One of the Christian fellowship groups at Princeton had (and perhaps still has) a really neat tradition, in which the graduating seniors would stand in front of the group during the last meeting of the year and impart a small bit of wisdom to the younger classes. I don’t remember exactly what I or others said, but I will never forget the feeling of warmth and fellowship in that room during those “good-bye” meetings. What I loved about this tradition was that it gave those who were leaving a chance to share a bit of what God had taught them during their time in college, reinforcing the point that we have much to learn from those who go before us. I appreciated that the leaders of this group were intentional about creating the opportunity for a meaningful good-bye, both for those who were graduating and for those who would be left behind.
For me, there have been many good-byes so far in life. As a child, I moved many times all over the world, and the good-byes got harder and harder as I became older. I attended college far away from home, and since marrying my husband and starting a family, we have lived in three very different parts of the country. And, of course, our family said good-bye to our daughter, Lucy Rose, shortly after her birth/death in 2006. All of these good-byes have been bittersweet: bitter, because I have cared so deeply for those to whom I have had to part with, and sweet, because I have known that God has a plan for my life and that these good-byes were a part of his plan. Those whom I have encountered along the way have made a lasting impression on my heart, and some of my fondest memories will be of the last moments that I have spent with loved ones. I imagine that many of you feel the same way.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Paul’s farewell speech at Miletus, where he says good-bye to the Ephesians whom he has been ministering to for three years. “When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Acts 20: 36-38) I love the human-ness of this passage and am touched every time I read it; I can imagine myself being right there in the scene with the Apostle Paul and the Ephesians.
As I sat in Mass this morning and heard the Gospel reading concerning the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, I started to think about Our Blessed Mother. From the very moment of her dear son’s birth, Mary knew that her little boy was destined for great things – after all, an angel of the Lord had visited her, shepherds came almost immediately to see the baby lying in the manger, and wise men miraculously appeared bearing gifts for the newborn king. Mary was overjoyed as she cared for her newborn son, and yet her joy did not come without sorrow. Soon after Jesus’ birth, an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod (Matthew 2: 13-15). As if that episode wasn’t frightening enough, when Mary and Joseph went to present Jesus in the temple, Simeon informed Mary that “you yourself a sword will pierce” (Luke 2: 35), foreshadowing the great sorrow that Mary would experience as she witnessed her son’s suffering. Her “hello” to Jesus was always accompanied by the knowledge that she would one day have to say “good-bye”; joy and sorrow were intermingled in Mary’s heart from the very beginning, yet her trust in God’s plan never failed.
And so it is for all of us. We have said many “hellos” and “good-byes” in our lives, and we know that there are many more to come, and all the while we trust in God’s plan for us and for our families. We know that He has a perfect plan for each of us, and we wholeheartedly trust in this plan even though we know that there will be sorrow along the way. We thank God for sending His Only Son into our broken world, to heal all of us and to fill the empty parts of our hearts in ways that we never could have imagined.
God bless all of you today, and happy last week of Advent!