On the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe (Aug 14), patron of journalists among other things, I noted that my birthday — or “anniversaire” as they say here in Quebec — had arrived.
It’s the anniversary of being “dato alla luce” (literally: given to the light), as the Italian phrase goes. But enough linguistic poaching. I’m presently enjoying days of villa with my Jesuit brothers on a lake in the Laurentian Mountains west of Montreal. “Villa” is Jesuitese for our annual week of relaxation, usually accompanied by hikes, films, novels, and this year at least, paint-ball. Yes, a large group of late-20 and 30-something professed religious let their primal survival instincts loose in an epic game of urban warfare. But I digress. As my birthday often falls during our summer villa-week, I get plenty of fraternal feting and roasting (the two go hand-in-hand in notre petite compagnie). But it also is a pleasant reminder each year to take stock, as a good existential philosopher might do, of the horizons of my being.
All right, downgrade that. I’m less an existentialist than I’d thought, and probably less a philosopher. But as I begin the seventh year of Jesuit life, and the 38th year of human life, I realize more and more how much all is truly, at its most essential nature, a gift. Before a certain year in the late 1970s, I was not. Now I have probably lived half my life. In a few short decades hence, I will, again, not be, at least not in the corporeal form I presently enjoy. And during this time there is so much that has been granted freely, starting with the breath I breathe, the world I inhabit, the family and friends I love, and even the basic elements like colour, and smell and sound. “Tout est grace!”, as the little Therese said. I cannot but be overwhelmed by the fact that this life, now more and more swift in its passing, is less something of my making, and more a collaboration with the ministrations of grace. It’s also remarkable how the more I surrender, in all the facets that compose “self”, to the transforming action of God, the more I seem to receive. That’s the ultimate paradox of this existence.
So my prayer this day must be a blend of thanksgivings: for the human life I’ve been given and the Jesuit vocation that’s now given it form. For this, I can think of no greater words than a song penned by a 22-year-old named Robert Robinson in 1757, with lyrics recently adapted to give them an Ignatian twist. May it be likewise the prayer of all those I know and love, and of those who might read this post today.
Come thou fount of every blessing(Come Thou Font, by Robert Robinson, alt: Gregory Celio, SJ and Rob Van Alstyne, SJ)
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Calls for songs of loudest praise.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.
O, to grace, how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.
Take my freedom and my mem’ry,
Understanding, my whole will,
All I have in my possession
Are the gifts you have instilled.
Lord, to you, I make this off’ring
For your glory and your praise;
Do with me as you find pleasing,
Give me but your love and grace.