It is early evening on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22. This first day of Lent was productive enough and peaceful — catching up on correspondence and materials that accumulated while I was in Rome, a couple of meetings, an unexpected visitor.
The highlight of the day was the 12:10 p.m. eucharistic liturgy at Sacred Heart, our cathedral church. It was a pleasure, as always, to celebrate with those who gathered and to impose ashes on the foreheads of those with whom I’ll be sharing this Lenten journey to Easter.
The church was well-filled. This is school recess week so many children were at the celebration — a presence that always brings joy to the heart. Jesus, who turned five weeks old today, enjoyed the gathering from a scoop chair. One gentleman arrived in a wheelchair. Two other seniors, a man and a woman, used walkers to help them get around.
As I chatted with the people before the celebration began and, later, imposed ashes on them and offered them the Eucharist, I was deeply mindful that each one of them has a different story; each one is on a particular spiritual journey.
Their obvious devotion was a gift to me. It made me curious to know their stories, the better to understand God’s varied and wonderful ways with each one of us. It also reminded me that I share the journey with them, that tomorrow I would like to be freer and more mature, more full of life than I am now.
Their witness of faith was a gift added to the delightful experience I have had in recent days of reading two helpful books: Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ: A Model Theologian by Patrick W. Carey; and A People of Hope by John Allen Jr.
The former is the story of Cardinal Dulles’s life as a theologian in a very challenging time in the church — that time before, during and after Vatican Council II. Until his death in 2008, the cardinal’s passion and commitment was to study, interpret and teach about the mysteries of our faith — especially about the nature, mission and structure of the church, the meaning of revelation, our relationship with other Christian churches.
His professional challenges were formidable, and so was the tenor of the times in which he did his work. Everyone had a point of view about Vatican Council II. For example, some scholars emphasized its continuity with the past; others saw it through a lens of change. But Cardinal Dulles consistently sought the middle ground and took a conciliatory view — sometimes at the cost of tough criticism from both sides.
It was good to read his story for its own sake. It also helped me in an analogous way to be in touch with my own efforts to understand the church in light of the council and to integrate its insights into my own life.
A People of Hope was another gift. John Allen and Cardinal Timothy Dolan had long conversations during which the cardinal responded with honesty and humility to a broad range of questions posed to him by John Allen.
Once again I enjoyed the book for what it is — an exploration of the experience, opinions, convictions and pastoral approach of a brother bishop about a range of issues that are of importance to all of us. The shared experience of others is a rich source of learning. I certainly found this book to be that.
The pleasure I had in reading the book was increased by the fact that I have known Tim Dolan since he was 22 years old. It was good to track his thinking on issues of concern, to hear in his own words how his experience of family, life and ministry have shaped him to the man he is today. Once again, to read such a story inevitably draws me to reflect on the parallels and differences in my own story.
Avery Dulles has come to the fullness of his story, feasting at the heavenly table. Tim Dolan, the people at Mass this noon and I are all still on the way. I am sure all of us want to keep growing. Isn’t it wonderful that this holy season invites us to go deeper into the mystery of Christ’s life?
Peace to all.