By Fr David ORourke

Make Room for the Future

February 6, 2021
Column: Point of View

We are all wondering where we are going to go from here. New President, new administration, Covid response apparently working somewhat. We do have that sense that finally, even with the terrible projections, we may actually be “going” somewhere. And I have been thinking of that. Wondering what it is going to require of me.

The other night I was in the church hall. It was a mess. Getting rid of the past—and ours has been around for a long time—is messy. Bagging, boxing, barreling, sweeping for two to three hours did make a difference. But I was over there for more than cleaning up. During these past months the realization kept coming to me that we are doing more—and without realizing it—than catching up and cleaning up. Like it or not, realize it or not, we are getting ready for the future. And that is what I want to talk about. Not just getting ready for the future, but making room for the future. Even welcoming it. And they’re not the same. They are very different.

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Making room for the future. Those could just be words, but in my case they actually have been fundamental life experiences. To explain. I was just a kid—eight years old—when we entered into World War II. So I didn’t have to get ready for anything—it landed on me without any explanation. And it left me living alone, moving from a goofy chaos to silence. My four brothers and their friends went off to war. And my mom and dad each disappeared into their own isolated worlds of silent fear. And I was just there—alone and learning to cope on my own. And, looking back, I think I made a rather successful job and profession of it.

Afterwards, there was some catching up. But what came out of nowhere after the end of the War was this huge forward leap—in all areas—to get ready for the future. I want to describe it briefly, but only to serve as an example for us now. Because I think that our job now—a really huge cultural, religious, social and economic job—is to begin to figure out how you get ready for a future you know you do not, and cannot, get a hold on. We can’t catch up. We don’t know what it means to get things going again. And there is no longer much of a past to recapture for those who want to do that. The closest I can come to putting things in words is to think of making room for a future. I think of welcoming the future. How do you welcome a future when you don’t have any real idea what it will look and act like and how it will treat you.

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This is not new. We’ve been through it before. The years after World War II were marked by the greatest changes in the history of the country probably since the Civil War. And I am a product of them so I can describe what it was like. But these are personal views, no more than that. Personal views, but from a time when so much of what we studied and looked into was that was going on in the country. So to summarize a bit. After WWII what was it like?

Family patterns changed radically. The age of marriage dropped from the early 30s to the early 20s. The percentage of married people went way up. The age for having a first kid dropped from early 30s to low 20s. The size of families went way up. And in response we built more public and Catholic schools; more hospitals; more new parishes and churches; more roads, big bridges and highways; more colleges, more police departments than at any time in the history of the country. And it turned out that, statistically, it was also the most aberrant generation in the history of the country. Ten years later Americans went back to smaller and later numbers. Building your country with an aberrant generation as the guide doesn’t seem too clever.

What can we do?

My point is that, no matter what we might plan to do, our plans will inevitably be much too small, too locked in where we are now which also means where we were when life shut down. So what can we do? One man’s view. See our job, our life, the role of our Church to be to make room for a future—not knowing what that means—but knowing whatever that means it will come rolling down the road unasked, uncharted, and probably untrusting of us and maybe of anyone else.

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One big change that affected us, but which most of us overlook. The Catholic young men who went off to the War came from parishes and families that in the 1930s were seen as Polish, and German, and Italian, and Czech, and Irish. You married inside “your” groups. But in the war these guys served alongside and lived alongside each other day in and day out. And then came home and married each other’s sisters. What we’re living through now is going to change us—big time. I have no idea how. But whatever it is will be ours to cope with

Fr. David O’Rourke, OP, is pastor at the historic Our Lady of Mercy parish in Point Richmond, an accomplished artist, gardener, translator, author, lecturer, family counselor... MORE »

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