And unexpectedly, it is over.
All votes are cast. All documents written. All jobs that were complete-able are complete. We suddenly find ourselves on the last day, with a last Mass this evening and tonight the goodbyes will begin.
We only knew it yesterday.
It is slightly unreal. I will see some of the Jesuits from the Aula next week in London; some I will never see again. We are pilgrims on the road, creating community as we travel, breaking and re-creating communities at the next cross-roads, trekking on to various destinations as yet unknown.
The five English language bloggers, Ron, Chuks, Wendell, Brian and myself now return to five different continents – while we were here, Chuks was named the next Provincial of North West Africa, so he will pack and move from Zimbabwe to Nigeria in the coming months; Wendell heads back to ministries in Bombay; Ron, Brian and myself return to the USA, Australia and England respectively continuing as Provincials. Things have moved on while we have been away – Ron has a new President Trump to ponder.
What difference have the delegates at GC36 made to the world in the last six weeks? It is tricky to say. Almost certainly we’ll all be dead within fifty years, and it will be unlikely that any of us are remembered beyond an occasional prayer-list or a footnote in a church history book.
But that is fine, because each of us have been trying, in our own small way, to do God’s work, and – by a question asked, an intemperate word bitten-back, a helping hand offered, a word changed, a challenge given, a smile offered – we know that no act of love or generosity will every quite disappear; it might change and adapt and become diluted, but it will never depart, and it will always transform things for good, in a way known only to God.
The name Ken Untener might not ring much of a bell. I have been thinking about him in the last few days. He was Bishop of Saginaw in the USA; a good Bishop by all accounts. He had a gift for words and on one occasion, in 1979, he drafted a homily for Cardinal John Dearden who had to preach at a mass for deceased priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Just another homily, but this one was captured in amber… The other day we used Untener’s meditation in the Aula for prayer.
At some point in the last 37 years it was forgotten that Untener had written the words and Cardinal Dearden had preached them, and so now it is often mistakenly attached to hand of inspirational El Salvadorian Archbishop, Mgr. Oscar Romero. Romero will be canonised next year; Bishop Untener disappears humbly into the shadows. Such are the mysteries of time and history.
Untener’s wonderful reflection (see below) beautifully illustrates and captures both the temporary and the eternal nature of our role as pilgrims and as humans. It acts as a suitable lens for GC36.
Readers, one and all: may you be blessed.
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master-builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master-builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”