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Wednesday of the week before Pentecost

This morning, when I consider the Liturgical readings assigned to Wednesday of the week before Pentecost, I recognized that those readings are parts of “farewell addresses”— Luke’s narrative of Paul’s farewell to the elders of the church in Miletus (in the south west corner of today’s Turkey) and John the Evangelist’s account of Jesus’ farewell to the disciples in the setting of his final supper with them after washing their feet like a slave. What do these two fragments of farewell addresses have to do with our special human relationships that are so dramatically highlighted by our own personal good-byes at the end of the academic year here at a Jesuit campus in Omaha, Nebraska?

Confronted with the fragments of two biblical “farewell addresses” that turn up in the liturgical readings for the Wednesday of the final week of Easter time on the run up to Pentecost, I had a memory of a personal good-bye that helped me apply those ancient readings to my own life. Sharing it in this reflection, may help you do the same.

The memory goes like this. During my college days I played Edgar in a production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”  Putting on a play makes for a wonderfully intimate, but temporary, community. As we college actors were saying our good-byes, as graduation happened to be approaching, I recall discussing “what’s next for you” with the actor who played King Lear, I was moved to share with him that I was going to “join the Jesuits.” He said something like, “You know, I considered the priesthood, too. But I couldn’t see myself living my whole life preoccupied with thinking about God all the time.” I said something like, “I guess the point is to do what you feel called to do,” and left it at that. With that memory this morning, I felt a strong sense of regret that I was not able to carry the conversation beyond that simple, and incomplete, sharing. Then (I’m still talking about the experience of the memory this morning) I came to realize that the source the regret and sense of incompleteness came from what I have come to know about Scripture, about life, and about the “universal call to holiness” that our Church clarified in the process of Vatican Council II.

Simply put, the good-bye conversation and the recent regretful memory were all about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and the good-byes in the Liturgical readings. Let me focus mainly on the reading from the Gospel of John. And allow me to imitate what I understand John to be doing in the farewell speech of John 17 — namely, casting his reflection in the form of a prayer. Only the the prayer my own this morning (not as if spoken by Jesus); and it will be my effort to deal with the incompleteness of my conversation with the actor who played Lear more than a half century later.

Loving God. I want to continue my prayer about the memory I had this morning about that conversation with Jamie [actor who played King Lear in that show back in the late 50s] when we were talking about being “called.” Why did that memory come with such a strong sense of regret? I think the regret came because I now recognize, all these years later, that both of us, Jamie and I, were working with misunderstandings — with Jamie misunderstanding about the practices of vowed religious life, and with me a bit confused about what it means for a lay person to be a Christian. Both of us were somewhat in the dark about what it means to follow Jesus. Of course, neither of us could possibly know the difference between what it meant to be what it meant to be a Catholic in the middle of the 20th century USA, and what it would mean to be U.S. Christian in the context of the global  Roman Catholic church well into the third millennium  of church history.

Jamie, let me interrupt my prayer and address you directly. If you are still alive (and, coincidentally [!], reading this online Daily Reflection), I’d love to share with you how we were really talking about knowing and following Jesus, and how we are both  instinctively drawn to different ways of living out that essential Christian call. It is true that I have been trained to be mindful of the presence of God as a goal, but of course, like you, I need to focus more narrowly on what I’m doing when I’m studying, teaching writing, and listening to others for the possible wisdom of their point of view. Just as we were doing when you we were playing Lear and I was playing Edgar back then. But, if you still call yourself Christian, haven’t you found that you have needed to take time out, almost daily, to “raise your mind and heart to God” as our catechism taught us. Have you read the Gospel of John recently? I you haven’t, try it. And use a Catholic version with decent notes. When you get to today’s Liturgical gospel selection, notice how John has Jesus speaking his farewell in much the same way he does throughout the whole Fourth Gospel — that is, with some language sounding like he is looking ahead to his death, and other phrases sound like he is has already been raised from the dead and addressing the “disciples” (those listening at the supper, and their successors (John’s audience, and 2000 years later, us, us trying to be followers of Jesus as our risen Lord in the twenty-first century).

Our Father, send your Holy Spirit to enable us to know and follow Jesus. Hallowed by thy name. … Give us our daily bread. … Forgive us, as we forgive others. … Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  

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