Dear Parishioners and Friends,
My little trip to Buffalo and the Berkshires last weekend filled me with a host of images and memories. In Buffalo I attended my high school’s graduation exercises in which 38 young men received their diplomas. Back in 1972, there were over 200 graduates – and the tuition was proportionally less! I have to give a lot of credit to the parents of those graduates for the sacrifices they made to send their sons to a private Catholic high school. Parents have to make a lot of sacrifices these days for the sake of their children. And the sacrifices and risks become greater every year.
The reunion with my classmates was a lot of fun, and it was great to spend time with some with whom I had little acquaintance during our years as students; it was as if we were meeting for the first time. Many of them are grandfathers now and are retired from their careers. My life’s path took a different direction, and I can’t help thinking about those lines from Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Frost spent much of his later life as a New Englander, and my trip to the Berkshires afforded me a taste of small-town New England life and the lives and works of two other notables from that region: Norman Rockwell and Daniel Chester French, both of whom lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This past Monday, May 30th, marked the centennial of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. During my stay in Lenox, I had the opportunity to visit Chesterwood, the home of French, who sculpted the imposing seated figure of Abraham Lincoln inside the memorial. There, I saw the studio where he created his magnum opus of Lincoln where his six-foot plaster model resides. It was used by the team of six Italian brothers who took the model and enlarged it in marble to its present 19 feet. I also visited the wonderful Norman Rockwell museum where there is a special exhibit on paintings, prints and photos dedicated to the 16th President.
I found one of the pieces in the exhibit particularly moving: the cover illustration for The New Yorker in October 2008 by the artist Istvan Banyai called “Set in Stone.” The picture shows the statue of President Lincoln with two small boys riding skateboards in front of it. If you look closely, you will notice that one boy is White, the other Black. Perhaps they are unaware of the painful history of race relations that has plagued our nation since its founding. They are just boys, happily playing together as friends. Another painting in the exhibition shows the renowned opera singer Marian Anderson performing in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in 1939. She had been denied the use of Constitution Hall because of her race, so First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in to make sure she would have a suitable venue for her recital. This event was dramatically portrayed in last week’s episode of The First Lady on Showtime.
Hovering over these last few paragraphs are the recent tragic events in Uvalde and Buffalo that took the lives of over 30 innocent people – most of them children – by young men with guns. Even Abraham Lincoln and three other presidents were killed with a firearm. Two others were wounded but survived. From Presidents to schoolchildren, no one is safe in America as long as guns remain part of our national fixation on violence. Do you suppose this will be the moment of change? I doubt it. But we cannot lose hope, and we must continue to speak out and condemn this blight on our nation’s soul.
Today is Pentecost Sunday which recalls a reawakening in the hearts of a small group of men who were living in a time of doubt, fear and uncertainty. Then the Spirit came to them and everything changed. They unlocked the doors and stepped out into a world which would never be the same because they had been changed. We must allow the Spirit to change us as well; for as the ancient Sequence for Pentecost says: “Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away: Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”
Blessings on your week ahead.
Fr. Tim Shreenan, O.F.M.