I would like to share with you something. It’s called An Autobiography in Five Short Paragraph’s and I goes like this:
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in. I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down a different street.
In five short paragraphs, the author of this clever piece describes the growth and maturing process that most of us go through. We see how we move from feeling like we are “stuck in a hole” and unable to get out—blaming everyone but ourselves, to learning from our mistakes, and finally having the wisdom and courage to choose a new path: “I walk down a different street.”
Growing up, learning, maturing, stepping outside ourselves, seeing how life’s experiences have changed us. All of these themes are part of our celebration this afternoon. Because, in the end, although we are remembering the fiftieth anniversary of SS Coleman-John Neumann School, we are really celebrating the gift—the miracle—- of our transformation and acknowledging the significance of what it means to have been a part of the Coleman-Neumann experience. And this school, founded on the principles of our Catholic Faith—-founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, has played a key part in making us who we are today.
And it isn’t the building exactly, although the building right now holds many of the memories for us, it’s the people. It’s picking up a photograph taken in the late sixties or mid-eighties, or whenever, and seeing ourselves when we were younger, thinner, or with more hair. It’s recalling an innocence that perhaps we’ve lost and wish we had back again. We see in that picture those who mentored us, who maybe are no longer with us; we see a teacher who gave us a hard time “back then,” that we wish was here now so we could thank them, because it all makes sense now; and we realize that we are better persons as a result of the opportunity to grow.
Each year, on November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. That Solemnity is not about focusing on holy people who make us feel bad about ourselves because we think we can never measure up to their level of holiness. No. That day we remember we are all part of a great pilgrimage of faith. We realize that those who have gone before us—those holy men and women who struggled just like we do—are still part of us and they are cheering us on, encouraging us to hang in there and live a life of hopefulness. The Communion of Saints says that we are never alone. We remain forever a part of a huge God-given pilgrimage. And so, it is with our SS Coleman-John Neumann experience. Part of our pilgrimage of faith was spent here in this school trying to understand who we were and where we were going.
We are here today specifically to be re-united with our fifty years past at SS Coleman-John Neumann and to acknowledge our present. We are also here with our future, knowing that we have journeyed together and supported one another along the way. We see that as we are getting older we are made fruitful in the legacies we have left others, and our future is redeemed by those who have gone before us.
Today, the image of the Good Shepherd fills our imaginations: Jesus going out of his way to take care of us, rescuing us from the trouble we seem to be attracted to from time to time. This same Jesus has tried to take care of us our whole lives. He was with us in our younger days and He made sure that our life experiences would offer us an opportunity to become new persons.
We all know the Prayer of St Francis. It was written by Sebastian Temple just around the time of the founding of this school. It is one of those hymns that has withstood the test of time. You might have a fond memory of it being played by some guitar group, maybe here when you were students of SS Coleman-John Neumann School. That third verse says it all for us today: “O master grant that I may never seek, So much to be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love with all my soul.”
This is what we were taught by those teachers who loved their faith so much and encouraged us on this great pilgrimage. The legacy continues. We see our children and our grandchildren walk the same halls that we did and we give thanks to God for allowing this place to exist. God bless our school. May the glow of its light shine for years to come.