June 14, 2018
This morning is Thursday June 14. To those of you who have a more (or less) patriotic calendar in front of you, you might remember this day as “Flag Day.” I have a less significant memory (in terms of how it might have affected civilization and life as we know it) but for me, an extremely important date that marked a life changing experience.
On June 14, 1971, having graduated from college about a month previously, I received a letter from the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York. (Actually it was a form letter from a staff member, but when you’re a recent university grad, you see things having more significance than they may actually have had!). The neatly typed note on crisp diocesan stationary simply informed me that, although I had applied to enter the diocesan seminary to begin four years post graduate study in theology in preparation for possible ordination to the priesthood, I was being sent on scholarship to live in the American seminary in Rome. I was to attend the Gregorian University and begin these studies in an international environment at a theological university whose demands and tradition rivals Oxford or Cambridge. (Here is where I make the comment “with the best and brightest”, but as my sometimes spiritual mentor the great Groucho Marx is alleged to have said, “why would I want to join any club that would accept me?”)
Although “technically” I had a “choice” in this matter, in reality – not so much! One did not turn down such appointments. Whatever my class standing had been, no matter my (total lack of) knowledge of conversational Italian (since all lectures there were in Italian), no matter how “average” my background in classical Latin and Greek, guess what, I was being sent into an environment that I could not control, did not understand, and in retrospect was probably as ill prepared as one could possibly be.
And yet because of all of that, I bless this date in my memory. This was the date that marked a change in my life forever. The Lord does that to us. Unexpected challenges that both build us up and humble us at the same time. From this point in my life, my classmates, friends and mentors would hail from all over the U.S.A. and indeed all over the world. Because of years living and studying in an international environment, I tend to view issues beyond the myopia that infects us politically. Living among those who were so talented taught me to push myself past what I had accepted as my limitations. Being exposed not merely to great theological minds but to those who actually taught those minds gave me a love of scholarship which, even though I hardly share their status, gave me a love for learning that I never previously had. I learned to experience the sights, smells and sounds of living cultures and important histories. (Don’t tell anyone, but I even cut a class or two once to insert myself into an archeological dig so that I could touch history rather than just read about it!)
Remember those days when your life was so affected. Remember the choices you made that shaped you. Appreciate the choices made and the paths chosen, or even for the choices made for you that you did not appreciate at the time. Pray for those who made such choices and who just might have appreciated your potential more than you yourself did. Be grateful for the unexpected blessings. Know that the Lord has given you far more ability than you might believe about yourself – if you would only stop and remember what has brought you to this day!