When I was in high school I spent a fair bit of time around the two nuns who helped out with the youth group at the local parish. Now, in my younger days I was extremely conservative and the good Sisters of the parish were, well, rather progressive. You might say they were 1970s-style Kumbaya and I was 1570s-style Kyrie Eleison. They were Old School-turned-New School while I was New School-turned-Old School.
But here’s the thing: We were never adversarial, hostile, mistrusting, or unpleasant toward each other. In fact, we delighted in each other. In a way, we were like different generations of one family who, no matter the differences or disagreements, always know that they are loved and that they can count on each other in a moment of difficulty. We were family and friends. We were a family of friends.
Together with my best friends, Doly Blankenhagen and Danny Bishop, I would debate and argue with the good Sisters, but we would also hang out together at the Pizza Hut on the edge of town, or take road trips to Kansas City to see the museums, or collect items for the local food pantry. Though I haven’t seen her in 25 years, I still feel a bond of respect and affection for Sr. Colleen McGinnity, BVM. When I was discerning my vocation and preparing to enter seminary, she gave me sage advice, sincere encouragement, and a no-nonsense, unsentimental talk about her experience in the convent. I’m not sure I ever thanked her for that — maybe one day I will. I’m sure we’d still disagree energetically on some topics, but I’m also sure we’d laugh at ourselves and rejoice in each other.
When I was young — still a teenager passionately debating Sr. Colleen — the two greatest inspirations for my priestly vocation were a couple of seemingly different archbishops, both holy men who paid dearly for their commitment to conscience: Marcel Lefebvre (who was excommunicated) and Oscar Romero (who was assassinated). To me they are both saints, even if they’re not recognized as such, for there is nothing dishonorable in being excommunicated for the sake of conscience and there is nothing more honorable than dying for the sake of conscience.
To me, tradition and progress are not enemies. They support each other. They keep each other in check. They force each other to be honest. They bring out the best in each other. That’s how it is with family when love is both a shared starting place and a common destination.
August 25, 2017