In my case, it was a repast 48 years in the making.
A few in the crowd had been waiting a bit longer. But for every one of us, it had been at least 45 years since we’d shared a meal.
Despite the gap, there was great joy in the gathering: Twenty graybeards, who remember (more or less fondly) their long-ago high school years spent in community at St. Henry’s Prep Seminary.
A lot of life had flowed past, we realized – as we toasted the memory of schoolmates who no longer walk among us. And a lot of shared memories remain seared in our minds, recounted in fantastic tales told of the days we spent at SHP. (Who knows? A few of those stories might actually be true!)
But the more time I spent in the company of my ol’ mates this weekend, the more I realized that “nostalgia” didn’t fully explain our desire to come back together. We wanted to examine the “gap” as well: How exactly had we spent our time apart? What “treasure” captured our hearts? What life choices – good or bad – had we made over the past 40+ years?
It’s a particular sort of blessing, I think, to have just such people in one’s life: those who knew you well, in an everyday sort of way, many many years ago. And who are willing to share, honestly, what “everyday” now looks like in their lives.
Not one of the twenty graybeards I encountered this weekend claimed to have had anything like a perfect life. Rather, we all admitted to a variety of ups-and-down, both customary and peculiar. And permeating every life-story: an experience of mercy – abundant, unmerited mercy, poured out like a balm…primarily by the holy people God had placed in our lives in the time since those school days we’d once shared.
Mercy, then: Living together for four years at SHP, we’d all had to learn how to forgive each other in an everyday sort of way.
And mercy, today: We now see clearly how this same grace has become a soul-sustaining gift throughout our lives.
Not everyone is so blessed by his (or her) high school experience, I know – and that’s really a shame. For many, those years are instead steeped in spite or judgmentalism – the currency of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
What a profound joy, then, to realize Who’d been at table with us…as we broke bread during our SHP Sinner Dinners over the past couple of days. The Pharisees’ accusation in Sunday’s gospel passage makes it clear:
“This man [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.