"And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
I have a tough time letting go. This is not a good quality for a follower of Jesus who is called to renounce everything on this earth (family, friends, and material possessions) for the sake of the Gospel. I wonder what must have been going through the hearts and minds of the disciples when our Lord ascended into heaven in their sight. Surely, the disciples did not want him to go. Just a few weeks ago, we heard one of the Emmaus disciples say, "Stay with us, Lord." There they are watching their Lord ascend to where we one day want to go, but now he is no longer with them. Their Teacher with whom they lived with, learned from, performed miracles with is no longer there. But there comes a time when the teacher must let go of their students so that they can do their great works. This analogy fits perfectly during this graduation season. So the disciples no longer had the Master. What they had was a promise. It was the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit which we will celebrate next week during Pentecost Sunday. But yet, they must have had a difficult time letting go of the Lord because they kept standing there staring up at the sky until the angels showed up to send them on their way. There was work to be done, and it was not going to be done standing there.
Let me give you two illustration of how hard it is for me to let go: one amusing and the other one sentimental. This week it finally dawned on me that I really needed to start packing. I could not put it off any longer. I always say with great pride that when I arrived at seminary 18 years ago, all my earthly belongings fit neatly into one suitcase, a couple of pressed shirts on a hanger, and an old, small AM/FM cassette player with several mixed tapes. That's it. You know you're in trouble when you walk into your closet to do an inventory and ask yourself, "Oh, boy, where do I begin?" Now, I think, THINK! that I can get my belongings into a big pick-up truck and my SUV. There are boxes sitting on the floor in my closet that I haven't opened since I placed them there 2 1/2 years ago which begs the question, "If you have a box that you haven't opened in 2 1/2 years and you don't know what's inside...do you really need it?" Then there are the clothes. My wardrobe, you would think, is fairly simple: roman collared shirt, black pants, done! But for some reason my closet has secretly grown over the last few years. I went in with the mission of "letting go" of shirts and t-shirts that I really didn't want to throw away, but as a friend who I called for an intervention during this process told me: "Throw it away! If you didn't know it existed then you don't need it!" Every item in my room has a story, an origin, a memory, a steward, but then I think back on today's gospel and if I read it correctly Jesus didn't check any baggage on his way to heaven. We have to let go of the material world to embrace the one that Jesus has prepared for us.
The second example of my having a hard time letting go is far less trivial and more personal. This week our auxiliary bishop, Felipe Estevez, became the bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. This was a bittersweet occasion for me. I have known Bishop Estevez for almost 20 years. He was my first spiritual director when I entered seminary, he was the pastor of the first parish I was assigned to as a seminarian, he was my teacher, my friend, and seven years ago he became one of my bishops. We established a deep spiritual bond through our love of Christ and our priesthood. I sometimes wondered what he saw in me when he first accepted to be my spiritual director when I was merely 17 years old. When we were together in a parish he showed me that achieving holiness in the diocesan priesthood was possible: a lesson that I'm still trying to learn. When he was my teacher and my bishop, he continued to point me towards the way of priestly holiness through notes, emails, random phone calls, etc. I was not happy to let him go, but I was happy that he finally had his own diocese where he could be the head shepherd modeled after the Good Shepherd that he knows all too well from his many hours sitting in front of the Lord's Eucharistic Presence. The teacher was gone and the student was left behind to till the soil where the teacher once labored.
It was difficult to let go, but it was necessary. Much like the disciples who kept staring up into the clouds until the angels basically sent them home, we must let go of the past, without forgetting its many lessons, in order to embrace the future. Bishop Estevez left all the priests of Miami with his Christ-like example of "loving to the extreme." Christ left his disciples with a mandate to spread the Gospel. This mandate is passed on to all of us. We can't stand still staring up at the clouds to accomplish the mission that the Lord has entrusted us with. We must let go of whatever is tying us to the past because the Lord lives in the present. The Spirit is coming to aid us in our mission, but this Spirit brings change which we are reluctant to embrace. However, in our fear of change, we only need to hear Jesus' final words to the eleven in the Gospel of Matthew: "I am with you always!" We must let go to embrace the change the Spirit brings knowing that Christ will always be with us. If we want to reach the heights that Jesus reached which is our Christian destiny, then we have no choice but to let go and embrace his divine will because where "he has gone, we hope to follow (Preface of Ascension I)."