"We happy few, we band of brothers...." With these words from Henry V, Gene saluted Maryknoll as more a family than an institution. A sampling of his comments:
More seminaries were built in the 1960s than in all previous decades in the United States. Now most and closed, empty or sorely underused. Priest postpone retirement, although they aren't going anywhere to do anything.
The future is spread all about us, just like the Kingdom of God. We don't wait for Godot; we are living in the future. The origins of the word "future" are related to the verbs "to be" and "to build." It signifies to grow. The future invites us to build a neighborhood in which all can can dwell.
We have lived through the "End of the World", not some cosmic incineration or Rapture, but in the mystical and sacramental sense. The world ends every day. The old world with its limitations has ended. The new world of limitless communications and technology is upon us and in this world we must live.
Old institutions, including the Church, are under attack. They no longer hold their energy or meaning for many. These developments were prophesied, in a way, by poets such as Yates ("Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.") And artists such a Picasso, where time itself seems to melt.
The future may seem strange, even alien. Maryknoll trained us to let go of the present and past, and cross into this future. Even as we speak, a robot continues to trudge across the surface of Mars, sampling and sending signals back to Earth. Two weeks ago, a rocket launched a probe called Juno to Jupitor. The oldest planet, it contains more material than all other planets combined. It is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system. And scientists rightly call this a "mission to Jupitor."
Pope John XXIII challenged the church to end its self-imposed exile and move out into the world. "Providence is drawing us into a new order of relationships of high expectation," the pope said. Soon after, the first pictures of Earth seen from the moon confirmed the vision of the Second Vatican Council: one fragile and beautiful world in which we must all live together. The Earth was not separated from the heavens, as had been believed for millennia; It was in the heavens. Gone, the concept of a hierarchical universe.
The human person can no longer be understood hierarchically, as a soul, spirit and body at war with itself. Human sexuality was tolerated at best, clothed with wedding garments so as to continue repoducing children. Earthrise as seen from the moon demanded an integrated view of the human person as much as of the Earth. In space there are no ups, downs or even center.
G.K. Chesterson said the ordinary progressive position is that the universe is good, although it may get worse. Chesterton maintained the universe is good, even if it gets worse.
Asked why he had convened the Second Vatican Council, Pope John said, "So that people's journey on Earth may be less sad."
Harrison Salisbury, NY Times correspondent in the 1960s attended Midnight Mass one Christmas Eve at St. Peter's in Rome. Although a Protesrant, he declared it the center of the spiritual energy of the world.
We are gathered in the place Maryknoll calls the Center. It's where many live and from which many go out.
The Church can neither stave off nor avoid the space information age, as it struggles to remain the Center of a world that no longer exists. The new world has no center.
The priest abuse scandal was not a byproduct of the sexual revelution, but of the hierarchical model of power, preference and privilege that was the raw material of clericalism, the latter becoming the breeding ground for the sexual abuse of those younger and weaker.
The problem cannot be cured by a hierarchical system, since the bishops exempted themselves from the reforms. The scandals arose, not because of bad priests or bad bishops, but because of an ineffectively managed hierarchical system. The majority of good bishops today certainly cannot reinvigorate and reimpose the hierarchical model of church, no matter how many parishes reintroduce Perpetual Adoration. The center has not shifted, it has evaporated.
If any group is ready to face life in the information age, it's Maryknoll. Maryknollers are ready to make a journey at a moment's notice. The vision of Vatican II resonates in these halls.
This gathering at Maryknoll this weekend shows the spirit of Maryknoll, the spirit of Vatican II, extends far beyond Maryknoll's walls and members. Discovering the unity of the universe and of ourselves can only be realized if we have a sacramental vision proclaiming not how we are all different, but how we are all essentially and fundamentally the same, despite our diversity and distinctions.