Father John R. Sheehan S.J. / National Chaplain
These days there is a lot of conversation about the future, short and long-term, touching on all aspects of life – how we run our schools, how we celebrate our sports, how we vote, how restaurants and churches are or are not allowed to open - all conversation about change – change we fear, change we want, change we don’t want to happen.I was born in New York City – Manhattan, Little Flower Hospital. That hospital is no longer there. I was baptized in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (which IS still there – although the Baptismal font has moved to the other end of the Church) in a Latin ritual which is no longer used. We had a tv set which was bigger than I was, with tubes and a screen that was perhaps 5 inches.I went to two different grammar schools – neither is still around, and one of them – the building isn’t even there any more. I grew up as a Roman Catholic with a ritual no longer used – the Pope who had been in office since 1939 died, and the new guy – John XXIII – invoked the Second Vatican Council and changed the Church in huge ways. I went to a Catholic High School where the boys wore coats and ties, the girls wore uniforms and the nuns wore habits with skirts that had 12 yards of material – in honor of the 12 apostles. NONE of those things still exist.I went to the University of Notre Dame – all male, bed check, all had to be in the dorms by midnight (even Seniors)coats and ties for dinner, smoking not allowed on campus – I could go on but many things have changed from that day to this. I have lived and worked in NY and there are times I feel the presence of ghosts – buildings that used to be there and aren’t – I remember when 5th Avenue was a two-way Street, when 6th Avenue was renamed, when there were double decker buses in the city. All changed. I remember when I could get a standing room ticket for a Broadway play for $10. And on and on.I wander down this road of memories because it reminds me of ongoing talking heads going on about “the new normal,” trying to look into their several crystal balls to see what the future was going to be like in New York in the future. One person said something about “after COVID” and he was immediately jumped on by others, who argued that we will never be “after” COVID any more than we are “after” the regular flu or other recurring diseases.I suspect if you look at your own life, your own history, the world you were born into had changed a whole lot. My father was born in 1902, enlisted in the First World War (he wasn’t old enough but he was large, so they never questioned him. His mother dragged him back.) and lived to see men walking on the moon and worked in television for close to 40 years. Most of the technology in his life had not been invented when he was born, or even went to college. And our group is particularly aware of change, because most of our membership knows a change personally more impactful than many of those I have earlier mentioned – the time when sight was lost or diminished. THAT is a change that influences not just the person to whom it happens but family and friends all around – and that change also impacts every other element I mentioned – how you learn, how you communicate, how you travel, every part of your life has somehow changed. And each and every member has dealt with that, and learned from that, and overcome that.If we are honest, we realize that change has always been a part of our lives. There is no such thing as “normal” because things are always changing. The change may not always be as quick as we are experiencing as a society, but in our lives change can sometimes be even faster: a stroke, a car accident, a fire, a lottery ticket that hits the jackpot (remember, change does not automatically mean bad, it just means different). We are more used to slower change – one day you step on a scale and oops. You open the fridge and learn it has stopped working again. But change is a part of life.So I am now conscious of telling people NOT to worry about what the new normal might mean. Now we can worry when politicians have different visions of what the future should be like, and some visions are more or less attractive than others. Not worrying does not mean not caring, or not wanting for a particular kind of normal, or abandoning the responsibility to work to help make that vision into a reality. But change can be good or bad or just change, and the reality – the inevitability – of change is not something that should make us anxious.Because – I can’t resist – the one constant in change is that God will be a part of it. FIGIAT – Find God In All Things. The one thing I CAN be sure of is that WHATEVER happens, God will be there if we are willing to look for Him, to work with Him. THAT is the constant in the midst of constant change.Now there is no guarantee that you will love the “new normal.” Fair enough. We are always free to make the best of things that we can, to work to change what we don’t like, to counteract one change with other changes that we make. We are never ever completely free. We have physical limitations (with great sadness I acknowledge that at this point in my life I will never be a ballet dancer) – we have economic limitations (unless that Lottery ticket DOES come through) – we have responsibilities that limit how and what we can change. (“My wife and I have decided we don’t want to have children. We’re going to tell them tonight at supper.”)Jesus was one of the great bringers of change in the history of the world. Throughout his time He tried repeatedly to warn His followers that their futures would be beyond their imagination. He was constantly telling them that “the Kingdom of God is like” something or other. That there will be tomorrow is not really a matter of faith. Unless and until God calls us home, there WILL be a tomorrow. What it might be like? Ah that is another question entirely and one I cannot possible answer for myself, much less for you. But – and I know I am repeating myself – I DO know that God will most definitely be a part of it, and if we look for Him, He will be there for us.The old prayer comes to mind – you know, the one about the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference. Over a century old but still pretty good.Oh -and one other thing that still should not change – let us continue to pray for one another.
Fr. John R. Sheehan, SJ