Fr. Leo Kline, SJ is the visionary behind the Second Fifty Program: Spiritual Dimensions of Later Life Issues. Fr. Leo credits his inspiration, in part, to exposure to the Hindu view of the Journey of Life. Teaching Theology 101 to incoming freshmen at Xavier University, he included Huston Smith’s The World Religions as a text, and in it, came to see this Hindu view. He contrasts the western, typical contemporary view of the journey (the proverbial “hill”; the foothill being birth, cresting at mid-life and the downward slope ending in death) with the Hindu view (ascending from the first stage/student, to the second stage/householder to the third stage/retirement).
Our task in the first stage/student is to learn, to have a mind receptive and open. In the second stage/householder, our task is to follow a vocation, often marriage, family and living out our role in community. The third stage/retirement (far from being the downward slope of the typical western view) continues the upward movement and its primary task is to “ponder meaning in the mystery of existence,” “to understand and discover who one is,” “to pay forward to others in need.” Thus Second Fifty enlightens us as we journey.
How fortunate we participants were at the first gathering of the current Second Fifty class, that we were there to witness the master being enlightened by one of his pupils. In the group was a man from India who shared that one of the main tasks of the retirement stage is renunciation. Not the kind that is self-defacing punishment but a gentle letting go of things no longer needed in the journey, to leave more for others, more goods, more tending, more time. This detachment to things no longer important, frees one to spend more time and thought on what is important.
A woman in our group from “the Banana Republic, Panama” shared her delight in having a decades-old question answered for her. “When I turned forty, I was a nurse here in this country and the staff came together and had black balloons, a sign that read ‘Over the Hill’ and even black cake. I was so confused and chalked it up to one of the cultural differences I just didn’t understand and was better off not questioning. But it was disturbing to me. And now Fr. Leo has answered for me what that conflict was. Being raised at the crossroads of commerce in Panama I had a more global view of aging and it did not resonate with the black balloons and rolling down a hill.”
Once again the insights gained in a few hours with this group made me so grateful to be a part of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. We in our second fifty gather together to “ponder our meaning;” we serve the poor “detaching ourselves from what is no longer important and giving to those in need;” we find God, and in the process discover who we are. “beloved!”
Thank you, IVC! Being part of IVC is an enlightening experience and it is so delightful to share the journey with men and women who have a view of aging that is grace-filled and grateful! Keep elevating your spirits to rise to the occasion of that glorious meeting with the one who calls you “Beloved!”
Linda Wihl is the Greater Cincinnati IVC Regional Director (or as some of the volunteers call her, “the matchmaker”). As the Executive Director of Making Sense of Language Arts, she is also a service site partner and sponsor. Her favorite title is “grandma!”