In February, winter gifted us with an especially powerful snowstorm dropping fourteen inches in one day. At twilight, I put on some snowshoes and walked around the property. It was utterly quiet. At first I only heard the crunching of the snowshoes. Then a chickadee broke the silence. As I approached our small stream, mostly covered with ice and snow, I could hear the gentle flow of water. I thought of how the stream would turn to a raging torrent if we had a quick change of temperature and a fast melt-off. But, for now, everything was in slow motion. The snow cover muffled even the sound of cars passing on the road. You can’t walk very fast with snowshoes. As I continued my walk, my thoughts slowed also.
I recalled a recent IVC meeting in Baltimore when I took the opportunity to come early and visit friends. One friend is a former Jesuit who started a small summer program in Baltimore for boys from the inner city in the 1960s. It is called the “Higher Achievement Program.” That same program continues in various Jesuit schools today. For example, over thirty percent of the present students at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City are boys who participated in this program. It made me think of how a small effort can lead to amazing things. Seeing my friend again, who is now 87, ignited my memory of that time and place and the boys we taught. My friend continues to inspire me today.
I continued my snowshoe walk. There is a line of blue spruce trees my wife and I planted years ago, quite high now with snow clinging to their branches, rooted like obedient sentinels by the side of the road. I came to our apple trees, now bare except for a few decaying apples, and recalled their surprising, prodigious bounty last fall. Standing there before those trees, I thought of a line in an article by Elizabeth Johnson in the Feb. 7th issue of Commonweal on the Ecological Vocation. “From the beginning, the universe was seeded with promise pregnant with surprise.” In her article, however, she contrasts this God gift with the degradation and huge species destruction we humans have caused in recent history. “Social injustice and ecological degradation are two sides of the same coin,” she states.
I finished my walk around our property. Teilhard De Chardin spoke of God being ahead of us as on a road, not somewhere in heaven above where we would be rescued from the material world. Rather God is more like beauty calling us to participate in preserving and furthering creation. I see Lent now as a way to deepen and strengthen my love of all creation through the Paschal Mystery. “Fat Tuesday” celebrations seem to me now an excellent way to inspire us as we undertake this journey. True, the challenges we face are immense, daunting even. But music, dancing, a sense of community can strengthen us for the path ahead. Pete Seeger gave us that example. Though the problems are overwhelming, with the help of the Spirit, I know that small efforts can lead to amazing things.
Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired. Jim is a former Jesuit who spent several years in the Society in studies and active in various apostolic works. He taught in a Jesuit high school and in a higher achievement program for children from the inner city and worked in prison ministry and at Nativity Mission Center in New York City. After leaving the Society, Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC in various positions. During this time he obtained a law degree. Before retiring he was director of special projects working on a national effort to assist immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers across the country. In this effort he helped develop a partnership with the Society of Jesus to create law fellowships in Jesuit and Catholic law schools. Jim and his wife were also “support people” for Jesuit volunteer communities in N.Y.C. for several years. After retirement Jim served on the Board of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and more recently he serves on the Board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. (IVC) Jim and his wife are active in their local town. Some of Jim’s favorite community efforts are playing traditional Irish music in a weekly session and helping run a monthly “coffee house.” The “session” raises money for a soup kitchen. The monthly coffee house brings free music to Walton.