Life is a pilgrimage

Don Novello, the comedian who created the character Father Guido Sarducci, had a great routine called the “Five-Minute University.” 

His idea was that for $20, he could teach you in five minutes everything you would remember from your college classes five years after you graduated. 

Economics? His entire course would be the phrase “supply and demand.” 

Philosophy? “I think, therefore I am.” 

Theology? “Where is God?” is the question. He would give you the answer: “God is everywhere.” 

It was a funny bit that anybody a few years out of college could chuckle at. I took a semester of calculus in college, and five minutes after the final I couldn’t tell you what calculus is or what it calculated. But I passed. 

This month marks the 40th anniversary of my graduation from Fairfield University, a Jesuit college in Connecticut. Class of 1971, Bachelor of Arts in history with a minor in philosophy and theology. It was so long ago that my degree is written in Latin. 

My classmates will be gathering to celebrate their survival at a reunion weekend on campus. They’ll be dumped in with others marking a zero-year anniversary of their undergraduate years. 

I won’t be there, conveniently called away that weekend on business. It’s for the best. I prefer to keep my college buddies frozen forever at that age when we knew everything and could do anything. I don’t want to see them past the bend in the road. And they surely don’t need to see what used to be me. 

About seven months after I graduated from Fairfield, I was sitting in a little German restaurant in Huntington, Ind. I was hundreds of miles away from home, at my first job. From a couple of thousand friends and acquaintances from the old neighborhood and college, I was down to only a handful of local souls that I knew by name. 

I remember so clearly sitting alone in that restaurant, treating myself to schnitzel, trying to remember where I had been on that day exactly a year before — and if I could ever have imagined then where I found myself now. 

I started to giggle, picturing a long-haired leaping gnome back at a Connecticut campus blissfully oblivious of a Hoosier future only months away. 

I’ve had that experience a thousand times in the four decades since then. It’s almost the direct opposite of déjà vu. It’s being in the present, remembering the past, and trying to figure out how I got from Point A to Point B. It’s the present that suddenly seems unfamiliar. 

It’s not nostalgia for the past. Rather, it’s trying to figure out where I am on the pilgrimage. And how I got there. And what I’m supposed to be about. 

Pilgrimage is an old Catholic image. It’s not just the pilgrim’s journey to a shrine or the Holy Land; it’s the image of life itself, moving through each day to somewhere, from somewhere. 

Blessed Cardinal John Newman delighted in that image, seeing it as our way to understand the providence of God in our lives as the years go by. “God has created me to do Him some definite service,” he wrote. “I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next … .He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.” 

It’s a comfort to realize I may not have a clue, but he knows what he is about. 

In absentia, I offer greetings and felicitations to the Fairfield University Class of 1971. Lift a tall one for me. We may not look like much, but the pilgrimage still goes on. 

And though I am not as certain that “I think, therefore I am” sums up much of anything, the last four decades have done nothing but confirm that God is everywhere. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.