Tuesday, November 22, 2011
22 November: A Personal Reflection
On 22 November 1963, I was a freshman in high school seminary: St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois. I was studying to become a priest in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), hoping to become a missionary priest. Three years before, while still in grade school at St. Patrick's Parish in Peoria, Illinois, my class had staged our own version of the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates, as we learned that, for the first time ever, the United States might actually elect a Catholic to be president! Not everyone was a Kennedy supporter: even at home, my Dad was firmly behind Richard Nixon. After the election, Kennedy had won and then came that marvelous inaugural address! "Ask not what your country can do for you. . . ." What an exciting time!
1962: the year of the opening of the Council and the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and as a 12-year old, I watched with my Mom and Dad as President Kennedy showed those frightening photos of the missile launchers in Cuba and announced the naval blockade. If I could have enlisted in the Navy that night, I would have. The world was rapidly changing, and we wanted to be part of it.
In 1963, suddenly, things began to change in a negative direction, including the death of "good Pope John" and then the assassination of President Kennedy. Even though I was only 13, I made two scrapbooks that year, and I still have them: one on the President and one on the Pope. Suddenly, our generation had to start to grow up and face unpleasant realities. A new word, "Vietnam" replaced "French Indochina" in our news, and tensions increased in both our government and in our church. This would seem to build until the awful year of 1968: the year of the Tet Offensive, and the year of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. While those events would really steer our generation in many ways, the process really began with that shocking day, 48 years ago, in Dallas.
Ultimately, it's not helpful to wonder "what if" JFK hadn't been cut down. At the same time, it does seem opportune to see if we can recover some of the optimism and enthusiasm we all had for the Church and Country back then! Wouldn't it be wonderful too see and encourage the possibilities of the future, and not all of the things that keep us angry and divided?
RIP, President Kennedy. We're still here, still trying to live up to the potential of your inaugural challenge!