Articles By: Thomas H. Hicks

“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He that as found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend and no scales can measure his excellence. A faithful friend is an elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find him” (Sirach 6:14-16).

Thomas Merton once said that he liked people, “but after about an hour I’m tired of being with others.” He also said, “I do know that the best way to really waste time is to get with a lot of other people: then it will be killed for certain.”

I understand what Merton was saying. For example, cocktail parties are hard work for me. There’s all the smiles you have to exude, all the effort at being charming. There’s the burden of intermingling, the vapid togetherness, the toil of exerting oneself to be congenial and to keep smiling. I remember smiling steadily while a Hungarian lady told us about what a beautiful tomb she had bought for her third husband. I spent a long time listening to a man ramble on about a trip he and his wife once made to Minneapolis. There’s the bantering and raillery. And, like Merton, after about an hour I start thinking about how soon I can get out of this? There is something in me that can stand only so much time of unrelieved socialization, hearing people comparing illnesses, all the one-upmanship, the planned summer trips, the latest guest on Dr, Phil, and then I seek solitude. We puff our jobs, balloon our travel plans.

One can note that Therese of Lisieux said “conversations with people, even pious conversations, fatigued my soul…for there is so much self-love intermingled with spiritual conversations.”

Many people claim to have many friends (politicians do it all the time). But who they’re calling “friends” are not more than affinities. People can bestow the title “friend” too generously; they are referring to acquaintances.

My life is riddled with holes where people I called friends once were. There are the lost friends. How hard it is to avoid offending somebody. One or the other makes a misjudgment, presumes, and a rift opens between them, the equilibrium is gone. Friendship is vulnerable.

The philosophers of ancient Athens wrote compellingly about friendship. Aristotle (Ethics) said that friends are needed for happiness, and defined a friend as “a trusted other who understands and accepts me as I am.” He also asserted that true friendship only exists among people who are good people. Cicero (De Amicitia) wrote how friendship ennobles human life and provides some of life’s most splendid moments. The ancient Greeks used the word storge to describe friendship. Storge refers to the love one has for comfortably familiar people. It denotes a tender care, something maternal, something gentle.

Aristotle was right when he regarded trust as the bedrock of true friendship. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “a friend will prove himself to be an ally when alliance becomes necessary” (Four Loves, p.88). Overall, the essence of friendship involves unconditional acceptance, loyalty, and support. In a story by Flannery O’Connor, a boy describes a friendship he was aware of this way: “they never quarls, they like one man in two skins” (Greenleaf, p.299). As far back as the fourth century, Gregory Nanzianzen, speaking of his friend, Basil, said “we seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit.” The Church honors Gregory of Nazianzen and Basil the Great, the two friends, with the same feast day, January 2. “Two bodies with a single spirit” implies that what happens to one’s friend, happens to oneself.

A few other characteristics of deep friendship would be: friends share a vision of life; have common interests, common delights. friendship must be about something; they can pass from light jesting to talk of the deepest things; they can dip into each other’s thoughts; friends can fall into a calm companionable silence; etc.

Sharing a common past is usually a part of deep friendships. Friendship and reminiscence go together. True friendship involves sharing memories, being able to say to each other “Do you remember?” It involves talk about “those days,” and talking about the same people. Friends passed into different rooms of their lives together. They possess together the precious, incommunicable past. Friendship and affection mellow as the years unfold.

Truly deep friendships are gifts from God. It’s not by accident that people come together.

Certain people were born to be comrades. A famous spiritual writer named Garrigou Lagrange wrote that the continuance of friendship for more than twenty years is a sign that the friendship has a divine origin (Life Everlasting, p.234). Friendship is one of life’s fundamental bonds. Friends are the blessing of a lifetime. They enable us to celebrate living. They bring some of the happiest days. People can live without a deep friendship, and it seems that most people do. Still, in many ways, life has no better gift to give, and friendship should be nurtured, cared for, invested in. The best things in our lives are the loves we have known. When you have a true and close friend you have one of the best things this life has to give. Most of our hurts come through relationships, so does our healing. Social psychologists claim that psychoanalytic therapy doesn’t work much better than the untrained ear of a true friend. Friends give us life and love and God. There is the old hymn that goes: “Where there is Caritas and Amor there is God.”

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such a friend.

The religion I grew up with had a preoccupation with saving one’s soul, avoiding hell, shortening purgatory. Religion was identified with rules, regulations, customs. A certain punitiveness and pettiness was projected onto God. The childhood image I had of God was that of a Super Bookkeeper. I experienced religion as a rulebook. There was a spirituality of good works and merits. Billy Graham noted that “the trouble with many people is that they have just enough religion to make them miserable.” I struggled with excessive fears of eternal punishment, and legalism.

Spirituality was devotional. There were devotions to this saint and that saint. As I remember, I rarely, and maybe never, came across saintliness. The Mass in those far off days was in Latin. The school year opened with the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

I never thought my childhood religion as ruining my childhood. It made me feel cared for.

Like many, I have problems concerning God. Let me hear someone speak of God’s unbounded love and mercy, and images of the Holocaust and Hiroshima appear before my eyes—no divine intervention. Hitler and, for the most part, those who ran the death camps were baptized Catholics.

How could it possibly be good and loving to slaughter the first-born Egyptian children who did nothing wrong? And there’s that description in the book of Joshua of what Joshua, under the direction of God, did to the Canaanite cities of Jericho, Ai, and Hazor. “They butchered every living thing in the city, all the men and women, all the babies and old people, all the oxen and sheep and donkeys, not sparing anything that breathed” (Joshua 6:21).

At different times, we burned heretics and witches, forbade scientists to look through telescopes.

I don’t understand why God allows children to suffer. I cannot grasp why God created pain, why so much pain, such raging pain. I don’t know what is happening and what it means. As the Book of Job reveals, God doesn’t offer an explanation. God doesn’t explain.

There are two sayings of John XXIII that influence me. His motto was “In essentials unity, in nonessentials, liberty, in all things, charity.” The other saying is the reply John XXIII gave to the question “what should the Catholic religion do?” He answered “to make the human journey on earth less sad”—marvelous. There’s Theresa of Lisieux fascination statement that “in order to be holy, the most essential virtue is energy.”

One of my favorite Old Testament tales is the wrestling match between Jacob and God

(Genesis 32:24-31). Jacob wrestles with a divine being till the break of dawn. The divine being says “let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” The divine being says “you have contended with the divine and have prevailed. Jacob then asked “What is your name? The divine being answered “Why should you want to know my name?” With that he bade Jacob farewell and blessed him… And Jacob called the place Peniel: for “I have seen God face to face, and my life was spared.” Jacob boasted that he had wrestled with God and survived. What does it all mean?

When I examine my life, there have been a few unmistakable and precious moments when God revealed Himself. For example, there was a time when I was hurrying home, alone, shriving under a downpour of rain. Another time I was on a train staring thoughtlessly at a gray overcast sky. In both situations I suddenly felt a “holy sadness” accompanied by a yearning for the Eternal. I’ve written before how there were a couple of times when I felt, all of a sudden, and only for a few seconds, an experience of God. There was a special consciousness of the Divine Presence, an intuitive contact. These were what Thomas Merton called “low-grade mystical graces.” And Karl Rahner held that all people have these mystical moments. Indeed, Rahner. In the 1960s, famously said that the Catholic of the future will be a mystical or s/he won’t be anything at all.” Theologians speak of “the universal vocation to mysticism.”

The Lord leads each person on the individual’s own path to God. As Teresa of Avila pointed out, “Different people are led by different paths.” There is the variety of ways people encounter God. God treats us individually and differently. Each of us has a unique relationship with God. There are as many paths to God as there are people living in the world. But God divides His graces unequally. He does not give everything to everyone. To some He gives more, to some less. There are a couple of mysterious Bible quotes: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious; and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Ex.33:14). And there’s “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me” (Isa.65:1). How does one explain these?

God will draw near in His own time. God is not predictable. He is not bound by our rules. Yet, I sense He is closing in again, and I yearn to call out to Him.

Atheism has emerged in our times as an outlook held by many people from diverse backgrounds, especially the young. The claim is made that atheism equips people to live life more freely and fully.

A common idea among atheists is that death is a return to Nature. Death involves a dissolution into the universe. One becomes one with the stars, the plants, the animals, the whole cosmos. In 1819, the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, published a book titled The World as Will and Idea. Schopenhauer wrote that in death the “Universal Mother Earth” receives humans into her arms. Also, according to Schopenhauer: “if one knocked on graves, and asked the dead whether they wished to rise again, they would shake their heads”.

More specifically, the view is that, after death, the atoms of one’s body will eventually reveal themselves perhaps in the brilliant yellow of a dandelion, in the wetness of a rain drop, or in the throat of a giraffe, and certainly in the hearts of some people as well. It is therefore appropriate to scatter one’s ashes in the wind or on the sea, or to bury them in the forest at the roots of an ancient tree, ideally in a biodegradable urn. There are owners of some forested areas who, for a price, allow people to bury remains on their property. The family and friends of the deceased can console themselves with the thought that the organic remains of the deceased person will one day reach out to the sun in the whispering leaves of the trees.

Thus, today ashes are strewed over the sea, or swept from the top of a mountain by the wind, or buried in “forest cemeteries.”

The Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book No Death No Fear writes: “everyday I look deep at everything around me: the trees, the hills. I see myself in them and I know I shall not die, I will continue in many other forms.”

In the movie Houseboat, Cary Grant, in a scene where a boy asks him what happens when people die, Grant gives a dissolution into the universe response.

Today’s obituaries commonly express the idea of the self’s return to nature. Above the obituary is not the cross, but a broad-branched tree.

I am not the least bit consoled by the idea that my physical energy may live on in strawberries or Rhinos. Nor am I satisfied that “something” goes on and that I will continue in many other forms. I want to live on in my own person. I have no interest in being recycled in a cosmic way, like plastic bottles. The meaning of “dissolution into the universe” would seem to be that we live, we, die, we become compost, and all those vitamins, minerals, and nutrients help a path of ragweed grow big and strong and cause allergy problems for countless sufferers. Is that consolation?

The Christian Creed says: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Our bodies are destined for resurrection. John 6:40: “Everyone who believes in me has everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The resurrection is not a metaphor, for example, that the dead live on in the memory of their loved ones. The resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the General Resurrection (cf. Acts 26:28).

Christ is the first fruits of the great harvest that is to follow and there will be the annihilation of death itself. The omnipotence of God “will swallow up death for ever and will wipe away the tears for all faces” (Isaiah 25:18).

I will be made into “Immortal Diamond”, not some fertilizer for the universal greenhouse.

Let me leave you with something to think about. Karl Rahner, the elite theologian of the 20th century, stated: “No one is in danger of defending as a heresy if he maintains the view that the single and total perfection of a human being in body and soul takes place immediately after death”

(Theological Investigations, XVII, 120). In other words, Rahner is saying that being a human being calls for the union of body and soul. This calls for a body immediately after death. This body will be perfected at the General Resurrection. I can’t think of anything that I would like less than to be a disembodied spirit.

March is such a welcome month. There is the quickening that glows with promise, life triumphant. The first migrant robins and red-winged blackbirds arrive, and soon the returning birds will sing their ancient songs. Blue deepens in the sky, and a violet dusk folds gently over the earth and fades slowly. A line of geese is likely to be seen returning north. Another spring begins.

Yet, almost three months that make up this year have already passed. I believe we are allotted a certain period of time in this world. “And in Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me” (Psalm 139:16). As we get older, the days seem to get used up quickly, one by one. If I could stretch out the days like a rubber band, I would pull them out and out – and out!

How small a period time we share. This drums the certainty into one’s mind—the unique treasure of each moment; to take each day and treat it carefully; to savor the moments.

For me, March and Spring are times when the past comes to life again, vanished places, faces and voices. A while ago, to test my memories against the reality, I went back to my old block and neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My home was a four-room flat. The rooms led into one another and thus were called railroad flats. There were six such flats in my building which was three stories high.

That flat left memories of pleasant excitement, of happy adventures, of warm sleep on howling winter nights, and joyous awakenings on summer mornings. I wonder about all the lives that have been in those rooms. How many lives have the rooms sheltered down the long years before welcoming my family? Who lived there since we left? How many? Were they happy there? I’ve prayed that things went well with them. Those railroad flat rooms were rooms in which some of the best things in my life took place.

There are the names of streets that marked the boundaries of my youth—Stockholm, Onderdonk, Gates. From Seneca Ave., one could see the distant spires of New York City. I walked to school every school day, and I can remember store by store, home by home, on those familiar streets I walked.

Time changes the places that knew us. I think everyone revisiting any scene of childhood invariably feels how smaller everything looks. The tree my brother and me used to climb is no longer so tall. The little grocery store my mother used to send me when she discovered she was out of butter, or rice or baking soda is gone. The vacant lot where I played fungo has apartments on it. Today, the kids on my block are Black. “Things are all changing; the world’s rearranging” (Willie Nelson duet song)

I recall those dear friends of childhood who were my elementary school classmates. To think of them can bring tears to my eyes.

I find myself remembering small events, so small I’m surprised to remember them. Katie sitting on the stoop; the girl with the mouth that turned up at the corners when she smiled; a drizzly November day; jump-rope chants; sounds of boys playing punch ball in the street.

There’s those giants of my childhood, the people who loved me and shaped me, who taught me things. How they live on. Above all, it is my mother who lives on in me.

How well I remember the melodies of my childhood:

Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu
When the clouds roll by I’ll come to you…
So wait and pray each night for me
Till we meet again.

“Night and day, you are the one, only you beneath the moon and under the sun.”

That Brooklyn neighborhood had become my place, that spot on earth which, as Horace says: “above most others ridet mihi.” It was the spot that nurtured me.

The years have spilled since Brooklyn. We move on, but the past is always with us. When I dip back into the past, I have a sense of something hidden at work—a God who works secretly and humbly. I believe a benign Providence was at work, a mysterious love and protector.

Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

There was God’s hidden but attentive care. “I greet Him the days I meet Him,” wrote Gerard

Manley Hopkins, “and bless when I understand.”

Oft, in the stilly night
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears
Of boyhood’s years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm’d and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
(Thomas Moore, “Oft, In the Stilly Night”)

I sigh for lost years, its vanished summers. Those dear, dead days.

In Farmingdale, Long Island, there is a cemetery named St. Charles. It is a vast cemetery, an immense necropolis. Row upon row of gravestones with their manicured lawns seem to spread endless, in every direction. The graveyard seems to have swollen to a city – the city of the silent. Indeed, a marvelous quiet penetrates everything.

James Joyce, in Ulysses, wrote of “funerals all over the world, everywhere every minute. Thousands every hour.” The statistic worldwide is that 150,000 thousand people die every day;

The daily harvest. Death is hungry. As Proverbs 30:15 says: “Death is never satisfied; it never says ‘Enough.’”

The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, was asked how we could better lead our lives and he said we should spend more time in graveyards.

At St. Charles, I read dates on gravestones and measure the years. There are many early leavings. One thinks about the lives of these young people, what were their expectations, the dreams that never came true, the disappointments, the unrequited loves. All that trapped forever. All the stories silenced now.

And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief,
so gentle and so beautiful, should perish with the flowers.
(William Cullen Bryant, “The Death of The Flowers”)

I had a friend named Rick with whom I went fishing in summer. He died when he was sixteen. He is frozen in my mind as a sixteen year old boy. He will always be sixteen, and it will always be summer. It’s been asked if the deaths of young people really are the saddest thing in life – they were saved so much and kept so much?

There is an area of St. Charles marked “Children.” Plastic pinwheels adorn each grave as well as some toy. So many of the children had only one year. They hardly got to exist. One thinks of all the child missed. The child missed 70 or 80 springs and summers. They never had the chance to marry or look into the eyes of their own first child, to finish college and launch a career. They never got to experience the joys and pains of middle age and growing old, they never got to grow old surrounded by love.

Parents feel that it is not right to live when one’s child has died, that one should somehow have found the way to give one’s life to save their child’s life.

Why do infants die? Is there something that bears the mark of God’s wisdom and providential care? Does eternal life give those whose life was cut short the opportunity to live the life they were intended for, and for which they were born? Will their lives be completed someplace, somehow? Can they somehow live to the full a human life after they have died” (cf. Jurgen Moltman, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, pp.117-118)

The gravestones tell that taken to the grave are countless “golden years.” How many people have stood in front of these gravestones imploring “Come back to me.”

Broken hearts’ remnants
Litter the cement bases.
(Emily Jo Manchester, “Graveyard”)

“For the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear the voice of the Son of Man and come out” (John 5:28). St Paul adds the Archangels call, the sound of trumpets, and the Lord coming down on the clouds (1Thess.4:16). I like to picture this literally taking place at St. Charles cemetery. Loved ones being raised, the empty tombs. All shall rise and bloom to fade no more. We will see our loved ones faces again, and hear their voices as they march toward us from their graves, telling us that all will be again as it once was.

Twill show us each forgotten grace
And make the dead, like flowers, arise
Youthful and fair to see new skies”
(Henry Vaughan, “The Day of Judgment”)

As for myself, my hope is expressed by what some writer said: “Tarry awhile, O Death, I cannot die with all my blossoming hopes unharvested, all my songs unsung. Tarry awhile, till I am satisfied of earth.”

There is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins titled “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire.”

It is one of the last poems Hopkins wrote, and it is regarded as one of his greatest achievements.

The opening lines convey a delight in the world of clouds and wind. The poem pictures cloud shadows on walls and buildings, sunlight through trees, etc. The poet humanizes the activity of clouds and wind. Then Hopkins goes on to meditate on how undermining all the beauty of nature is flux. Nothing is stable. All things are subject to time and annihilation. It is a world where nothing lasts. Everything, no matter how beautiful, must die. This includes human impermanence. Humans too must suffer obliteration like everything else. The poet’s reflections continue to spiral downward.

Then comes the dramatic word “Enough!” The poet reacts from his somber thoughts with this cry and turns his attention to the Resurrection. Because of Christ, humans will rise to a new level of being, something that can be described as Immortal Diamond, something solid and everlasting, and imperishable. Something that was previously buried in the earth, the diamond, is as permanent and immutable as anything we know; it involves a sense of transcendence.

Because of the Resurrection, the human being, destined for oblivion like everything else, is also “Immortal Diamond,” something everlasting.

That workaday, ordinary, even laughable dolt of a human being will shine forth and become something precious and beautiful. He or she will be made into “Immortal Diamond.” There is the resounding affirmation of the last line of the poem

in a flash, at a trumpet crash, 
I am all at once what Christ is…
This poor potsherd is Immortal Diamond.
Is immortal diamond.
(potsherd = broken pottery)

“In the soft light of an autumnal day, When Summer gathers up her robes of glory, And like a dream of beauty glides away.”
(Sarah Whitman, A Still Day in Autumn)
Already it is September. The sun edges south. Days shorten. Nights deepen. Summer is already a fading memory. The waning flowers are living their last days. A medieval poet said it well: “Now fade rose and lily-flower that for a while bore its sweet savor in summer, that sweet time.”
You see the changes in the way the shadows fall. Day by day, the shadows grow longer. And there is a slightly different tincture to the light—a softening. The grass looks a bit exhausted. The first dead leaves of a new autumn scrape on the sidewalks. People walk faster, and there is usually a sharper appetite.
Before the month is over, there will be the flight of geese going south for the winter. At first we hear the distant gabble. Then we see them penciled against the morning sky. They fly in their lovely wedge and always have a leader who pilots the flock. Their sound is oddly triumphant and exciting, but it is also the sound of another summer gone and the certainty of November and December.
The birds are busy. They begin to gather in restless flocks, migration on their minds. They often cloister on wires, rallying for the long trip. But mainly they are incessantly in motion, hoping, flying, alighting. You hear the change in the birds calls. There are fewer songs of ecstasy. Now they are filled with the excitement of migration time. They put on their pre-migration fat, often in grapevines and berry bushes. They will act this way for a time, and then be on their way. They may cover hundreds of miles in a day. Most of the swallows have already gone; some of the robins have left. There are those winter birds that decline to join the seasonal escape.
By the middle of the month the katydids and the crickets, which made the darkness hum and quiver, have pretty much run their course.  There’s quiet to the darkness now.
September brings back the routines and chores we have laid down during the summer. There are the old routines to take up again. There are the rituals of the new school year. Classes begin; teachers and others return to work. There are the school bus and train schedules, homework and soccer practice. Some fill the woodshed with firewood. We sink back into the old routines. For some, the changes are energizing and exhilarating, a time of reinvigoration and rediscovered energy. Parents are often relieved to have children in school again.
Now the furnace sighs and there is the sound of leaf blowers. The beaches are empty. There are the barren porches where leaves are gathering.
Even in September the year turns toward color in the woodlands. Maples turn first. Color tiptoes through its treetops, rouging a few leaves that turn yellow and red. The dogwoods turn early. The elm trees particularly look tired and begin to shed old leaves early. Then little by little the other trees follow.
September brings some of the loveliest days of the year. The sun has lost its summer fire, and days tend to be crisp and clear. There’s the sparkling freshness of a September morning. Thomas Hood wrote that in an early September morning it can be like “silence listening to silence.” There is the deep blue sky of September, and wonderful afternoons. with mild breezes and comfortable temperatures. There is that relaxation from summer heat. There are the soft September twilights, and sunsets are often brilliant and triumphant.
“Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too”.
(John Keats, To Autumn)
But September knows the limitations of life. In September, one can almost hear the sound of passing time. September tells us that nothing stays, all changes. Beauty passes, however rare it be. Nothing lasts in this world. But beauty lingers in those autumn shadows.
“And time passes, passing like a leaf…time passing, fading like a flower. Time passing like a river flowing. Time passing.” The words are those of Thomas Wolfe, in September we have a sense of those words.
September is insistently a time of remembering. Each September finds me with a sweet, faint melancholy. There is a haunting sorrow for the dead, for all those who were gone and would not come again. I sigh for lost years. Van Gogh understood there’s a certain melancholy that belongs to autumn. And, of course, September warns us that winter days lie ahead.

They seem to bob into consciousness without announcement or connection—images of people and places. A multitude of figures and scenes, fragmented recollections, show up at unexpected moments. There are faces of strangers I sat beside on a train and exchanged a few words with; the face of someone I took shelter with under the same awning in a rainstorm; there’s the haggard face of an alcoholic panhandler; there’s the quiet girl who sat at the next desk in the fifth grade. Thomas Merton referred to this phenomenon and suggested that these images are of people who are in some kind of trouble and we are being called to pray for them. Interesting.

So many images suddenly flame to life and insinuate themselves in my life. They are fragmentary recollections. Lost times and forgotten scenes suddenly return: my mother pulling down the blinds at sunset; suddenly for a moment I’m back in my Aunt May’s kitchen. There are so many images from the past that pass through my mind and show up at unexpected moments: a seagull with a broken wing, frost on a windowpane, the look of a street at twilight, a scene of Manhattan weather. I’m carried back to the dead people I knew. Momentary recollections like these seem to dot my being.

I have many recollections of scenes that belong to childhood. As I get older, my childhood self seems to become more accessible to me. The recollections are usually delicious moments, for example, the shore where childhood played. They are bright memories of kind people and lovely places. They are remembered with love and with a longing for a happiness I wish I could regain.

For oft…they flash upon that inward eye…
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils
(Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud”)

A frequent recollection is myself, a small boy, crossing a street, alive and going somewhere.

But there are also dark memories of old unhappy far off things. There are the sudden remembrances of things that made me feel scared and lonely, old failures and old hurts.

These sudden fragments that float in and out of my mind can both brighten and darken my life. There are recollections of sounds: feet on a stairway; a clanging bell; the clip-clod of a horse; a train whistle; the calling of a voice through the autumn dark; a voice calling from the foot of the stairs; the barking of an old dog. When I was little my older brother often followed me and kept shouting “Tommy wait!” I often recall that. All these recollections stir something in me, vague and tender.

There are fragmentary memories of fragrances, for example, the sweet, dry fragrance of talcum powder that clung to a girl. There are fragmentary memories of touch. After all these years I can still remember, and almost feel, the pressure of my father’s hand on the small of my back, guiding me across the street.

As someone said, the night is never alone, it remembers. It is often at night that peculiar memories pop up out of nowhere.

It is extraordinary the things I remember—so many seem like trifles. It puzzles me that I remember these impressions. Why were these things stirring to be remembered? Why do these scenes revive, or are awakened? Why are they remembered when they are? Why are some things engraved in memory? Do they arrive from “deep down”? Are they there for some purpose? I expect psychologists might have some answers.

In a way, they can evoke in me a sense of reverence. St. Augustine wrote about the religious significance of memory. Maybe these unbidden memories that suddenly form and dissolve mark places in one’s life where we were to hear the “more” that runs through it all. Life is holy ground. It is possible to see the presence of the sacred in the realities of the everyday. One can find meaning in the briefest and most unexpected moments. Maybe there is something like playing jump rope going on. You can miss the split second where entry is possible and you’ve flubbed up everything. Maybe we keep missing entries.

Do some of these memories involve moments of transcendence? There are holy sparks in every occasion. Are these recurring memories calls to listen to our lives? The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, expressed it this way: “Life gives us moments.” There are moments of illumination, when the most ordinary objects and commonplace events shed the shackles of matter-of-factness and enter the realm of mystery. T.S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding of “the timeless moment.”

Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, arrived at the conclusion that there is one God who made all things. He further concluded that this God was a self-actualizing, eternal and immaterial Person. However, Aristotle concluded that this Supreme Reality did not care in any way about his human creatures. Relating to us would lessen God; it would be degrading to him.

Here is a quote from Aristotle: “God is self-sufficient and has no need for the service of others, nor of their affection…God cannot have any need of human friends, nor will he have any”

(Eudemian Ethics, VII, 1244B). Aristotle spoke of his friendship involves equality. Accordingly, there can be no friendship between humans and God.

This generally was the view of the Greek philosophers. For example, Epicurus stated that “it is absurd to think that the gods should concern themselves with the affairs of humans. This would upset their serenity and peace. Thus, the gods take no interest in human affairs and have no need of human worship.”

The Biblical God is presented as Someone Who knows and loves us in the uniqueness of our person. The Scriptures say He calls us by name and numbers the hairs of our head. He made human beings in order to offer His friendship. We are taught to speak of God as a “Father.”

Prayer is best defined as a search for God. It is an attempt to develop a relationship with the Ultimate Mystery. In his famous Rabbit novels, John Updike presents his protagonist, Rabbit, as someone who nothing he experiences is quite enough. He remains incomplete and searching. Toward the end of the novel Rabbit is Rich there is a scene that takes place at the end of day when Rabbit always felt most at peace, “the moment of the day when the light dims and the weeping cheery glows in the dark.” Rabbit insists to himself that “somewhere behind all this, there is Something or Someone that wants me to find Him.”

The writer C.S. Lewis spoke of prayer as seeking a relationship with “that unnameable something behind the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”

There is something in us that longs for God. Many experience a hunger for a deeper prayer life. The Lord was explicit and blunt in directing us against wordy prayers. “When you pray do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them” (Matthew 6:5). We are cautioned against wordiness. St. Augustine wrote: “To pray at a deeper level is not the same as to pray by multiplying words…God does not seek human words” (Letter to Proba). The mystic Meister Eckhart wrote: “People make a goat of God, feeding Him on word-leaves.”

We can grow tired of words. Sometimes one can feel that our church services are awash with words, verbosity. This can lead to such monstrosities of language as “Mother inviolate” and “singular vessel of devotion.”

Not all prayer involves saying prayers. Jesus spent whole nights in prayer. “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). It is unlikely he spent the night uttering words.

It was John of the Cross who stated that “silence is God’s first language.” Prayer often involves wordless attention, just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. “Stay quiet before the Lord, and wait longingly for Him” (Psalm 37:7). We need to build times of silence into our lives. Without silence there can be no interior life. We need to fast from too much togetherness and enjoy more solitude and silence. Solitude and silence are the sine qua non of contemplative prayer. Isaiah tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” The way of contemplation is found in all the great religions. It is practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism, among the Sufis in Islam, and is part of the Hasidic movement in Judaism.

If someone has a true experience of contemplative prayer, nothing else really satisfies anymore. Many people these days are experiencing a hunger for something more than a spirituality of devotions. Life causes one to examine one’s ideas of holiness. One tends not to see it as bound up with merit and reward; that’s part of the childhood of the spiritual life.

Close contact with worldly people often arouses a longing for the spiritual. We feel at times a certain weariness with the world.

A truth of the spiritual life is that “no one can come to me unless the Father draw him/her.” God takes the initiative. We do not get to God by our own efforts; God comes to us. John of the Cross stressed that no two people travel the exact same route to God. God has varied ways and methods to draw people to Himself. In the end, an individual is found by God.

Lately it has dawned on me that God is seeking me. For the first time, I truly believe this to be so. I look over my past and have a sense of God’s persistent pursuit. A mature spiritual life eventually feels much more like Someone has found you.

Over the course of my life, there were days I wanted to salvage from the rush of time. I wished I could preserve a certain day from sliding away into the flow of time. I can picture myself clinging to a lovely, fulfilling day, repeating to myself “Don’t go—not yet—not yet—.” I wished I could stretch the day like a rubber band—pull it out and out and out. But time would not relent and the day slipped away as fast as any other.

I often wonder, where did they go, those used up days. John Donne wrote “tell me, where all past years are” (“Go Catch a Falling Star”). Do past years and days slip into nothingness? Or do they have some kind of eternal presence in God? Is there a gathering of all temporal times in an eternal present? Pavel Florensky, a Russian philosopher and priest, stated: “The past has not passed away, but is eternally preserved somewhere and continues to be real.” A modern Catholic philosopher, John Haught, also asks “do all things somehow remain in God?” He also asks “where does each moment come from in the first place?” (What Is God? p.25).

God is the giver of time. The sovereignty of God over the length of our lives is taught in Scripture. Our days are numbered, our term of life is fixed. Job 14:5: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and set limits he cannot exceed.”

Psalm 139:16: “In your book were written all the days that were ordained for me when none of them as yet existed.” We all have our earthly allotment of time. A number of psalms pray to God: “Do not take me away before my days are complete” (Psa.102).

The Scriptures frequently summon us to remember the past, e.g., Psalm 143:5: “I remember the days of long ago…I muse on the work of your hands.” When I look over my own life and ask myself which years of it I would particularly like to live over again, I think the happiest times were my boyhood times, the time when life was young. As W.B. Yeats put it, it was the time “when I was a boy with never a crack in my heart” (“The Meditation of the Old Fisherman”).

My boyhood years were kind years to me. There were those vanished summers of a simpler era, a time of splendor in the grass. I shopped at Kresge’s and took girls to ice cream parlors. It was a time of innocent and uncomplicated faith. Something I chiefly remember about those days is the absence of fear. Now fear seems to be a companion of us all. Job 29:1,4: “Oh, that I were as in years past…As I was in my flourishing days, when God sheltered my tent.” Or, as Shakespeare put it, “O! call back yesterday, bid time return” (Richard I, Act 3, Scene 2).

Time moves and all things come to an end. All things run their courses to their appointed ends. As Edmond Waller, the 17th century poet, put it in his beautiful poem “Go, Lovely Rose” there are so many lost and lovely things. Even that which is wondrous, sweet and fair doesn’t last. “The time of her sweetness and fairness, will be short lived.”

There is a Spanish proverb that says, “there are three tyrants—the weather, il Padre, and il Tempo.”

There are the dear, dead joys of those days long past—the brightness and beauty that could not last. So many people I loved from my boyhood days naturally have died. When you lose somebody who remembers who and what you were in the fifth grade, you bury a part of yourself, a part of your life. Nobody remembers me as the fifth grader who made that splendid catch on a baseball field long since plowed under for condominiums. There’s no one in whose eyes I can meet that fifth grader who sank the two foul shots that won that important game.

The dead are very close to me these days. I can see their faces. I long for them to be living and to have it all over again. There was a song from my boyhood days titled “Till We Meet Again”:

Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu.
When the clouds roll by I’ll come to you…
So wait and pray each night for me
Till we meet again.

Never write up a diary on the Day itself.
It needs much longer than that to know what happened.
Christopher Morley, D-Day Plus X

Sooner or later, everyone wonders about what s/he has done in life. When we stand back and look at our lives certain questions arise: How and by what measure do we decide if one’s life has been a success? What is the shape of a good life? Have I done what was mine to do? What do I mean to others?

In the hard perspective of the years I’ve come to certain conclusions about truth. One is to acquiesce to Thomas Aquinas’ observation that “the end of one’s intellectual ascent is the realization of one’s ignorance.” The illusion of having answers crumbles, and often a quiet wonder takes its place. I’ve become open to the possibility that I’m wrong about many things. I’ve learned that one must step back from canonizing one’s interpretation of reality as the infallible blueprint for life. We often have to correct our view of life to some degree. Much of what had been important is no longer.

There are distinct methods to approach truth; truth has many aspects. In the middle of the second century, a Christian writer named Clement of Alexandria wrote: “There is one river of truth, but many streams fall into it on this side and that.” According to Hinduism, one can look at one and the same thing from a variety of perspectives, but none of them is exhaustive. Truth is always precious, but perhaps all truths are not equally relevant to all persons. There is not only one correct way to live one’s life. Everyone must follow an appointed path. It is impossible to talk with absolutists.

As Carl Jung pointed out, truth often isn’t where we suppose. Having passed through certain experiences, I realize that I had to unlearn much of what I was taught. The Buddha said: “Don’t believe what your teachers tell you unless your own reason and experiences confirm what they say.” I think there’s truth to that. Berthold Brecht’s play, “Galileo,” has this powerful line: “You can’t make a man unsee what he has seen.”

I’ve come to learn that eventually, one way or the other, truth reveals itself, and this truth is often uncomfortable, indeed, the truth often hurts.

Humans have always sacrificed truth to vanity, comfort, pleasure, and advantage.

As I’ve said before, there is a truth that runs through all life, namely that this life needs more than itself, it needs the possibility to reach beyond the natural to the supernatural. There is a restlessness, a longing, a hunger, a loneliness, an ache that lies at the center of human experience. Plato explained this unrest by claiming that our souls come from Beyond, and that Beyond is trying to draw us back to itself. It was his way of saying that we sense that something is missing. Human beings are desires for God. Graham Green’s novel, The End of the Affair, expresses the belief that human love, which cannot satisfy the universal inner longing, is in some arcane way a search for God.

Not every truth needs to be told.

There are times when one realizes that one has taken the wrong road.

We can confuse ponderous words with weighty thoughts.

I have a specifically Christian conception of reality, a biblical view. This leads me to agree with something Dostoyevsky said about how one cannot think adequately about man without reference to God. Indeed, God is the explanation of everything; leave out God and, as I see it, you leave everything unexplained.

I think the ultimate meaning of life is found in Jesus’ words: “Be merciful just as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). Though it is fractured by every sort of strife, God’s mercy fills the earth. Psalm 33:5: “The earth is full of the steadfast mercy of the Lord.”

I think our greatest fear is our deepest desire: to love and to be loved.

Edith Stein said that “God is truth, and all who seek truth seek God, whether this is clear to them or not.”

Edith Stein also said: “I am coming to the conclusion that, from God’s point of view, there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s Divine Providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.”

Is Edith Stein right? Is there more to life than randomness? Is our life not haphazard? Was the whole really planned and thought out? Can the puzzling pieces of my life fit into a sensible and purposeful pattern? Is it true of every created person that “you were set apart from eternity and of old before the earth was made”? (Prov.8:23). Do our lives have a plot? Is there a narrative structure to it?

A Hasidic Rabbi named Israel Baal Shen-Tov said that “God made human beings because he loves stories.”

“What is truth?” (Pontius Pilate, John 18:38)

Truth is a serious matter. Truth is the pathway to happiness and freedom. The Book of Sirach tells us that all our human misery comes from mistaking where our true satisfaction lies (cf. Sirach 15:16-17), and there are Jesus’ words “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).


Again it is stern November— “no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds—November!” (Thomas Hood). The aged year is near its end; proud Winter is close at hand.

“They come! The merry months of beauty, song, and flowers. They come! The gladsome months.” (William Motherwell, “The Merry Summer Months”)

A new summer has begun. We have the gift of another summer, when life is at the apex.

Life as we know it is inextricable from change. Nothing stays still. Everything that has its beginning on earth must someday come to an end; all flesh is grass. As we all come to know, no happiness lasts. There is the problem of “beauty that must die” (G.M. Hopkins, “The Leaden Echo”).There is no uninterrupted joy. Life goes on, closing over happiness as readily as it moves to ease sorrow. As Robert Frost said, “I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” To accept life is to accept change and loss.


Isaiah prophesied during the eighth century B.C. He is said to be the prophet who brings out the eloquence in God (“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (Isa.54:10).