Agape Latte | Fr. Ken Himes | You made a difference in my life


[MUSIC PLAYING] And now we’re going to
give a brief introduction of our speaker tonight,
who is Father Ken Himes. So tonight’s speaker
is a Brooklyn native who was ordained in the Roman
Catholic Church in 1976. Father Kenneth Himes first
received his BA in history from Sienna College in
1971, then his Master’s in Theology in 1975. He also holds a PhD
from Duke University in Religion and Public Policy. Presently, Father Ken
is a professor here at Boston College alongside his
brother, Father Michael Himes. Father Ken teaches courses
on Catholic social teaching, as well as ethics and reform. His academic and
research focus includes Catholic social teaching,
American Catholic social reform,
Christian social ethics, and ecclesiology and ethics. Father Ken is also heavily
involved in the PULSE program here at BC, and last
gave an Agape in 2008. He has described
theology as a ministry which is able to serve academia,
the Church, and the people. Please help me in welcoming
our speaker this evening, an Agape Latte vet, as well
as an admired professor and speaker, Father Ken Himes. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Well I don’t need this,
because I’ve got this. Well good evening, everybody. Nice to be here, thank
you for coming out on this kind of cold night. So let me tell you about Jack,
Noel, and this cynical smartass kid named Ken. Jack is Jack Monahan. It was the fall of 1966, my
senior year in high school. My family had just
moved from one apartment to another apartment
about seven blocks away. But the bus I used
to take to school– I used that to take a
bus and then a subway to get to high school. The bus stop was
about three blocks from my old apartment
in the other direction. And so now moving seven
blocks the other way, it’s a 10-block walk,
and there’s actually a closer bus route that
gets me to the subway that gets me to high school. So it’s early fall
in 1966, and I am standing at the street corner. It is a miserable
fall day in Brooklyn. A mistake, cause almost
always, fall days in Brooklyn are beautiful beyond words. God must have thought it was
Boston rather than Brooklyn. But anyway, it’s teeming rain. And like every self-respecting
high school senior, of course, I wouldn’t be caught
dead with an umbrella, so I’m just standing out there
in the rain at the street corner waiting for the bus to
come with three or four other people– adults– all of
whom have umbrellas. So I’m standing there and
then waiting at the corner, and there’s a stop sign– or stoplight, rather. And at that stoplight,
there’s an old car and the lights are flashing. And we’re sort of
looking at one another. Anybody recognize the car? None of us know it. So the light changes, and
this car kind of rolls in right along
the sidewalk where the bus stop is, and I
see this figure leaning over the front seat
and rolling down the window on the curb side,
and then he says, Himes, you want a ride? So I said, yeah, sure, great. I get in the car, and
it’s Jack Monahan. Jack Monahan was my high school
freshman English teacher. And I didn’t think he liked me,
because whatever the grade was, it wasn’t what I thought
I was going to get, and I figured the only reason
for that is, no fault of mine, it has to be that he
doesn’t like me, right? So I think that Jack
Monahan has an infamy, and then my sophomore year,
I’d become convinced of this, because I am now
about 5′ 9″, 5′ 10″, and I know it’d be
hard to believe now, but back then, I weighed
about 115 pounds, and I go out for
JV football, right? And Jack Monahan is the
coach of JV football. So come the last day
of cuts, I get cut. Well now I’m convinced, I
mean, because after all, who wouldn’t want a 5′ 9″, 120
pounder on their football team, right? So it’s got to be Jack
Monahan has it in for me. That’s all I know about
Jack Monahan from my years at high school. And then finally
in my senior year, this guy stops on this
rainy morning, picks me up. So we’re driving into school. And he says to me, I’ve never
seen you before at this corner. And I said, that’s
because my family moved and now this is the bus I
take to get to the subway. And he said, so you’re going
to be out here every morning? And I said, yeah. So he said, I come
by here every day. He said, I usually come
by between 7:30, 7:45. If you’re here at 7:30 and you
want to ride, you’ve got it. If I’m not here by
7:45, take the bus, don’t wait for me,
because it probably means I’m having car problems
or I’m not feeling good. He said, if you’re not
here when I come by, I’m not going to wait for you. Deal? Deal. So, from early fall till
mid-June of my senior year, Jack Monahan picks
me up, and I suspect between snow days and
illness and everything else, maybe the six days in the
whole school year that we don’t ride into school together. Now, as I said, I knew
nothing about Jack Monahan other than he didn’t
like me, so I thought. Well, I learned,
as we’re talking, Jack Monahan was Norman
Thomas socialist. Now there’s about– Fred and Sue, Tom Groom– there’s about four
people here who know who Norman Thomas was and
know Norman Thomas socialists. Norman Thomas was this guy–
he was sort of the Bernie Sanders of the 1950s and ’60s. He was not a
communist– in fact, virulently
anti-communist, but he was a socialist in terms
of his economic policies, he opposed the
Vietnam War he was very strong on racial
harmony and integration, very strong on economic
justice, very pro-labor, strong for labor unions and the like. And Jack Monahan is an old
Norman Thomas socialist. So we’d be riding in
to school, and he’d ask me every day,
just about, so what did you read in the papers? Well, about all I read in the
papers was how the Yankees did or how the Knicks did, I
didn’t pay much attention to the front of the paper. But gradually, because he’d
always ask me these questions, I started looking at
the front of the paper. And we talk about politics
and economics– this is ’66, remember? So this is Lyndon
Johnson is the president, it’s the beginning of the
Great Society programs, and Lyndon Johnson is putting
Medicare into place, Medicaid, it’s the start of lots
of anti-poverty programs, and we’re talking
about this stuff. It’s also a time just after
the Civil Rights Act is passed, we’re talking about
integration, busing in schools, all these kinds of activities. And Jack Monahan opens me
up to another perspective on these things. Because my family was
pretty conservative, my father was a union
guy, but, you know, no big strong guy in union
politics or anything. And Jack is asking
me questions and we start talking about things
about racial justice and economic justice. And then as time goes on, I
find out he’s also a pacifist. He refused to fight
in the Korean War. I don’t even know how to spell
pacifist back in those days, right? But I’m talking to
this guy, and it’s one of the reasons why he’s so
strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, and he’s telling
me this is going to be a disaster
for this country, we ought not get
involved in this. And I’m listening and
we’re going back and forth and having these conversations. So this goes on for
a whole year, right? And what Jack does for
me, this guy who I thought didn’t really like me, is he
opens up a whole world to me that was new. About political awareness,
about the suffering of people in the world, about
racial tensions, about the struggles
of working people just to try and make
an honest living. And all of a sudden,
this kind of, you know, cynical smartass guy who’s sort
of alienated from his parents, doesn’t really think much
of his uncles and aunts– they’re still making fun of The
Beatles for having long hair, so I’m figuring, what the hell
did they know about anything? So I’m sort of alienated
and distant from my family, and here comes this
adult who I hardly knew who becomes this
presence in my life who really sort of shows me
around the world in a way I haven’t seen the world before. Makes me think about what
life in the world entails. Gets me thinking
about how do you live a life that’s a
decent, responsible life? All stuff that, for me, was
pretty heady at the time. So flip forward two more years. Now it’s the fall of 1968. I’m a sophomore in college
living in the dorms. ’68, and that academic
year is a tough year. Remember, Martin Luther King
is shot in April of ’68. Bobby Kennedy is shot two months
later in early June of ’68. In the summer of
’68, there were riots in about a dozen major
cities in this country with the assassination
of Martin Luther King. There’s arson,
National Guard troops called out to stop
the violence, there’s all sorts of racial tension. There’s the Chicago
convention in July of ’68 in which there’s rioting
in the streets, when various groups really
go in to protest what’s happening in the
Democratic Convention, opposing the possibility
of Hubert Humphrey getting the nomination for president. We’ve already driven Johnson
out of the electoral race, he decides not to run
because of the opposition he’s running into with Vietnam. But Hubert Humphrey, a good
and decent man, but he’s viewed by my generation as kind
of a lapdog for Lyndon Johnson. We far underestimated
him at the time. But we had no use for
Humphrey because we thought he’s a stooge of Johnson. But Bobby’s dead. So we got Eugene McCarthy. And we got some
of the people who want to take Johnson on
and take on Humphrey. And young people off
rushing to Chicago to sort of protest what’s
happening inside the convention arena. The mayor at the
time, Richard Daley, calls out the cops in force,
there’s rioting in the streets, people are watching the
Democratic Convention on TV and they’re seeing, you know,
kids getting their heads cracked open by police
and National Guard, people are scandalized that
this could happen in the United States, this kind of
rioting at a major party’s political convention– all this stuff is
going on in ’68. And by now, I’m sort
of politically engaged, I’m involved in this stuff, and
I’d become absolutely cynical about normal politics. I’m absolutely cynical
about making change through the system. The system is corrupt. The slogan that a
lot of us had back then was, don’t trust
anybody over 30, right? Dylan used to sing about it. And so here I am, this kind
of cynical, smartass guy who really doesn’t think
much of anybody but people in my own generation. I’m convinced I know more
than any adult in my family, and probably know more than
some of the professors who were teaching me. They don’t get it. They don’t know what’s
really going on. And this guy, Noel
Fitzpatrick, a young priest, moves into the dorm
where I’m living. In fact, moves into the floor
where I’m living and takes up residence there. Noel is this incredibly
charismatic guy. He wasn’t particularly
good looking, but he was smart enough. But he just had an
energy about him. He just had a sort
of aura around him. When Noel walked
into a room, you would have noticed
him right away. There was a vitality there you
could not overlook or ignore. And Noel would sit
up with us at night, we’d be sitting around in
dorm rooms drinking beer– back in those days in New
York, you could drink at 18, so we’re always pounding beer
down sitting in our rooms, we’re talking with
Noel Fitzpatrick, we’re going through life, and
finally, at a certain point, I’m one of the last guys to
leave the room one night, and he says to me, Himes,
I got a question for you. I said, Father, what’s up? He says, why are you such
a sarcastic son of a bitch? [LAUGHTER] And I kind of look at him
and I said, what do you mean? He says, you’re very
funny, but all your humor is at other people’s expense. All your humor is mocking. All your humor is putting
other people down. You’re better than
that, or at least, you should be better than that. Well that sort of takes you
back a little bit, right? So I’m thinking to
myself, eh, I don’t know. Maybe I should do
something different. He gives me a
little book, right? I actually brought it with me. I still got it– from 1968. The price back then– $0.85, all right? $0.85, 150 pages, it’s a book
on St. Francis of Assisi, right? Noel was a Franciscan. He says to me, read this,
it will be good for you. So 150 pages, I figure, OK,
I could read that, right? So I read this little
book on St. Francis. And it’s not really a
life of St. Francis, but it’s a book that’s
kind of like a reflection or a meditation on his life– what did it mean? what was this guy about, right? And Chesterton who was
this British writer, a famous British Catholic
writer in the middle of the 20th century, Chesterton
has this one passage talking about Francis and this book. And he is talking about how
Francis sees the world very differently. And what he talks about is– the
image he uses in the book is, Francis used to go up
into the mountains. He lived in the Umbrian
Valley in Central Italy. And Francis used to go up into
the hills and the mountains of Umbria to be alone and pray. And Chesterton talks about
how Francis is up there, and he is on one side
of the Umbrian Valley, and he is looking back
on the other side of it– also mountains,
and at the top are one of those mountains is the
City of Assisi, his hometown, the city that he loved so much. And if you’ve ever
been to Central Italy, you know that many
of these cities– Perugia, Siena, all
these sorts of places, they were walled cities, because
these cities are constantly at war with one another
in the Middle Ages. And so most of these cities
are enclosed-walled cities. And because stone is
cheap, it’s all stone. There are these big, thick
walls around the city the Assisi as it sits on the
top of this hill. And all the homes, the churches,
all the buildings in Assisi are thick, heavy slabs of stone. And Chesterton says,
Francis looks out one day, looking out at that
city, and he’s praying for the people of his hometown. And he’s looking at the city,
this solid, massive, walled, thick, heavy city. And Francis, as
he was wont to do, he was something of
a street performer. Chesterton says, Francis
may have done tumblesaults. And all of a sudden, in
one of his tumblesaults, he sees the world upside-down. And now, this city, that was so
strong and massive and solid, now upside-down, it’s
hanging over the abyss. And the very thing
that made it seem solid and strong
and invulnerable now makes it seem
terribly precarious. Its weight and its mass. And Francis looked at this and
he comes to the insight, right? That all of existence
is like this. All the things that we think
make us strong, make us solid, make us safe, that all of
that seen the other way makes us incredibly
precarious and invulnerable. Chesterton says, what Francis
comes to experience is, life is incredibly and
radically contingent. And what he means by
that is, it need not be. What Francis comes
to realize is, not himself nor anyone
in Assisi needs to exist. That every human being
is radically unnecessary. You and I need not exist. There’s nothing about us
that makes us necessary. We are radically contingent. So what do you do once you
come to that awareness? How do you think, once all
of a sudden you realize, I am thoroughly and
absolutely unnecessary? And there’s nothing
about me that I can make myself necessary. How does one deal with that
sort of reality of contingency? And Chesterton says, basically,
you’ve got two choices. There’s two options here. One option is to say,
well there it is. It’s all random. It’s all an accident. I need not be, but someone
rolled the cosmic dice and it came up snake eyes– I exist! I am, but I don’t have to be. It’s just by chance. It just so happens that I
exist and this universe exists, but it could be something
completely other. I need not be. That was one option
open to Francis. He doesn’t take it. The other option,
Chesterton says, is that Francis
decides, the only reason that I must exist
because somebody willed to me into existence. The only reason I am is because
somebody loved me into being. And what Francis comes to
realize is, at the heart of it all is love. There is no other reason why
any of us exist except for love. We have been loved
into existence. Not as a one-time event. What Francis realizes with
that vision of Assisi, it’s always hanging
there precariously. It’s always suspended
over the abyss. You and I exist
because God continues to love us into existence. What Francis realizes
is, we are not necessary, but that’s not for him a
cause for despair or cynicism, rather it’s proof
to him that there is a divine lover who
holds it all in place, who makes it all happen. So that for the world
to come to an end, for this cosmos to
come crashing down into one big black hole, God
doesn’t have to do anything. God has to stop doing something. He has to stop loving
this cosmos into being. I remember that passage. As vividly now as when I read
it back in my dorm room in ’68. It kind of changed
my whole world. It sort of made me
think about, well yeah, what the hell is
the point of it all? What do I make of this? And here I was, really this
kind of cynical, smartass guy who was really alienated
from adults, alienated from my family,
thinking to myself, what’s the point of this? And all of sudden,
the vision of Francis gives me another take on things. Noel Fitzpatrick introduces
me to another way of thinking about the world. Now, the reason I bring
these two things up is because in my own life, I
can think not only about Noel and about Jack, I
can think of three other specific individuals who
at certain points in my life saved my ass. I was screwing up my life. I’m not trying to make
myself out to be something, you know, a bank
robber or a murderer– you know, I wasn’t a
serial killer or anything, but I was going
nowhere, you know? I had a crappy attitude,
a crappy frame of mind, I had no particular
ambitions, I was angry in a sort of
undifferentiated way, I didn’t know what the heck
I thought anything was about, and at different points in my
life, an adult came into it and sort of said,
Himes, think about this. Himes, let me show
you something. Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever
thought about that? There was Jack and there was
Noel, there was also Peter, there was Frank,
and there was Bobby. At different points in my
life, a mentor stepped in. None of these people
became friends. I’ve not seen Jack Monahan since
I graduated from high school. About once every 10 years I used
to send him a letter, usually on Thanksgiving Day. Noel Fitzpatrick, he
died when he was 39. The other guys I mentioned,
they’re all dead. A lot of people
who taught me are dead at this point
in my life, right? You get to a certain age,
you do way more funerals than baptisms in
your life, right? But the point is, people
came into my life that didn’t have to come into my life. These weren’t
relatives, these weren’t people who owed me anything. But they took some time,
they exerted some energy, they thought, this
guy’s worth talking to. Mentors was one of the
great gifts of life. I hope you’ve had a few
by now, but to allow people to come into your life– and they may not
ever be your friends. They may pass through
for a period of time. They’re there for a certain
moment when you need them. There’s a chapter
in your life when you need somebody to come– hey, come over here. Let’s talk about this. Let’s think a lot harder than
you’re thinking about this. To have those kinds of
people step into your life is an incredible rich grace. That people would come
along into your own life, tap you on the
shoulder, and say, let me show you
around a little bit. Let me maybe point out a few
things you’re overlooking. Or some truth that maybe
you are forgetting. Or some relationship that
you need to straighten out. When I think about
mentors, it leads me to thinking about gratitude. Gratitude has become for me the
most underappreciated virtue in the Christian life. We talk about faith, right? Agape Latte talks about
faith all the time. We talk about hope, we
talk about love, right? We talk about justice
a lot here at BC. We talk about kindness
and honesty, hard work– these are all
wonderful things, but I want to suggest to you that one
of the really underappreciated virtues in life that we all
want to cultivate is gratitude. To wake up every morning
and realize, I need not be. There is nothing here that
I can claim that I deserve. God has to do this for me. It doesn’t work that way. It is all gift. Whether it’s mentors,
whether it’s family, whether it’s friends,
whether it’s roommates, whether it’s colleagues at work,
whether it’s neighbors you’ll meet in life, it’s all gift. None of us has a
right to claim it. We don’t even have a right to
claim the 24 hours of the day. It’s all loved into existence. We are– we are, I am,
you are because of gift. A gracious God. To wake up each morning
and just for a moment to make that real in your mind. Just to wake up every day
and say, thank you, God. Thank you for this day. I hope I do something
with it that’s worthwhile. I hope someone will touch my
life or I’ll touch theirs. And even if it’s a day
in which I screw up big time, the fact that
at the end of the day, I can say, forgive
me, God, that, too, is an incredible gift. That you have that kind
of experience of God who is ever merciful
and forgiving. That we don’t have a
God who holds grudges, we don’t have a
God who punishes, we have a God who loves us
and sustains us in existence. To acknowledge that. To simply find some time
every day to say thank you. So an appropriate way
to end, I suspect, is to say, thanks for coming. [APPLAUSE] So on behalf of everyone, I
want to thank Father Ken Himes for coming to speak to us. And now we have some
time for a few questions. Hello. Hi. I’m Jacob Bazi, my
friends and teacher go to Catholic Memorial
High School in West Roxbury. I just had a quick question,
and you talked about mentorship and how one can be a mentor. So I was wondering, how can
one become a better mentor for a friend or a family
member or something like that? Yeah. It’s a– well,
you know, I think, frankly, I usually
would distinguish between friends and mentors. I don’t think the mentoring
relationship is really a relationship of equals, right? Generally I don’t think
it happens between peers. I think it’s usually
somebody who’s a little more experienced. Maybe a little more
knowledgeable, right? Maybe just a little
more mature, right? But I think it’s
usually some sort of an inequal
relationship, but it’s somebody who just notices– hey, you seem angry, you know? Why are you so sarcastic? Why are you so angry? Why do you seem as if
you’re just moving in a fog? Why have you lost that
smile that I knew you had? Usually it’s that kind of thing. It’s simply to try
to be observant of the people around us. So it may not be
that you’re going to be a mentor to a friend. That relationship also obviously
can be mutually beneficial, but this is usually mentors do
things and don’t get much back, you know? They do things
simply because they see somebody whom they judge
is vulnerable or in need and they step in. And like I said, most
mentoring relationships I don’t think last very long. They’re usually there for
a particular moment in time when they’re needed
and then it moves on. But I would say, the way to
cultivate that, to be a mentor is to pay attention to
the people around you. You walk across
this campus, right? To pay attention to the
faces you see, you know? In your dorm and other
places, to just see and try and read what’s going
on in people’s lives. And as we know, this place
is filled with a lot, a lot of intensity, sometimes. And it’s only going
to get really intense in a couple of weeks, right? To be able to just lighten
the load for somebody in that sort of situation. A kind word, you know? Encouragement, a pat
on the back, you know? A thank you. There’s all kinds
of ways in which you begin to cultivate the habitus
of reaching out to people. And I think that’s the
key about mentorship. It’s about willing to give up
your time, give up your energy, expend some of that
on someone else. Way too often, when we’re
young, we’re self-absorbed. It’s all about us, you know? And mentoring is
precisely the opposite. It’s helping somebody else, it’s
sharing life with someone else, and I think it’s really
just a matter of cultivating that disposition, you know? I’m not here for me,
I’m here for others. OK, I think we have time for
one or two more questions if anyone has any. No? OK, well if you can– oh. What? Oh. My question is, like, if
I were to have a mentor, how can I create a good
relationship with him or her so it doesn’t feel
like I’m using them? That I really can show
that I appreciate them, it’s not like, oh, thank
you, and then just move on with my life? Yeah. Well, in a certain sense,
you are using them, you know? But see, the wonderful
thing about mentors is, they’re willing
to be used, you know? They’re willing to be used. They’re not doing
it so that they get a lot of praise or attention. It’s not about them, it
really is focused on you. Now of course, it’s very nice
to say, thank you so much, you know? You’ve really played an
important part in my life, you really helped
me through this, helped me work through that. But frequently that
doesn’t come at the moment, it comes in hindsight and
you get back in touch. Jack Monahan, I hadn’t
been in touch with him– it was probably 15 years. And I got this thing
in my head years ago that every
Thanksgiving, I was going to pick someone
in my life that I wanted to say thank you to. And so I got in this practice
of every Thanksgiving morning, I write a letter to
somebody and just tell them how much they meant to me. And I wrote it to him– like, I was probably close
to 40 when I wrote it to him. And I had to find
his address, he was still living in an
apartment in Queens. And I wrote to him, no
expectation I would hear– I didn’t even know he was alive. But he was and he
wrote back to me. And he said to me that
the letter I sent to him, he said, this is why
teachers teach, right? You live for that moment. Very few people
teach for the money. If you haven’t figured
that out yet, right? Some of us teach because of
the lifestyle, it’s true. The pace and the
lifestyle of academia is kind of nice for a lot of us. Some of us teach because we’re
excited about a subject matter and you want to
convey it to people. But it may not seem
this way to you when you’re a student, right? And especially come grade time,
it not seem this way to you. But the vast majority
of people who teach teach because they want
to be with young people. They want to be a
presence to young people. They want to be of some
use to young people. And so when teachers
hear from students, you made a difference in
my life, you can’t beat it. So let it happen. Use them. But at some point, let them
know you appreciated it. Excellent. Well, thank you so much. And if you can all just
join me in thanking again Father Ken Himes. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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