Never assume that your life is as interesting to others as it is to yourself.
A wise axiom. In the more than twenty years I’ve been writing this column, I have only on rare occasions focused on my own life. But this particular column will be an exception because I have just undergone a major transition and believe it’s helpful for a reader to know at least the broad strokes of the life of the one who stands behind the words he or she is reading.
So what’s happened in my life? I’ve just moved to Texas, the land of George Bush, of staggering distances, of large ranches, of huge oil deposits, of evangelical churches on every corner, of stadiums named after orange juice, of warm hospitality, of over-large beef steaks, of championship basketball, where you’d best learn Spanish if you hope to converse with half of the population, and where you will find, amidst this all, some wonderful Catholic communities.
What’s my new job? I’ve been sent by my community, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to head up our school here in San Antonio, the Oblate School of Theology. The plan is that I be here for five years.
During that time, I will work mainly as an administrator, going to meetings, working with faculty, helping develop academic programs (particularly in spirituality and missiology), trying to keep harmony among our employees, meeting with seminary rectors, being a liaison with bishops, trying to help our school keep its moorings and its charity in a time of increasing polarization and nastiness inside society and the church, and (though I’m not sure exactly how this is done) even doing some fund-raising. If you can believe this, tomorrow, as part of this new job, I will be blessing golf balls at our annual golf tournament. Hardly the stuff of mystics, but discipleship demands flexibility.
I will, of course, continue to do some teaching (though less than I’d like) and some writing, including this column. I have several books on the boil; one on Secularity (virtually finished), and another, a follow-up to the Holy Longing, which unfortunately won’t see the light of day for another year or so.
What had I been doing? I’ve just finished a six-year term on our General Council in Rome. Like my new job, it too was an administrative position, so the jump to blessing golf balls isn’t as radical as it sounds. I wasn’t exactly teaching advanced mysticism the past six years, but it was important work and it had me dividing my time between two of the world’s most wonderful cities, Rome and Toronto.
Leaving those cities and the friends and colleagues I met there has been the hardest part of this. I’ve never been good at saying good-bye and I’d just got through the worst of grieving Rome when I had to leave Toronto three weeks ago. Moving isn’t easy.
But I’m excited about being in San Antonio and have always enjoyed the opportunity inherent in going to a new place and meeting new people. Painful as it is to have to move, it’s also a graced-opportunity because we meet new people and every person we allow into our live makes us richer.
Moving means saying good-bye, but it also means saying hello. Moreover persons we’ve had to say good-bye to don’t leave us. We carry them with us, as part of us, as part of who we are and what we bring to our new situation. When we stand before new people in a new place we stand there not as persons who have come out of a vacuum, but as men and women formed in heart, soul, mind, and body by that nexus of family and friendships out of which we’ve come.
What we bring to a new situation is very much the people and the things that have touched us in our previous ones. In a real way, we carry family and friends with us as part of who we are and what we do. I can’t imagine either my life or my person today without factoring-in all the persons, friend and foe, I’ve met in the different places I’ve lived: Cactus Lake, Lebret, Battleford, San Francisco, Edmonton, Louvain, Seattle, Oakland, Saskatoon, Rome, Toronto. I shed some tears leaving every one of these places, but now each of them will always be home for me.
Once home, we’ll always find our way back there, even when for all kinds of reasons we have to go far away. That’s true for family and for the friends I’ve made in the various places I’ve lived, or met elsewhere along the way.
I am now in a new place, San Antonio, with a new job, inside a new community, meeting new friends. But my old family and friends, and all those places I’ve lived and worked enroute here, will always be home for me – as will, now, San Antonio, Texas.