Now that we are past Memorial Day, there are many “endings” coming upon us. I know we aren’t alone in this, many families find themselves in a similar situation at this point with summer on the horizon, ends-of-school-years looming, and graduations imminent if not just past.
During daily mass last Friday, the gospel reading spoke to a similar moment for the disciples—the commissioning of Peter from the Gospel of John (21:15-19). It describes the final gathering of that community around Christ. After they eat breakfast with the disciples, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” As Peter replies “yes” each time, Jesus exhorts him to feed his lambs, to tend his sheep and to feed his sheep. Jesus concludes by saying, “Follow me.”
With summer upon us, we’re in a position to recognize how soon folks will go their separate ways after just such “final” gatherings.
But I was thinking, the beauty of this Gospel passage is that it highlights how each of our separate ways stem from the one Way that is Christ and our ways are thus inextricably intertwined.
This was also the gospel read at Pope John Paul II’s funeral mass. It makes sense: it is a foundational text for the papacy. But this text is foundational not only for the highest office in our Church but also for the commission that each of us carries out, as followers of Christ – each in our own way.
Whether we are theologians in the academy, ministers in a parish, or faithful in the pews—each of us is commissioned as partners in Christ’s service. Knowing how to function as a partner in Christ’s service is not always clear, though. It requires discernment.
Looking at the gospel we see that it highlights the nature of Christian discernment. It indicates how we begin to respond to questions like: Where am I called to go? -and- What am I called to do? These are questions each of us face in family life, married life or even as a single woman or man.
Here Jesus explains that there are different stages to life. For a while, or at times, we may be called to lead, to make decisions. To “fasten our own belts and go where we wish.” With age, we may learn the wisdom in following, in listening to those that have gone before us. Stretching out our arms in a posture of surrender and allowing others to take us where we aren’t sure we would like to go. After 14 years of marriage, it is easy to see such stages unfold in our own family’s life.
It is difficult to surrender. How do we know when to surrender, when to leave everything in God’s hands? And how do we know when to intervene and try to shape the reality before us?
I think the answer to knowing how’s and when’s in discernment can be found in the very shape of this gospel. It is in dialogue with Jesus. We enter into dialogue with Christ through prayer. As we see with Peter’s experience here, dialogue is not always easy. And yet, when we openly and honestly respond to Jesus in dialogue, he replies with words of direction and guidance.
And the direction he gives will always be the same, “Follow me.”