Thoughts on Turning 70
I love milestone years. They give us a nice marker on our lifeís
journey. They always involve a letting go of the old so as to
enter the new. The time in between is always sacred. It is
called liminal (threshold) space and I find myself once again
entering into it. And while it is disorienting, it is also liberating.
In the vulnerability of having to let go of the old and not yet
coming into the new we are in a space where God can really get
to us. And as I enter my seventh decade, and having gone
through this many times before, I can honestly say to God, ďBring
it on.Ē And Iím sure He will.
Each epoch of our life has its own tasks, trials, learnings and
insights. Most will have a number of ĎAhaí moments when all of a
sudden we see it, we get it, and our life changes. Each one
brings us deeper and deeper into the heart of the Divine to help
us to discover how to be truly human. As I get older, there
seems to be a pretty good mixture of the human and Divine. I
am coming to the point where I canít tell one from the other. We
are not human beings trying to be spiritual; we are spiritual beings
understanding what it means to be truly human. And to be truly
human is to dwell in the Divine. It has taken me 70 years to
come to that realization.
In a few days we will begin the holy season of Lent. It is a time
where we are invited to enter into that liminal space in dying to
the old man (woman) and being born into the new. It is a time of
transformation. On March 3, 1965 I turned 21 years old on Ash
WednesdayÖ under the old, strict dispensation. I was now legal
to drink but couldnít. I wanted to feast but had to fast. So this
is what it means to be an adult? It got a little better when I
turned 25. I was in graduate school at Indiana University working
on a Masters Degree and on my birthday I wore a little sign
around my neck proclaiming, ďServing the public for a quarter of a
century!Ē At 16 you think you know everything, at 25 you are
sure that you do. At 40, oh dear, oh dear.
When I was 39 years old I jogged the Prairie Path from
Christ the King in Lombard to my home in Wheaton, a good 10
miles. It felt pretty good. On the morning of my 40th birthday, I
woke up crying in my pillow. Oh dear, half of my life is over and
Iíve done nothing. I dragged myself out of bed, went to Church
to celebrate Mass at St. Anne in Oswego and there was a cake
with 40 candles on it waiting for me and everyone singing Happy
Birthday. I hardly had the energy to blow out the candles. Ugh!
It wasnít fun.
But 50 was. By the time I was 50 I was pastor of St.
Teresa in Kankakee and I realized I wasnít going to save the world
or write the great American novel. It was my Popeye period. I
yam what a yam. I was so happy with where I was at the time
that I threw myself a birthday party and invited 500 of my closest
friends with the theme being the 50ís. Poodle skirts and pointy
shoes, we had a ball. Iíve often thought that for a priest, the
50ís are his prime. He has been around long enough to know
what to do and still has the energy to do it. It was a very good
I turned 60 at St. Isidore in Bloomingdale. I have never had much
of a bucket list but I had always wanted to do the full Chicago
Triathlon. And so I did. A one mile swim in the cold waters of
Lake Michigan, a 20 something mile bike ride, and a 6.5 mile run.
And I survived. Sixty was just fine.
And now Iím turning 70. When I was a boy, 60 was old. By the
time you were 65, you were dead. And now, 70 seems to be the
youth of old age. But at least, it is an honest old age. I
confess it feels just fine. God has been good to me. My body is
somewhat intact, and my mind a little less so but still working well
enough. For me it is a big milestone.
As I wrote to you earlier, in the Hindu tradition there are four
periods in a personís life: student, householder, forest dweller,
and senex (old man) or sanyasi (holy mendicant). God knows Iíve
been a student and for the past 46 years Iíve been a
householder. But it is time to let go of running things and being in
charge and making sure that all goes well within my family. It is
now time to go off to the forest and so I shall. It is there that I
hope to discern Godís next step for me. What is He calling me to?
What does He want me to do and to be? The gift of the freedom
of time to sit and to listen at this point of my life is exquisite.
There really is nothing left for me on my bucket list except maybe
to see and experience the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain
with my Mexican family. Thatís it. After that, God will decide.
And so I enter into my 70ís. It seems very spacious and
unchartered. It is almost oceanic. I know I can continue to do
what I have done but I am not sure that is where God is leading
me. It is now time to stop, listen and contemplate.
I have always been drawn to the contemplative life simply
because I am so poor at it. Faith is to trust and believe in Godís
presence in my life. Contemplation is to experience it. And I
stand ready and open to the experience.
I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for the life that God
has given to me and the priesthood He has allowed me to share
with you all. I have missed many things in my life, my vocation is
not one of them. I did not miss my calling. I heard His voice and
followed it. My prayer for the future is that I may continue to
hear that voice and be open to where it leads me.
I thank you and I bless you for giving me permission to go. It is a
most generous gift that you give and I receive it with great joy.
Seventy. It has a nice ring to it. I think I like it.
In Jesus, the Eternal,