Tom Prior receives Prep alumnus award in May 2019 at the annual gathering of the Golden Agers, men graduated more than fifty years ago. Tom is pictured here with Fr. John Swope, S.J., president, and Kevin Ryan, Director of Alumni
I had the privilege of celebrating the Mass before the Award Luncheon
Homily for "Golden Agers" at St. Joseph's Prep MAY 31, 2019 VISITATION FEAST
Very often fiction and poetry writers have a particular image or event that they choose as the center of their story. I recently read a novel in which the ending is very startling and upsetting. It seems totally improbable sitting there by itself. But it is at the end of the novel and the author, I believe, first of all imagined this startling event before he knew anything about the characters and their stories. So he wrote the story to prepare the reader to accept the senselessness of the startling act, all along hinting at what that act might be without giving the ending away.
I bring this up because on this feast day designated by the Church, the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, both of them pregnant, we experience the evangelist Luke doing something of the same thing. Luke and the earliest Christian community already know the story of the lives of the two children who will be born to these women, John the Baptist and Jesus. In particular the Spirit inspired the first Christian community to help it understand that Jesus is risen from the dead. And the community experienced this conviction in the most Jewish of ways as an experience of Jesus returning to them in his risen body. He encourages them with his greetings of peace and his commission to let the world know of God’s compassion and mercy.
Luke’s gospel writing about Jesus’ life and the life of his cousin John records events looking back from the viewpoint of Jesus’ resurrection. Thus Luke adds world-shattering language to the greetings and prayers that Jesus’ Mother Mary and cousin Elizabeth exchange when they meet each other to share their hopes for their children. Mary is a young Jewish girl without any special pedigree but she speaks the poetry of gratitude and excitement indicating even in the first months of pregnancy that she already recognizes the salvific nature of the life of her child. Mary can only hint at what happens at the end of the Jesus’ life, the particulars still unknown to her. But she has faith in the recognition of her blessedness. She magnifies the Lord and her spirit leapt for joy. She hints, too, at her child’s role in the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish people: “He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy.”
You can see where we can go with this. Here we are at an age when we are coming to the end of our lives. We today have come together and remember with gratitude our experiences at St. Joseph’s Prep over fifty years ago. Like Luke knows Jesus, we know about our lives and we can look back at our high school years from this vantage point today and put into our seventeen year old mouth some language related to the successes and failures, joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams in all our experiences up until today. These words will certainly have something to do with the characteristics that were taught to us, even imposed on us.
I look back now and I try to remember or paraphrase the words of my seventeen-year-old mouth or even rewrite them. I don’t recall magnifying the Lord and leaping for joy the way Luke expresses Mary’s youthful excitement. Well, we did celebrate when we beat Roman! The football team paved the way for others since then. And the Jesuits taught us to be confident that there are good choices ahead. And they insisted that we develop the desire for the good.
Like a good fiction writer now enjoying a return to a place of high school formation and now reflecting on all that has happened over fifty and more years, I encourage each of you to find that sentence or two that you might have voiced when seventeen that foreshadows the positive feelings of returning here this day.
I can hear some of our sentences. “That son-of-a-gun is trying to teach me a lesson…well he can just go fly a kite--(my language is controlled here!). Or, “I know I need to get up in front of everybody and give a speech but I think I am going to lose my breakfast.” Or, “I’m working my butt off; what makes you think I can do better?” Or “I’m tired of working on muscle memory; I just want to go out and play.” We spoke such sentences. And we can rewrite them now realizing that they penetrated our characters without breaking our spirits and we grew with them.
Those Jesuits. They challenged us and opened new paths for us. This was the work of God calling us to lives filled with love and the deeds of love. And the best thing about today is not so much us but that this work of building character continues right here day-in and day-out. And over the last 50 years some 10,000 men have been added to our number. “Loving, religious, intellectually competent, open to growth and committed to doing justice.”