I began to prepare this reflection on the day that Pope Benedict XVI concluded his recent visit to the United States. His departure was fresh in my mind, and I was struck by the fact that both of today's readings also speak of departure. In the reading from the gospel of St. John, Jesus is speaking to his disciples after the Last Supper. He is speaking to them of his coming departure from this earth to return to heaven. In the first scripture reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul is preparing to take leave of the Christians of the Church of Ephesus to journey to Jerusalem.
Catholics here in the United States received great comfort from the visit of Pope Benedict. Many non-Catholics as well followed the events of the pope's visit with great interest. Many of us were present for the events of the papal visit either in person or watching on TV. We watched the departure of the pope with some sadness, but also with joy and wonderful memories of the papal visit. We were encouraged and renewed by a sense of the hope of which the pope spoke in his recent encyclical.
I think that today's scripture readings provoked similar emotions in those who listened to Jesus and the apostle Paul. The disciples of Jesus and the elders of the Church of Ephesus were very sorry to learn of the departures of Jesus and Paul. The departure of St. Paul was very emotional. Luke tells us that everyone was weeping and that Paul received many hugs and kisses. The most important similarity between these two readings is the message that Jesus and Paul give to the faithful before they depart. Jesus prays to God the Father asking him to take care of his followers who remain here on earth. He asks not that they be taken immediately from this world, but rather that they be protected from evil during the remainder of their earthly lives and then come to eternal happiness after death. Similarly, Paul commends the people of Ephesus to God and bergs that they might receive the inheritance of eternal life at the completion of their earthly life. As they prepare to depart from their followers, both Jesus and St. Paul are very concerned with the spiritual well being of those they leave behind. The disciples of Jesus and the elders of the Church of Ephesus were comforted by and learned very much from Jesus and from the apostle Paul while they were with them. The sadness that they feel at parting is tempered by the promise of the joy of a reunion in eternal life.
Today Jesus is just as concerned for the spiritual well being of you and I and all his followers as he was on that long ago day when he was preparing to end his life here on earth. As he did then, he today commends all of us to the care of his heavenly father that we might always be protected from sin and evil. And just as Paul long ago commended the people of Ephesus to the loving care of Almighty God, so Pope Benedict commended us with his heartfelt "God Bless America" shortly before the conclusion of his visit.
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