Meeting the Challenge in our Time

July 26, 2020

By Sister Pat Kenny

Those among us who heard President John F. Kennedy give his inaugural address probably remember several lines that held a particular meaning or had a poetic flair. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” “The torch has been passed to a new generation.” “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.” 

I was in my twenties when I listened to that address, part of that new generation, still in my first fervor in religious life and ready and willing to do whatever it took to meet the challenges ahead. But that last quote, the one about doing hard things because they were hard, gave me pause. Why, I wondered, do we choose to reach beyond the norm? That generation was replete with champions in every field of endeavor—politics, sports, social justice, literature and drama, finance and industry.  Many came from unlikely beginnings with few opportunities and many obstacles stacked in their way, but they set their goals high and rose like the stars they became.

Now, in our time, when challenges are stacked in our paths and obstacles seem endless, how are we going to meet them? Like Lincoln and Armstrong and King, we need to assess what resources we have, what goals we want to meet and what it will take to achieve them. We also need to be sure these goals are worthy of our efforts. Personal goals will bring us satisfaction, attention, perhaps even fame and fortune. Goals we will share with others, with a much wider scope and impact, may lead us by a road littered with disappointments and disillusion. But in the end, we must choose: the way Robert Frost described, well-travelled or less travelled; the way that will improve my life or the way that will improve many lives.

In my experience, young people are hard-wired to want to better the world, to leave their mark in a way people will remember with gratitude. They take chances, they run dangerous risks, they revel in each success and use failures to spark new efforts. They have a philosophical approach that assumes that, with a little more effort or by trying something different, they will find success. I well remember the day my math teacher returned a test on which I had earned a barely passing grade. “Stick to the English, Patricia” was her advice. I did and never regretted it.

When we move into the middle years of life, cave against the force of pressures we hadn’t factored into our plans and grow somewhat cynical about the worth of trying so hard, that’s the tipping point. That’s the time when we are most vulnerable to compromise. “Maybe this is the best I can do.” And when we reach our sunset years, it’s all too easy to say, “I’m afraid I’m past that now.”  That’s when we need to find inspiration in words like Kennedy’s or maybe the words to a Dan Schutte song that begins, “Give us faith, Lord, when the mountain’s too high; be our hope, Lord, when the road is too long; teach us love, Lord, let it flame in our hearts and shine to your glory, O Lord.”

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  1. Sister Carren Herring

    Amen. And we can still lead the way for those coming behind

  2. Carol Ann Mucha

    Pat thank you for your inspirational reflection. It will give me pause in my own prayer and to see how I might put into action what do you suggest

  3. Sister Pat Mooney

    Thank you for your powerful words that remind me why I have a silver ring on my finger. My continued challenge is to open my eyes to see what or where I can witness to Mercy with the abilities I have and then do it

  4. Suzanne LaVoie

    Thank you. Your words remind me that we are NEVER too old to love, to be kind, to listen patiently, to forgive, to be merciful to all.

  5. Patricia Cook

    Blessings upon your insightful sharing, Pat….and thanks for the words of inspiration that ring in my ears this morn. May I carry them well!

    Patty Cook, RSM

  6. Mary Pendergast,RSM

    Pat, I sometimes feel that I cannot do any more than I do, that I’m getting old and I am past certain things now- especially in a pandemic. But then the different groups of young people ask me to do something simple: phone bank for a candidate, call the attorney general about release of a prisoner, sign a petition, write a letter to the editor, watch our city council zoom meeting and post a question. Literally I am as busy sitting in my chair as I ever have been! There is always something we can do as long as we stay engaged. Carolyn McDade in the song Yield of Dreams says, “Are we not born to love this life, to make the wounded whole? To plunge the chasm of despair and lift the singing bird?” So, I tell myself, Sister, carry on!

  7. Mariyn Lacey

    Well said — and timely for all of us in this pandemic! Thank you…

  8. Vicky Arndorfer

    Thanks, Pat. Words that are good to reflect on.

  9. Carol

    Your words connected with me. I remember the “Ask not” speech as a girl with the world ahead of me. Now I ponder how much energy do I have to give beyond my family and grandchildren? I feel that I have more to offer and pray for that grace. You added the nudge. Thank you.

  10. Kathy Wade, Mercy Associate

    Thank you, Pat. Your enthusiasm and wisdom lift me up!

  11. Susan Severin

    Thanks, Pat. As always, your writing is elegant and meaty.

  12. Jacquie Dewar

    Thanks for the great reflection. There is always something we can do no matter our age.

  13. Charmaine Jayawardene

    This gives me strength and courage to stay the course even with a stop in the quarantine store. Thank you Pat. Peace

  14. Marian Uba

    Thank you so much Pat and indeed a great reminder of the ministry of encouragement and that “by example” can be the most effective leadership! —

  15. Cathleen Cahill, RSM

    Pat, your words encourage me not to give in but to keep on keeping on. So good to hear from you.

  16. Jackie Nedd

    Thank you Pat for sharing your inspirational reflection with us. It reminds me to never to give up on my dreams and goals to improve my life and that of others but to do whatever
    It takes to achieve success regardless of the obstacles or how challenging it is.
    I am reminded that, . . . “With God all things are possible,”Matthew 19:26 and to remember to, “Give thanks in all circumstances; . . . 5:18.
    Thank you very much Pat.

  17. Lee Ann Amico

    Thank you for your words of encouragement. Yes, Pat, stick to English !