Gospel selections all this week have been an expression of the same theme: an impending separation with a promise of an abiding presence. You’ll recall that Jesus is speaking to his disciples at their last supper together … and given the length of his discourse, it must have been a LONG, many-course supper. Jesus reassures those gathered with him that even though he must leave them, he is not abandoning them. In his stead, he promises, he will send the Holy Spirit. And, on that day they will realize that He and the Father God are one.
When a lifetime friend moves far away we can reassure one another that we’ll stay in touch but we also probably agree [even if we do have Face Time and Instagram]: “It’s just not going to be the same.” This may have been the feeling of the disciples. Jesus is saying “goodbye.” This is not just a farewell before going on a short trip when they will see one another again in a few weeks or months. It’s a more permanent farewell. He is preparing them for the shock of his violent death and the collapse of their plans for the future. Everything is about to change for them…“It’s just not going to be the same.”
Jesus is sensitive to the felling of loss they are about to endure. He’s telling them quite clearly, “It’s just not going to be the same.” He knows they won’t make it on their own. Their human courage, like ours, just wouldn’t be enough – they’ll need continued support to spread Jesus’ message after He is gone.
So, Jesus makes a FANTASTIC, and unbelievable promise: He is going to the Father and he will send the Holy Spirit to guide them as they face new challenges. There’re are going to be new issues and suffering for what they believe. But, they will become aware of Jesus’ abiding presence even though they cannot physically see, hear, or touch Him.
We may be 2000+ years away from those disciples around the table with Jesus that night, but we too have experienced loss and need. We have said many goodbyes to family and community members. We’ve experienced big changes in our lives (even for those who did not know life before Vatican II). There have been times when we’ve needed to be strong ourselves and for others – times of grave illness, worry over a troubled or addicted loved one, sorrow over a broken relationship or an uncertain future.
Those are the times when we’ve known: “It’s just not going to be the same.” And it wasn’t. God sends us curve balls when we least expect it. But, like a skilled ball player, we can still hit a home run. God gives us the strength to stay faithful as well as the wisdom to maneuver life’s many twists and turns.
As of this writing there have been close to 2,000 COVID-related deaths in Florida; 85,000 in the U.S.; 300,000 deaths world-wide (and this is an under-estimate). Many of these folks died attended by loyal professional care-takers, not their family. Who could have foreseen, or even imagined, this day when monastic community members cannot visit their own Sisters in the house infirmary and nursing staff represent them at a dying Sister’s last anointing?! These are times when we know well the feeling – It’s just not going to be the same.
Our duty, our challenge, then, is to believe, to trust that we DO have the Spirit with us – in Word, the Eucharist, in each other. We believe Jesus has kept his promise to give us the gift of the Spirit – an abiding, permanent dwelling with each and every and all of us. We believe Jesus when he says: I will send the “Advocate” – a counselor, a consoler, a mediator – divine energy that will bind you together with one another, and all you in God.
A Thomas Merton prayer, speaks to me when all I do know is – “It’s just not going to be the same.”
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And, I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude, 1956
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress