Monday, January 2, 2012

Journey's End

When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?

Liturgy of the Hours, antiphon for morning prayer, Week II

Safely home in Brooklyn and feeling full of life. After midnight, on the way back from Boston, on the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx, there suddenly appeared a motorist driving in the wrong direction. The driver swerved into our lane. My postulant brother, who was driving, swerved out of harm's way and avoided what would certainly have been a fatal head-on collision. God's shield was around us.

We did not crash. We came home. We finished this journey. But the pilgrimage is not over. It is not yet our time to enter the presence of God.


New Year's Day was as perfect a day as I could dream.

I went to the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Monica-St. Augustine Parish in South Boston. Rev. Robert R. Kennedy, the pastor, is my hero, a priest with a passion for urban agriculture and the well-being of workers. His grandfather, James W. Kennedy, took part in the Boston Police Strike of 1919. A brush with mortality by way of acute appendicitis in his early twenties turned Father Kennedy toward ultimate concerns and eventually the seminary. He experienced his priestly formation during the revolutions of the Second Vatican Council. Ordained in 1965, he parlayed his passions into non-traditional ministry, helping to launch the Community Harvest Project in the 1970s, before assuming parochial duties. The Massachusetts affiliate of Interfaith Worker Justice was born in 1997 at Father Kennedy's former parish in East Boston, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and sheltered there until his parish was closed in 2004. In the summer of 2010, at the age of 72, he was arrested while engaging in civil disobedience with Hyatt housekeepers who were leading a boycott after their jobs were outsourced. Among the priests I have known, Father Kennedy is the exemplar in his exercise of the prophetic office.

Yesterday after worship he invited me back to the rectory and offered me some oolong tea and observations on the Occupy movement. How I prize his friendship.

Had my visit to South Boston been the only highlight of the day, it would be enough. But the day had only begun. Bidding Godspeed to Father Kennedy, I took the Red Line up to Cambridge and Harvard Square to meet a friend who studies Buddhism at Harvard Divinity School. We met at a Hyatt boycott prayer vigil a little over two years ago. We were introduced through a mutual friend involved in the Boston Workmen's Circle, a secular Jewish organization for social justice that began a century ago as a mutual aid society for immigrant workers. We have had many a warm conversation on burning issues. She is a good listener; she is a good questioner. She challenges me to speak truth to power, not only to the world I wish to change, but also to the Church I serve. She embraces everyone with kindness, even persons who must be resisted when they cause ill-being or mindlessly diminish well-being. She is a generous soul, one of my teachers of compassion. Our time together over a lunch buffet and mango pudding at The Maharaja was all too brief!

From Harvard Square I left speedily for Boston Common, meeting another friend to see The Adventures of Tintin. We studied together at Boston University School of Theology; lifted our voices, her soprano and my tenor, every Wednesday in Marsh Chapel with the Seminary Singers; and had our apprenticeship in prophecy while leading CAUSE, our student group for social justice. She is in the process of becoming an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. And she is a fellow blogger, whose thoughts you can find here. As the title of her blog suggests, she is always game for God-talk. She is a true sister in the Holy Spirit, my adelpha. We have pledged to attend each other's vocation rituals -- her ordination and my profession of vows. May it be so!

This day was not yet done. Saying goodbye to my "wicked Methodist" friend, I stepped onto the Silver Line and bused down Washington Street to the South End. I got off at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and rang the bell of the rectory. I was received and led inside. After exchanging pleasantries with the rector, parochial vicar, and another visiting priest, we were greeted by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston and a fellow Capuchin brother. One of the Capuchin friars who lives in Jamaica Plain arranged to have dinner with Brother Sean, and he invited me and my postulant brother to join them. After he and my postulant confrere arrived, we had a light cocktail hour and then departed for dinner at a seafood restaurant on the Boston waterfront.

This is the third time I have met the cardinal in person. The first time was in the company of the Capuchins at St. Francis of Assisi Friary, our house in Jamaica Plain for the brothers who have taken their perpetual vows but are continuing their studies. It was Super Bowl Sunday in 2006, and one of the brothers invited me over for pizza and to cheer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as many Capuchins do. Sean had not yet been named a cardinal, but we knew his elevation was imminent. The second time I met Sean was in January 2009 on a meeting for business. I was working with immigrant activists on a campaign called Welcoming Massachusetts. Its goal was to get 100,000 citizens and numerous municipalities to endorse a pledge to make the Commonwealth a place that affirmed the value of immigrants. It also called for our political leaders in Congress to engage in civil dialogue about immigration reform. We sought the endorsement of religious leaders so that we could do more effective outreach to congregations. After a few months of efforts, I secured a meeting with Cardinal O'Malley and obtained his endorsement. My colleagues had to do most of the talking for me, because I had laryngitis. Brother Sean took pity on me as I struggled to speak, and he fetched me some tea with lemon.

I left the restaurant last night high in the clouds. It was only dinner, dessert, and conversation among brothers, but it felt like a conversation with spirit and purpose, and I feel like it achieved something.


So here I am, feeling the life that is swelling inside of me, grateful that I have another day, another year to fulfill my duty, to do what God wills, to follow Jesus to the end of life and beyond. I am thankful that the end is not yet. Since Sept. 11, 2001, I have been keenly aware of the precariousness of life. Yesterday I had one of the most amazing days of my life, the capstone of a blessed week, and that life nearly came crashing to an end. How full of grace, how full of favor all of us are. I want to be a follower of Jesus more than ever.

I have reached the end of my journeying, for a while. The pilgrimage goes on.

When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?


  1. Praise and thanks be to God that you are all right. I'm so glad you're still here and blessing my life with your virtual presence. May God keep you and all your brothers safe throughout the new year.

  2. Thank you, Carolyn ... I continue to be deeply conscious of my extremely good fortune, one week later. Truly, every day is a gift. Your prayers for the brothers are most welcome, and we send ours to you, too.