by Stephen Kent
Ten U.S. presidents, six popes and several wars have come, and some gone, since we first met. Our most recent gathering marked the 50th anniversary of our graduation from what had been a small, all-male Jesuit university.
There were the introductory social events at which we, from under balding heads and behind protruding bellies, exchanged the “you haven’t changed.”
Time seems to exist in two dimensions in these situations. When I walked up the sidewalk to the residence hall that had been home as a freshman, it seemed as if only a matter of years, if not months, had passed.
The memories of those days still are quite vivid. But recalling the intervening years – the military, first job, marriage, more jobs, moving, children and grandchildren – was a reintroduction to reality.
Our commencement speaker had said “it is good to be with those who knew you when you were young.” That was a good point.
Our commencement speaker was the film director Alfred Hitchcock, who began his address by saying, “I don’t know what to think of a university who grants an honorary degree of letters to one who says ‘The Birds’ is coming,” in reference to his current film of the time.
It is good to be with those who knew you when you were young, when the facades of success used at other social events are not important. We gathered in the campus church for Sunday liturgy, a place where we had gathered as freshmen to introduce ourselves, as seniors for baccalaureate service and, as the years went on, for marriages and, inevitably, for funerals.
We went back in time to the days of the Second Vatican Council, which had yet to conclude, but already major events we knew would shape the Church were emerging. As we drove home after graduation that June, we heard on the radio that the pope had died. Pope John XXIII, who convened the Vatican council, was gone.
Now 50 years later, that same excitement of the renewal of the Church is apparent. The time compression of then and now was the same. It seemed as if only months had passed since we were excited about Vatican II.
A Changed Generation
The 50 years between then and now have ceased to exist, just like the 50 years between our freshman year and today. Among those in our class, there were more than a few who grew disillusioned, disappointed, dejected, separated from, if not contemptuous, of the Church. Our generation was changed, and the Church was diminished by our withdrawal.
We’ve had 50 years of arguing over what Vatican II meant. Now it is apparent that the pope knows exactly what it meant, understanding that getting on with the work of Jesus is more important than rule-following. It is good that we can continue with the excitement of 50 years ago as if time did not exist.
How was the weekend? It was good. As was true 50 years ago, there is much good to look forward to in the future.[hr] Stephen Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.