I am celebrating my 80th birthday with a pilgrimage walk reminiscent of such a walk when I was fifty. You can read about it here:
And this is one of the sites for the walk:
From the Archives: August 25, 1990 While Pastor at
Church of the Gesu, Philadelphia
Off to getting some exercise, I was seeking a parking site on one of the Chestnut Hill entrances to Wissahickon Valley Park. Reaching an unfamiliar corner where I imagined that I should make a left turn, I checked and found no opposing traffic. But I failed to see the red light mounted on a pole to the right. The next thing I can remember: waking up in the hospital recovering from a concussion. While my car was totaled, thankfully there were no injuries to the people driving the truck.
The nurse told me that the police had walked me into the emergency room of Chestnut Hill Hospital and dropped me there with a singular remark, "he was in an accident and is very confused."
I have no recollection of those hours of unconsciousness but I did dream during that period. One a dream of a woman I had seen just a short time before walking in a section of the Park where I could not find a proper parking space. And another dream at least of the sound of the CAT scan. When I came to later at my bedside I found Jesuit and housemate Vince Taggart and Gesu parishioner Mary Greene, a confirmation for me that I would be OK.
A Cloud of Survival
I wonder now about the sound
That crashed against my skull.
It did not reach my ears or mind.
My memory is null.
I hear instead the water flow,
A trickle cross the stones.
It heals my heart, it heals my soul,
It heals my very bones.
The path that slopes above the stream
Is almost overgrown.
I climb it as if in a dream
And find I’m not alone.
I overtake with tepid pace
Her slow and graceful gait.
And with a smile on her face
She tells me of my fate.
Lost the crash, lost the groans
And lost are all the sighs
When I awake I see my friends
They hold me in their eyes.
We are indebted to some benefactors who planted on the edge of our property a small garden attracting and supporting the butterfly population of Eastern Pennsylvania. A number of butterflies will entertain visitors at any August visit. The photos here are of a particularly cooperative swallowtail who showed off both obverse and reverse.
Cries for Justice at the Philadelphia Art Museum June, 2020
Over the past four weeks I have been feeling the terrible weight of racism in our country, freshly renewed by recent brutality. I grew up in a white neighborhood in the Philly suburbs basically ignorant of the way the country was treating our black citizens. My family was often in the city visiting relatives, relatives who lived in white neighborhoods and I vaguely remember conversations about where blacks might be moving. I must have been ten or twelve years old when I first was driven on an alternate route into the city through a black neighborhood. I saw black men and women talking on street corners and sitting on stoops and children playing in the streets. The housing looked deficient compared to the white city neighborhoods that I had visited and the children lacked the broad yards and open streets, parks and fields where I and my siblings played with our friends. The environment looked stressed. Did I already know that God loved these kids on this street as much as God loved me and my city relatives?
For the last fifty years I have been given the grace of knowing wonderful black men and women. I first assisted in an interracial project when as a deacon preparing for Jesuit priesthood in 1971 and since was blessed with ministry in a black parish and school. But now still I am struck dumb. That is, yes the neighborhoods I saw in the 1950s were deficient and they remain deficient through the years since. But I was able to meet people who lived in these neighborhoods, to worship with them, to visit in their homes and to enjoy baptisms and weddings and even many faith-filled funerals. I learned more about community, about reconciliation, about family and faith, about humor and solidarity, much more than I could have anticipated. But suffering, and very often raw and bitter suffering, visited every household. At best Christ shares the victory of the paschal mystery in so many of these households. But at worst the strain of economic struggle, the stress of poor health, and the lack of promising futures offered to the young fray and fracture the edges of even the strongest of families.
During the first days of June when I realized that Philly’s neighborhoods were in turmoil because of the terrible ugliness of the death of George Floyd and so many others, I felt sorrow for all the extraordinary men and women I knew in these neighborhoods who worked years and years to foster health and integrity, pastors who built senior and home-ownership housing, churches that sponsored investment clubs to support small business, and leaders and teachers refreshing schools and making them as good as any in the suburbs. With this sorrow, I came to realize, too, that the recurring violence against black men and women simply ignited a reaction fitting to its brutality.
Now when a tired calmness has returned to these neighborhoods, these institutions and men and women of soul are still in place. And I find hope in knowing that they will stay in place and stand up. They and their like will raise their voices and use this moment to strengthen their institutions with added classrooms, added health centers, added housing, added ways of reconciling with those responsible for just law enforcement.
A black brother Jesuit, Fr. Mario Powell, president of Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, points to Psalm 13 as the cry of black Americans: “How long, O Lord, will my enemy triumph over me?” He asks us all to come close to the suffering. “…until you jump up on the cross with black Americans, there can be no Easter for America.”