Thursday, February 25, 2021


 Random Post-Panic Pandemic Reflections



1. Cathedral of the Assumption + Cathedral Heritage Foundation 

 2. Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at Saint Meinrad Seminary

 3. Catholic Second Wind Guild in the Caribbean Missions


                                  "The greatest human temptation is to settle for too little."                                          Thomas Merton

I have always been fascinated by a Benjamin Franklin quote, "Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75." Norman Cousins, I believe, explained well what Franklin meant when he wrote, "Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live." 

I am not afraid of dying as much as I am afraid of failing to live while I am alive. If you read this blog regularly, you know I quote it often because I believe deeply in what it says - the opening lines of Dylan Thomas's (1914-1953) famous poem. 

"Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

James Taylor was right when he sang, "Never give up, never slow down, never grow old and never ever die young."

All this became clear to me in my late thirties when I became pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption, something I almost turned down out of fear - fear of the expectations that would be placed on me and fear of personal failure in meeting those expectations. I decided to "go with it" because I realized that if I didn't, I would spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I had said "yes." Archbishop Kelly was clear that he wanted the Cathedral parish revitalized and he wanted me to lead it. His words were simple, but his expectations were high. "Do something with it!" 

In preparation for this new venture, I read and re-read every bit of history of the place I could find. In his history of of the Cathedral, Presence and Possibility: Louisville Catholicism and Its Cathedral, Father Clyde Crews refers to the period of 1870 - 1910 as "a Cathedral in its prime." During that period, he singles out a pastor, Msgr. Michael Bouchet. He wrote of him, "Bouchet was the perfect model of the flock he led; they were a busy, proud and creative people, and yet they were capable of holding to a singleness of purpose centered around the religious nurture they received through the Cathedral church." "There was enough zest, enough compassion, enough intensity of devotion to maintain the phrase "Golden Years" to describe these people and their era."  

Father Crews went on to describe what happened after those years. "But "Golden Years" have a way of not lasting forever. Several factors would be at work to give the Cathedral a different complexion as it moved into the twentieth century." How right he was! When I arrived, the congregation had dwindled down to 110 registered members and was placed by some on a list of parishes for possible closure. The only solution offered before the time of my arrival was to close the historic Cathedral and name one of the suburban parishes (Holy Spirit) as the new cathedral. 

When I arrived in June of 1983, I realized that the historic Cathedral's "last hope" had been placed on my shoulders.  No wonder I had dreaded saying "yes" to "do something with it!" I had three things going for me besides the naivete of my youth. I had a doctorate in "Parish Revitalization" from McCormick (Presbyterian) Seminary in Chicago. I had the support of Archbishop Kelly. Downtown Louisville itself was undergoing "revitalization." I had saturated my consciousness with visions of possibilities by reading about the role of Medieval cathedrals in the hearts of their cities and focusing on our own Cathedral's "Golden Age" at the turn of the previous century. 

Realizing that I had to become "another Bouchet," I set about using the pulpit as the place to call the congregation to claim its tradition of being again that "busy, proud and creative people, capable of holding to a singleness of purpose centered around religious nurture" that Father Crews wrote about. I would ask from the pulpit, over and over again, in my early years as its pastor, "Who said we only get one "Golden Age?" Let's create another "Golden Age!" We did just that! Growing from 110 members to 2100 members in fourteen years, we revived and expanded the traditional cathedral ministries of excellence in liturgy, preaching, education, hospitality and outreach to the community. 

When I left the Cathedral in 1997, I remember clearly saying to myself that I did not want to spend the rest of my life talking about the "good old days" of my years revitalizing the Cathedral parish. I turned the old question on myself. "Who says I only get one "Golden Age?"  So far, I have talked myself into two more "Golden Ages" after the Cathedral experience - fourteen years as founding director of Saint Meinrad's Institute for Priests and Presbyterates and six years as founding director of the Catholic Second Wind Guild in the Caribbean missions. 

When I was practically forced to stop  my work in the Caribbean mission early this year because of so many forces coming together (e.g. pandemic, volcano, health and age), I find myself asking that same old question, "Who said I only get three "golden ages?" I decided in January to end my volunteer work in the islands and look for a volunteer opportunity closer to home. As I have done in the past, when one ministry ends and before another begins, I started praying for direction. One day, it occurred to me that for me “charity may not have begun at home,” but why can’t it “end up at home?”  It dawned on me in a flash that I might have an opportunity to do something creative in my home parish of Saint Theresa down in Rhodelia where I grew up.  I thought maybe it was time, after fifty years of priesthood, to give something significant back to the parish that formed me. The wheels are already turning. The excitement is building. Contacts have been initiated. Stay tuned! I believe that my fourth "golden age" may be coming into focus! 

Again, I am reminded of a quote that I have often used in the past. 'When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!" Rather than focusing on the doors that have closed, I feel like I am standing in front of another door about to open onto yet another "Golden Age." As Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one, which has been opened for us.” As Bilbo Baggins, in Lord of the Rings, said, "I think I'm quite ready for another adventure." 

Even at that, even this next one may not be my last! "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." T.S. Eliot.

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