There we—ten high school seniors, two guides and I—were, in a single file, meandering slowly, ever so slowly, taking one step at a time, on the teens and my first high-mountain ascent in the Rockies around Vail Colorado. It was rather early in the morning; the sun had risen about an hour earlier, when all of a sudden, I discovered we were in the middle of a garden planted by mother nature. I couldn’t believe it. There were flowers all around us where, up to this point, it was just tundra as we bushwhacked our way up and up. Despite knowing I would slow our progress, I stopped to take it all in—a garden in the wilderness near the top of the mountain.
Looking back, I realize my life has been a series of these high mountain ascents, with starting a teaching career in my mid-twenties, leaving that path and learning how to sell life insurance to rich people, returning to teaching in my fifties, all leading to this moment where I’m learning to retire, truly a misnomer—it’s more like learning to stop and smell the roses. I’m back on that high mountain ascent finding myself in the middle of a garden.
Having been blest with many gifted men and women as my guides all through my educational and life’s experiences, I have heard many times that I should “follow Jesus!” So, I tried, one slow step at a time, very seldom stopping to look around to see how that was working. As I sit and write this reflection, I realize that while I sometimes veered from that path, I believe today, that I can truly say I did my best to follow Jesus. I feel like Peter in today’s gospel selection who I suspect had no idea what Jesus was asking of him when he told him:
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” (JN 21: 17-19)
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear today to follow you.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.