“Threescore years and ten” is the way the King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew of the 90th Psalm. That seems so much more appealing than the newer translations that simply say, “Seventy.” Would we remember the Gettysburg Address so fondly if Abraham Lincoln had said the United States was founded 87 years ago instead of “Four score and seven years ago”? I am sure he was inspired by this psalm.
I write of this because, at Catholic Relief Services, we are celebrating our Gospel service to the world’s poor and vulnerable people for threescore years and ten. We mark that anniversary here in Baltimore, an archdiocese that dates back to 1789.
When the Most Reverend John Carroll was named the first bishop of what was the first diocese in the United States, about 6,000 Catholics and one Church were in Baltimore just a few blocks from CRS headquarters. In 1806, Bishop Carroll laid the cornerstone a block away for the first cathedral built in this new country: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an architectural gem designed by William Henry Latrobe, who also designed the United States Capitol. By the time Bishop Carroll died in 1815, the Catholic population had risen to 10,000. Now, almost a half million Catholics are in the archdiocese.
The basilica he began was renovated extensively before its 200th birthday. However, the 2011 earthquake that shook the East Coast damaged the structure. It reopened this spring in time for the Easter celebration.
I give you this history because, at CRS, we are glad that our threescore years and ten are part of a heritage of the Church in the United States dating back to its beginnings in this country. In addition to our 70th birthday, this year marks a quarter century since CRS moved our headquarters to Baltimore from New York City. We work to be stewards of our environs, and our renovated building here—once a bustling department store—is a centerpiece of the ongoing redevelopment and economic revitalization of our downtown West Baltimore neighborhood.
In the 90th Psalm, “threescore years and ten” delineates the average human lifespan. As the King James translation puts it: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
The point of the psalm is the brevity of human life compared to the eternity that is our Lord, who has been “our dwelling place in all generations.” A more modern translation adds: “Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God.… A thousand years in your eyes are merely a day gone by.”
As we at CRS mark our threescore years and ten, we recognize that, although the people who are part of CRS will come and go according the psalmist’s calendar, the work that is done here will live for as far as can be seen into the future, and beyond. And it will do that for one reason—because it is not the work of people; it is the work of God. It is holy work that arises from the essential commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. That love is eternal. Love has its own way of perpetuating and expanding. The concern of God for the least among us has no lifespan.
I can only repeat the supplication that ends the 90th Psalm:
May the favor of the Lord our God be ours.
Prosper the work of our hands!
Prosper the work of our hands!
Join us in celebrating our threescore years and ten—and many more to come!
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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