Sixty is not the new forty. Sixty is sixty. The Psalmist (90:10) offers us three score years and ten, and I accept the terms of that deal. So this is my last decade then? After seventy, it’ll all be gravy, overtime, sudden death.
I think of my daughters reading this and shuddering, my wife too. But they know. My younger daughter invited me to walk the Camino of Santiago with her next year, prefacing the invitation with words that make me smile:
“You know, Dad, I love how you talk about the trips you took with Granddad before he died. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re going to die soon, but . . . ”
She knows what’s what. I gratefully accepted her invitation.
I took three trips with my own father in the last five years of his life: a cross-country trip via Amtrak, an Upper Midwest roots trip to visit his parents’ birthplaces and other family homes, and a Civil War battlefields trip. I am so deeply grateful that I had these opportunities, and that my father had a chance to check off some big items on his bucket list.
Since this is my last decade, it’s time to form my own bucket list, Catholic edition. Becoming Catholic three years ago has changed my outlook on most things. For starters, it makes it easy to accept being sixty. I no longer need to live forever, meaning that I don’t have to compensate for bad living with radical diet and exercise. I eat mostly vegetarian, I walk, that’s my commitment to good health. Who needs more? I am going to live forever—after maybe a few millennia in Purgatory.
Here’s my bucket list, so far. If I live through next June, I will have checked off the first four items, since my daughter and I are planning on these:
- Return to Rome and the Vatican. I was there in the early 1970s but not as a Catholic.
- Return to Assisi. Ditto.
- Return to Lourdes. Ditto.
- Walk the Camino de Santiago. This has been on my list since I realized that the Feast of St. James (Santiago) is my birthday, July 25. Originally, I planned to walk it so as to arrive on my 60th birthday, this July. But walking it with Marian will be better, a real grace.
- This side of the Atlantic there are Catholic pilgrimage sites I want to visit. Three I can see on a single swing: the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, NY; the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal; and St. Anne de Beaupré, north of Quebec City. Maybe I’ll invite Marian for 2013.
- Read all the great Catholic fiction. I am not focused enough to read the Summa or other dense works of theology. I’m sure I could work through them in college-level courses with the aid of a great professor, but I am past college age. Still, I can and want to read all of Graham Greene, Patrick O’Brien, Flannery O’Connor, Sigrid Undset, and Evelyn Waugh. I have already checked off all of Walker Percy. I want to read some individual novels for the first time (Diary of a Country Priest comes to mind) and all of The Lord of the Rings, again now that I’m a Catholic. Study The Divine Comedy. Throw in judicious amounts of Michael O’Brian. I’ll think of others.
- Get to know some of my favorite saints better, particularly Thomas More, Teresa of Avila, and André Bessette.
- Figure out what the hell’s going on with Communion & Liberation. I write this with tongue only half in cheek. I am a member of the Fraternity of CL. I lead School of Community in our parish and am in close touch with others at the regional level. I write occasionally for Traces, the CL magazine. My heart says yes, but sometimes my mind doesn’t have a clue what it’s all about. Still, I plan to follow.
- Get to the bottom of things, confession-wise. When I told my father I was becoming a Catholic, one of his first comments was, “There are a couple of things in my life I am deeply ashamed of, that I have never told anyone. Maybe on my death-bed . . . ” I know Dad said this because he associated Catholicism with confession and, though raised a Methodist, secretly admired serious Catholics. Now, I am reading the second volume in Undset’s Master of Hestviken tetralogy, and what is coming into clear focus is the unshriven sin in the heart of the protagonist, Olav Audunsson. What lies in my heart that I have not confessed? I must figure it out, or rather pray to have it shown to me.
- Figure out this too: how to teach religious education to a class full of fourth graders. I am now in my third year of Wednesday afternoon classes. The first year, I knew I was on a steep learning curve. The second year, I thought I had it figured out. This third year, I have not a clue. If I can’t teach the faith to ten-year-olds, what the heck do I know? We’ll try again today.
Thank God for this amazing Catholic life!