When, as a young priest, I was a graduate student in the UK, I lived andworked in a big Catholic parish in downtown Cambridge. The parish wasOur Lady and the English Martyrs, but it was usually called “OLEM” – anacronym of its initials. I quickly came to love OLEM, and the parishionerstook me to their hearts, but my relationship with the parish really tookshape when my mother came to visit. I am one of eight children, so myparents had little time or money for international travel. My mother’s visitto Cambridge was her first outside the United States. At the time of thevisit she was already ill, so until the last moment there was doubt as towhether she’d be able to travel. But the day came, and she arrived,beaming, and filled with a spirit of adventure. From the first moment, theparishioners treated her like a queen and they know how to treat aqueen over there. They presented her with the largest bouquet offlowers she had ever received, and showered her with dinner invitations.Let me share just one incident from her visit that affords a glimpse ofhow things went.
Sr. Scholastica was a religious in a convent where I often said Mass.She was tall, thin, gracious and learned. The latter quality came to thefore when she needed cataract surgery. The National Health doctorsasked her why, at her advanced age, she required such surgery. She toldthem it was so she could continue her study of ancient Greek. When Iintroduced my mother to her, Sr. Scholastica curtseyed. It brought tearsto my eyes.
I’ve done a fair amount of travelling, and I’ve seen some remarkablethings. But much of the time, when I saw those things, I was alone. If I’malone when I see something wonderful, like a fishing village on the coastof Maine, the city of Chicago from the air at night, or the interior of King’sCollege Chapel, if I’m alone when I see these things, I don’t experiencethem with the same intensity I do when I see them with someone I careabout.
When I’m alone there can be a certain distance — a kind ofseparateness — between the experience and me. Somehow I’m standingon the outside looking in. But when I see the same things with friends, orespecially with family, the experience is different. I feel more like I’mreally there. It’s all more integrated somehow. I’m no longer outsidelooking in. I suppose the experience has its roots in childhood, when thecolorful stone, or beetle or piece of driftwood you’ve just found,somehow isn’t officially certified as real and valuable until it has beenfussed over, or at least perfunctorily glanced at, by Mom or Dad. “Yes,that’s very nice Charlie. Now go wash your hands.”
So sharing OLEM with my mother, and through her with my family,helped me experience the parish more deeply, and, I suspect, made me abetter priest for its people.
Today’s Gospel brings these memories to mind. In the Gospelpassage, Jesus is praying for us – for those who will come to believe inHim through the words of His disciples. And this is what He asks for us:”that they may be one, [Father] as we are one, I in them and you in me,that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may knowthat you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” So, inChrist, we are all united with one another, and through Christ we areunited with the very Godhead!
That means, in effect, we are never alone. We need never feelalienated from our experience. What happens to one of us happens to allof us, and happens in Christ. What better way to experience the world,and each other, than through the one who created it all? In Christ, weneedn’t feel separate from our experience. We are no longer outsiders,looking in. And we are always with someone who loves us.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”