The end of the school year always contains a bit of sadness for me as a teacher, albeit mixed with relief. There are always farewells involved: farewell to this class of students and their parents, farewell to families who are graduating or transferring from the school, farewell to co-workers who are switching jobs or retiring. The joy of approaching summer is tinged with the sadness of departures.
Near the conclusion of the Easter season, the Gospel readings for Mass come from Jesus’ Last Supper discourses, in which He spoke about leaving His apostles to return to the Father. What sadness — and confusion — they must have felt hearing this! What would they possibly do without Him? They had given up everything to follow Him, completely changed the trajectory of their lives. And now He seemed to be saying, “I’m not staying.”
And yet, He promised that He would be with them always (cf. Matthew 28:20a). He prayed that “the love with which You [the Father] loved Me” — i.e., the Holy Spirit — “may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26b). He even told the apostles that it was better for them that He go, so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:7).
The seeming abandonment is not actually separation at all. With the coming of the Holy Spirit — at the first Pentecost and now in our own lives — we are able to be united even more closely to Jesus Himself. For example, the priest calls on the Holy Spirit to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine at each Mass. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that they become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. And thus, now we are able to receive Him into our very beings, to take Him into our bodies as our most necessary Food, to adore Him as our greatest treasure.
At the schools in the care of our community, we end the year with Mass and a Eucharistic procession. It strikes me that this focus on Our Lord in the Eucharist is what makes those inevitable goodbyes bearable: while we might be going our separate ways, there is a unity we always have as Catholics in our Eucharistic Lord. And there is the peace and assurance of knowing that we are never alone because we always have Him: “I will never leave you or forsake you” (cf. Hebrews 13:5). “I will be with you always, even until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
If ever you are feeling loneliness or the sorrow of departure, turn to Him who will always remain with us and whose presence is our peace. Turn to the One who lives in you by grace and who lives in the tabernacle in the Holy Eucharist. Let Him show you that, with Him, you are never alone; you are always personally known and chosen and loved.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.