That’s the title I offer you in praise this evening. It’s the one that says it best as I pause to celebrate 65 years of this life. Throughout, even through the many times I have not, you Lord have been faithful. Faithful to your Word. Faithful to your promises. Faithful to this, your unworthy and unfaithful servant. Always, faithful.
I remember, it seems only yesterday, celebrating our Mom’s 80th with the family. She asked me that evening, “How did this happen so fast?” I begin to know what she was asking.
And yet, really it doesn’t come fast at all. The planet turns at its accustomed rate. The hands of the clock as they have since the first clock was wound. Your timeless love continues to embrace the world, embracing and healing all the contests we humans put before you.
I can remember with clarity my habit, as a child and a teen, of every so often proclaiming to myself that I was ‘turning over a new leaf.’ I don’t know how I first heard the phrase or understood it in my childish way. But on an irregular basis, many more times than once, I turned over a new leaf. I began again. I declared a season of renewal, either about one part of life or about the whole. And begin again I did.
Those moments gave me hope. What was most renewed was my sense of purpose. And so I continued to grow. And to come to know you better Lord, and to know your love, and to learn to love you in return.
I remember at some point reading somewhere or hearing at church or having a conversation with someone older that allowed me to know one of the wonders you build into the human world. A double wonder. That most of the time in most of our lives our love for you is expressed in our loving care for others. And the reciprocal truth that most of the time in most of our lives we experience your love for us personally through the loving caring eyes, faces, hands, and gestures of the people you give us to meet, to come to know, and to be loved by.
So I remember my Nana and Papa who lived five minutes from us growing older and having problems getting around and doing things by themselves. I remember realizing that at the same time we kids were growing older and more able, and so we were well-placed by love (that is to say, well-placed by you) to be of loving help to them in those years of their lives. And that experience would be repeated, even more powerfully, a generation later with our Dad and Mom. They loved us through their years of strength with every ounce of their being, with all their will and all their capacity. And later on, they needed us to lean on. And we could. Because we had learned – from them – to love. That is to say, we had learned You from them.
Over these six and a half decades, dear God how many people have I crossed paths with? The number is beyond my counting, constant, and over several continents of your world. Only you know. And you know too that it was really never just a crossing of paths. The potential for something much deeper – for friendship, for a lasting connection, has so often been there already in first meetings with one another. You have made that possible, Lord. You have been right there, every time. Sometimes I was even (dimly) aware of your presence and action – mostly because I was so often so blown away by the magnificence of these human creatures, made in your image. The creativity, the intelligence, the beauty, the faith, the potential and the achievements in them! The gentle, deep and unique spirits in them. Again and again to this moment, I marvel at your creation – and most of all at the persons that have come to be in you – and whom I have been privileged to meet and know, to study and serve with, to laugh and mourn with, to become connected to at a depth beyond description.
Lord, I do wish I had a better memory. There are many incidents that remain with me, true. But when I am together with those with whom I have shared life in Boston, in New York, in Italy, in Scotland and Ireland through all the years, they ask if I recall when we did this or that or when I said this or that? Inevitably, I never do remember. But, you, Faithful One, have had them remember, and share the stories with me. Every time, I am delighted from my toenails to the crown of my often-empty head.
Dear God, I do not announce today, to myself or anyone else, the turning over of a new leaf. I have hopes and desires for sure. But I simply place them from my heart into yours. We can hold them at heart together. That is more than enough for me. For whatever happens or doesn’t happen then is entirely your doing, and so entirely perfect.
I only ask you to take this sinner, this tripping bumbling servant who is grateful to you and to your people for all that has been. The best I can do, with the love you have taught me, is to place the remainder of my life – along with the hopes and hurts of those who confide in me, and with the memories of all those whom I love – into your hands. As Saint Ignatius taught so well, take it all for all has come from you. As Saint Charles de Foucauld gave me words of prayer, whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me.
Thank you for this very happy birthday Lord. It has been marked with tears of joy, much more than most of its predecessors. And its name is hope.