Archived Letters from Interim Director Fr. Howell, SJ

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Posted by Patrick J. Howell, S.J. on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 4:21 PM PST

November is the month that we remember the dead—all our beloved friends and family members who have gone on before us.  As I grow older, that great cloud of witnesses—people I have known and loved—grows larger and larger.  Just this last month I conducted three funerals or memorials.  I was asked to lead two others, but was otherwise impeded.  Gary Chamberlain taught in theology/religious studies for over thirty years; Marylou Wyse taught counseling in the College of Education and was Graduate Dean.  And we commemorated Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, a great friend of Seattle University, and an inspirational witness to peace and justice.

All these events and the falling of golden leaves remind me of Shakespeare’s Sonnet (73):

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

But the melancholic bard concludes with a stirring reminder that in our diminishment our love may grow even stronger:   “To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

We can cling nostalgically to the past, or we can move forward in love and fond remembrance to collaborate with God in the building of the Kingdom, that is, a society founded on peace and justice, dedicated to care for the least, the lost, and the last.

November is also, of course, the month of Thanksgiving.  Successful people are grateful people.  They know that whatever they have accomplished, whatever in life they have enjoyed, has been occasioned by the generosity, hard work and sacrifice of many, many others.

So let us go forward together—with grateful hearts—as we celebrate another year of both sorrow and abundance.

Patrick Howell, S.J., interim director
Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture