Acts 20: 28-38
John 17: 11b-19
During this week between the feast of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the coming feast of Pentecost, our Liturgical Scripture readings invite us to reflect on two people who are preparing themselves for the end of their ministries and lives.
In the Gospel reading we listen as Jesus prays for his disciples, the ones who are with him at the time and the ones who are with him throughout time. He asks the Father to hold them close and to keep them united with one another, with Jesus and with the Father. He thanks his Father for giving him the disciples to him and is grateful that he has been able to keep them safe. Jesus has taught them of their relationship to the Father and more importantly, of the Father’s great love for them. Jesus then continues to witness to that great love by giving up his life on the Cross for them and for us. It is a beautiful prayer of union.
It is also a prayer that God will keep them safe. Jesus notes that the world will hate his disciples just as they have hated him. So, he asks the Father to keep them safe and faithful so that they can be clear witnesses to God’s love.
We have only a part of the prayer of Jesus in today’s liturgy but it is a beautiful prayer for us made by Jesus on the night before he gave himself completely for us.
In our first reading we hear Paul bidding goodbye to the leaders of the Church in Ephesus. Paul has to call them to come to him because he is under house arrest in the neighboring town of Miletus. Paul will be sent to Rome for judgment and he realizes that he will never see these people he has grown to love ever again. He tells these leaders to be faithful to the good news they have received and to give themselves generously in service to the people under their care. He reminds them of the selflessness his service has been and encourages them to be equally selfless. The author of Acts then describes how sad everyone was as they escorted Paul to the ship.
There’s a certain melancholy flavor to the readings today as we remember these farewells. Clearly, both Jesus and Paul are saddened to be leaving their friends and ministries. Yet, both also speak of how fulfilled and grateful they are for the lives they’ve been able to live. Both have given their whole lives in love and service to those God has given them. And, they urge their disciples and us to do the same.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.