According to the Psalmist, “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong” (Ps 90:10). If that is so, then I have already lived an extra ten years on borrowed time. Popular wisdom would have us believe that the best years of one’s life, the most productive, are when he or she is at the peak of his/her physical strength and mental acumen. I recently stumbled on the contrary belief that set me to wondering. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
I have lived sixty of my ninety years as a priest of the Society of Jesus, which have surprisingly, maybe better said “providentially,” fallen into three twenty year segments: in the academic apostolate of our schools, in pastoral ministry on campus and in parishes, both rural and inner city, and in the typical Jesuit work of directing retreats, not preached to a group but one on one. If I were to be asked which of these, in retrospect, were the most beneficial to me personally, and in my judgment the most profitable for those whom I served, I would say my ministry of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I say so because I think that they have been the time of my own most significant growth in the Spirit and that the Lord has used me to facilitate the spiritual growth of others entrusted to my care in a directed retreat. He has saved the best third of my life to the last, the ministry of what matter most.
Some years ago a retreatant wrote me a note after she returned home in which she said: “Your work at the Spirituality Center is so very important, for you are enabling people to enter into silence long enough to hear the divine Voice. There is nothing more necessary or more valuable.” I am long past my prime, but I try to keep on going because I have not yet been forced to grow silent over the “things that matter most.”