That 'Bucket List'

This past spring I went to a few ordinations, as well as a few graduations. Once you get beyond the long speeches or the lengthy Masses, these are good moments for reflection. There is excitement and enthusiasm as these young people have their lives ahead of them.

Most priests have been to more ordinations than they can count. It makes us nostalgic to think back a year, a decade or multiple decades to our own. The ritual has not changed much. The only thing that has changed is the names of those being ordained and maybe to whom they are pledging obedience.

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When priests are ordained, they wonder where this crossroad will lead them. The Crosiers photo

This year I was really touched as I attended ordinations of young men whom I had gotten to know through the years of their formation since I was both their parish supervisor and/or teacher at the seminary.

Ordinations make me look back on my 30-plus years and ask myself questions. For what was I hoping? For what did I yearn? At these crossroads of life, whether graduations, ordinations or weddings, each person probably envisions hopes and dreams for the future. People imagine where this turning point will take them. We priests make the turn, become ordained, wonder and hope.

Part of me wishes I had captured these moments by keeping a diary of my journey, something that has never been my practice, although a bigger part of me is glad I did not take notes. We all have unfulfilled hopes, so it might be best not to look back and remember what we hoped for and see how much has been unrealized; it could be depressing. Maybe, therefore, it is always best to concentrate on what you have accomplished and what you would like to do in the future.

Even though there is a danger in looking back, sometimes we have to. Time marches on. The further we are down our journey of life, slowly but surely, there is more road in our rear-view mirror than there is through our front windshield. It makes you realize that you should not leave the road behind you empty.

I have always enjoyed traveling, so a commitment I made years ago was to travel now. If I ever start debating with myself “should I or shouldn’t I go,” I often end up asking myself if I will regret doing it or regret not doing it. I know the answer just from the asking of the question. I default to the slogan Nike made famous: “Just do it.” Soon it is another memory to add to the rear view.

A colleague of mine, years ago, was debating whether to go for her Ph.D. A church employee in her mid-30s, she was asking herself if, as a wife, mother and full-time employee with many other commitments, she really wanted to tackle an advanced degree. What motivated her to go forward was looking into the front windshield and realizing that, if she waited 10 years, she would be in her mid-40s and still a wife and mother with a full time job and other commitments. She thought, “If I want more out of life, I need to put more into life. Do I want to look back and see what I have accomplished or look back and see what I did not do but wanted to do?” Now, in her mid-60s, she has had that Ph.D. for nearly two decades.

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“Bucket List” travels can include sites such as the Sanctuary of Loyola in the Basque region of Spain. It was built over the birthplace of St. Ignatius Loyola. Shutterstock photo

We never know what tomorrow will bring. So, if I have time and resources — and while I still have the energy, the legs to walk, and health — it is much more enjoyable to talk about places I have been, than about places I only wish I had been. Years from now, I can look back and (if I still have my memory) reminiscence, leafing through travel magazines, recalling my travels and not wallowing in disappointment that I never went.

Having memories in the rear-view mirror of the joy of having been there energizes us to want to go further and create more memories of more places. Looking backward and forward at the landscape, at where we have been and where we still want to go, keeps us moving. The worst-case scenario is having no vision of where to go and stalling out and not moving forward. Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of physics make for a good philosophy, “an object in motion stays in motion, until acted upon by a stronger force.” The more we do, the more we want to do, the more we learn, the more we want to learn, etc. We just keep moving forward, creating more memories.

This philosophy is good to take with us as we progress into having more years of ministry behind us than before us. We all know people for whom retiring is the beginning of the end for them. They did not have a plan to keep moving. The Newtonian stronger force that stopped them was probably their own lack of vision or maybe years of not creating enough memories to keep them moving. If they look back and see only a vast emptiness, it is likely that their future will be the same.

Others look at retirement as an open canvas to do the things that work did not allow them to do. Their vista of retirement reveals a whole new landscape. Their bucket list, which has been germinating for years and includes all the “hope to do when I have time” items, may now be coming to fruition.

This “hope list” obviously is fluid. The things I hoped for at ordination, or even 15 years ago, are probably different than the things for which I hope now. I don’t know — remember I did not journal them, so they are not written down. Ministry forms us, and we learn more about ourselves and therefore have different hopes.

I know priests who are preparing for that moment when their ministry finds them retired. These priests, who already can look back and see many accomplishments, are looking forward to even more. Their ‘to do’ items are not things they imagined at ordination, but things they have come to see as a culminating finish to a wonderful journey in ministry. These priests are “objects in motion staying in motion.”

One priest who, during his years of ministry, was invited to give talks to various groups and days of recollection, wishes to do parish retreats. It will keep his life centered on parish ministry, his first love, as well as keep him active in preaching.

Another gentleman, who always had a contemplative side though his personality seems anything but that, recently got himself certified as a spiritual director and now works with people from all walks of life, helping them in their journey of faith. Another priest, who has always been a man of sound wisdom, is working to become a “life coach” for younger priests, helping them with ministry today, knowing that ministry today has different questions and answers than the Q&A from yesterday.

For me, I have always wanted to learn more about the spiritual classics. It is something I felt missing in my academic formation, so I dream immersing myself in it. Maybe I can blend my longing for travel and my hope to learn the classics and travel to Avila or Loyola or Clairvaux. TP 

FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese.