Modern Ignatian Spirituality offers programs to assist people facing the next chapters of their life. Participants willingly grapple with what God is calling them to do in their next phase of earthly existence. It is particularly relevant for retirees. A hundred years ago, life expectancy was around fifty years and very few people—less than one percent of the population—got to retire. Today, many people retire earlier and live longer than in past ages so retirement can easily last 25-30 years. Retirees in their fifties or sixties want to spend the autumn of their being doing meaningful things. The next chapters concept can help.
But it’s not just for retirees. Young people are marrying at older ages. When I was first ordained, most couples were about 22 or 23 years old on their wedding day; now brides and grooms are closer to thirty. The time between graduation and settling down with a spouse and/or family has accelerated from around zero to ten years. It, too, is a segmented period of time for individuals to prayerfully reflect upon what God is calling them to be. This stage is often associated with travel. Of course, travel is symbolic of search and many young people want to view the wonders of creation as they reflectively ponder their calling. Another common time for next chapters contemplation surrounds the years of empty-nesting, especially for women. When her youngest child goes off to college or otherwise moves out, motherhood can take a sharp turn or twist, and she may very well benefit from reflecting upon God’s new mission for her while beginning the next stage in her creation.
When reading a book and coming to the end of a chapter, it is an appropriate juncture to consider a break, mark our place, set down the book, allow the information to soak in, and do something different for a while, before picking it up again and flipping the page to continue onward. I turned sixty-two last month. Many of my peers retired a decade ago though most of them missed the on-the-go lifestyle and found other work or volunteer positions. As a diocesan priest, I can retire from a diocesan assignment when I am seventy. I suspect that I will remain here at Saint Charles Parish as the pastor until then, though that is not my decision to make. If I retire in eight years, I would like to stay active in a priestly role as long as I am physically and mentally able and effective. I am particularly interested in helping the church in areas where she can make the most positive impact in the lives of people: education, social outreach ministries, spiritual direction and retreats. At least in my experience, these are the areas of highest positive impact.
I have been blessed in each of my parish assignments to be associated with a parish school, or in the inner city a multi-parish school. I have also had the privilege of helping at area high schools run by Jesuits, Sisters of Saint Joseph, and the Community of Notre Dame de Sion, as well as serving on boards at Rockhurst and Avila Universities. Kansas City is immensely blessed to have these educational centers guided by amazing leaders with tremendous vision. Similarly, the heartland has a big heart for reaching out to less fortunate neighbors. Our religious social agencies understand that where the need is the greatest, our response should be strongest. Collaborative efforts of charitable people on either side of the Kansas-Missouri line are exemplar. In recent years, especially since being at Saint Charles Parish, I have come to witness the importance of engaging with individuals, couples, families, groups of friends, and other groups that share commonalities, to spend quality time in spiritual development.
As I prepare for the next chapter of my life, I encourage you to think about the next chapter of yours. If I can be of any assistance to you in discerning what God is calling you to do next, I would be glad to do so. You can contact me at email@example.com.