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In spite of cultural despair, each subsequent generation brings the hope of new hope, a new life

  The lamp burns to my left, and it not only provides me enough light by which to write this, but it also throws soothing shadows on the walls of this room, on the bookshelf and on the desk itself. The lamp was purchased several years ago at the gift shop at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. It’s the same style lamp you see burning in the church there. The flame of the lamp is strong and full and steady.

   I’ve been up since 3 a.m., and now, 70 minutes later, I have prayed Vigils, read the daily section of “The Rule of St. Benedict,” prayed lectiodivinaand stepped outside. I stood on the patio, a parka pulled around me, the hood up over my head, my ungloved hands jammed down deep into the pockets, snow whirling around my bare ankles listening to the night.

   I considered walking out onto the freshly fallen snow, but thought better of it; I didn’t want to vandalize the virgin shroud of snow with my foot prints. No, I was content to stand there and hear the pings of a distant wind chime and feel the cold fresh air fill my lungs.

   What does Wisdom say? “For the spirit of the Lord fills the world,” (Wisdom 1:7) and “For your imperishable spirit is in all things” (Wisdom 12:1). That is especially so in the dead of night. Wisdom, she is very wise.

   The older I grow the more precious are the early hours. As a young man I would have protested against my current schedule with vehemence. I would have thought such a schedule absurd.

   Nothing stays the same.

   At my right hand is a cup of White Christmas coffee. Not only has night vigils become a habit in my old age, so now has coffee. Didn’t touch it until a year ago. Now, I look forward to it.

   More and more I find myself saying this to my wife, friends and colleagues: “I’m glad I’m 65-years old.” Not that I enjoy looking at myself in the mirror and delight in wondering what happened to the body that once belonged to a young man who ran the 110 high hurdles and swam the 400 individual medley; not that I revel in the ailments that accompany decay.

   Rather, when I say that I’m glad to be 65-years old, what I means is that I’m glad I won’t be around long enough to witness and experience what seems to be the collapse of our culture. Good-bye and good riddance, so to speak!

   I emphasize the word “seems.”

   What disturbs me about saying “I’m glad I’m 65-years old,” however, is that I should know better; such an attitude is not Christian.

   Jesus the Christ has redeemed the world through his Paschal Mystery. Jesus has ushered in the Kingdom of God. The game is actually over; all we’re doing is waiting for the inevitable fulfilment. God is still in charge.

   Yet, when I look about me, I have a hard time swallowing that notion; hence, my repeating the line in the first place.

    I wonder about my dad who recently turned 88. If I, born in 1954, am having trouble absorbing the cultural changes swirling all about me, what must he be experiencing? He was born in 1930. His worldview was formed by two great events: The Great Depression and World War II. The world that formed him is gone.

   The world that formed me is nearly gone.

   But you know what? Every generation has experienced that same sentiment throughout the ages. What I’m experiencing is nothing new. Again the wisdom of the Scripture: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; nothing is new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

   One of the perks of teaching 14-18-year olds is that they keep you honest. The very same students that drive me to say “I’m glad I’m 65-years old,” are the same students that make me pause and reconsider my position. It’s a love/disdain relationship, and I’m happy to report that love for them tips the scales over disdain.

   So the battle against despair and self-pity will rage on. I’ll rise again tomorrow morning and once again pray for with God, seek meaning amidst mystery and forge hope from the furnace of doubt. Do I really have any other choice?

   The furnace just clicked on, and the flame of the lamp flickers. Time to get ready for school.

  Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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