had never seen a skyscraper before! Irritated, when one or the other particularly garrulous pilgrim would rattle on and on about some trivial pursuit of his. And then, as should come as no surprise, frustrated with myself for growing impatient with my fellow pilgrims in the first place.

For all their foibles (and mine too!), these were the pilgrims that God had given me that day. Without them, I never would have made the pilgrimage in the first place. Besides that, when all was said and done, their foibles were just that – foibles, minor weaknesses and nothing more. Far more important was the youth and enthusiasm of my companions, their good cheer and their lively curiosity, and their willingness to go on a religious pilgrimage when they could have been doing scores of other things on a sunny, autumn Sunday.

The journey of life is not always easy. We can’t always choose our fellow travelers. But, by God, we have fellow travelers in the first place, and we have the strength to put one foot in front of another. Further, if we cultivate the right attitude, we can discover the joy of the journey and, one day, taste the unfathomable rewards of our destination.

Let’s get going!

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen