I am, if I do say so myself, very good at middles. It is beginnings and endings that are hard.
My heart is so full of gratitude to you, to each one of you here, and to others who can’t be with us today. To Father Leahy, who took a chance on me once to give me the opportunity to find a place to work here at BC and who later took a chance on me again to invite me to direct the C21 Center; to Tom Groome, who had lunch with me in 2006 right here at Hillside Café and offered me the opportunity to direct continuing education at the IREPM; to Bob Newton who has been one of the beating ventricles of C21’s heart since its inception, whose wisdom, forbearance, humor, and patience have borne me up and encouraged me constantly over these last years; to all the intrepid members of C21’s advisory committee, steering committee, standing committees, seated committees, and drove-me-to-my-knees committees!
I have never in my life been as privileged to interact on a regular basis with such brilliant and committed people at work on a common task well worth doing; to the wonderful men and women I have been engaged with as cosponsors of events and series, as well as those many stalwarts whose expert work in the background have made what we do at C21 possible, and made it look good. These are too many to name in their fullness; everyone at OMC and BOC and MTS and all the alphabet soup that together spells excellence at Boston College. That’s why I am here: to say from the bottom of my heart a most profound thank you to all of you and the many more I could’ve named, and kept us here for days! But why are you here?
Perhaps you are here because you feel as I do that as things change and people come and go, it is right to celebrate the things that remain. So much remains, even in times like ours of rapid change and considerable upheaval; so many vitally important realities endure. Friendship remains. Faith remains. Family remains. Memories remain, and indeed become even dearer as time passes (and perhaps a bit embellished as well). The importance of learning and teaching remain, and so this great institution approaches its 150th anniversary. As it does, hope remains, and the Word of God addressed to us all, and the individual calls each of us receive in and from that Word; calls to serve in a myriad of ways, forming the mosaic that is the Body of Christ alive and acting in the world everywhere, every day.
Just earlier today in the office we were working on the cover for the upcoming fall edition of C21 Resources. It features a mosaic from the foyer of Lyons Hall here on campus. There is the figure of the intrepid and unstoppable Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, with her a suffering man whom she is comforting, and beneath them two children, a boy and a girl. Maybe they are his children. But Dorothy knew, as inhabitants of the human future, they are our children, offspring of us all. And above their heads are inscribed memorable words of Dorothy Day herself, “Love is the measure by which we will be judged.”
When it comes to the work we all share here at BC, when it comes to the life of the Church in the 21st century (and the 20 before), when it comes to my own life and yours, the choices we make and the present and futures we choose, those words apply so profoundly: “Love is the measure by which we will be judged.”
Next month I will go forth from here with a heart full of thanksgiving, as it is today. I’ll go forth holding you all in my heart with great affection, with both the hope and the intent of seeing you again. I’ll go to the city of New York, and hope there to engage with people in their need, to be with them in the name of Jesus, to recognize Jesus in their eyes, in the lines on their faces, in both their smiles and their tears. As I arrive there in September, I’ll bear in mind the words of EB White, “It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible.” Since I am rather implausible myself, New York and I may be a good fit.
But Boston is home – first, last and always. And your faces and smiles and tears are a big part of Boston for me. So I will leave you for the moment with the words of two others who say what I would say if I were brighter. I don’t know when they spoke or wrote these words, but it must have been a moment in their lives like this one in mine. Both of these lived in 19th century Europe, which must say something about me! But I think of you today as I make their words my own:
Robert Southey, the English Romantic poet, wrote that “No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”
And Alfred De Musset, the French poet and novelist, adds this exquisite phrase, “the return makes one love the farewell.”