Last Sunday I was at my sister’s house. We were there celebrating my niece’s departure to college. My oldest niece just went away to Ohio State. I will probably be wearing Ohio State from now on. She went away this Wednesday, and I did not realize how difficult it was going to be for my sister. My oldest sister Julie said that taking Kelsey to OSU was the most difficult thing she has been through – leaving her there and coming back seeing an empty bedroom. One of Julie’s friends commented on her Facebook post and said, “I wish someone would write an essay: ‘What to Expect When You Are Expecting Children,’ highlighting that eighteen years from now it is going to go like a blink of an eye, and it is going to rip your heart out worse than childbirth.” That is how she described her kid going away to school. I do not think my parents experienced this for me when I went away to the seminary. I do not think they were really that upset. That might describe some of my personality.
We hear this experience about going away in the gospel. As Jesus is going around the Sea of Galilee, he begins to call his disciples. First, he calls Andrew and Peter. Then, he gets to James and John, the son of Zebedee. They are in the boat with his father mending the nets. Jesus walks up to them, sees them, and he says, “Come and follow me.” They drop their nets and follow him. I think of Zebedee and what that must have been like at that moment for him. He has this boat and this business that he probably wants to hand off to his sons, and suddenly, Jesus says, “Come and follow me” and takes them away. It must have ripped his heart out to see his children abandoning him and all of a sudden going with Jesus.
In the gospels, we are not given more then the words say here on the text. We do not see the faces of Jesus, the disciples and Zebedee. We do not really know the body language of what might have been going on. A part of me wonders if, when the disciples saw Jesus’ face, they were so moved with love. I wonder if they were so moved with the love of the Holy Spirit that they were just given that grace immediately to drop their nets and follow him. I wonder, too, if the father also had an encounter with Jesus. I wonder if that allowed him to say, “Oh, I get it. It is okay if you go.” We do not hear him argue. We do not hear him stop his sons. There is just silence. I wonder if the father was able to see that look of love in Jesus and that look of joy in the sons.
It is true for any parent that has had to let their children go away or go off to school. It is probably very hard at first and difficult to do. But when you see how their lives are transformed, the new friendships they have, the new experiences they have, and the joy that they have, you look at your child and then there is even more joy in your heart.
When I went away to the seminary, my father was a little concerned. He wanted me to be married and have a family, and he could not understand why I did not want that. I would say, “Dad, I do want that, but I feel God calling me to this.” It was a hard thing for some of my family to comprehend at first until I went to the seminary. It began to grow, and they saw me become this wonderful person with gifts and talents that I never knew that I had. I just kind of blossomed in the seminary. This is life, and though we are given a family, it does not end there in the family. We are called to go out of our family into the world. Husbands and wives, if you have young children right now here at mass, in the blink of an eye they are going to grow up. You are left with each other. You must love each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, because they grow and are meant to go out into the world.
I think about Jesus before he was incarnate and came in the flesh as a baby. He was with the heavenly Father. He was in the Trinity. He was in this union together – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What happens? Jesus, in a sense, leaves that to come into the world. He is raised with Mary and Joseph for thirty years. Then what happens? He leaves Mary and Joseph, and he goes out into this world to proclaim the Good News of God the Father. This might seem all well and great at first. The call to discipleship is really exciting. Jesus is on this wonderful mission from God the Father, but how does it end for them? Death. Jesus will suffer, die, and rise. He calls his disciples to suffer, to die and to rise. James will suffer. He will be the first martyr that we hear of. John will be imprisoned and exiled in a cave until he dies of old age.
The same thing is true of all of us. We have a time of safety in our family and our church to form us, but we are supposed to go out into the world. Sometimes that going out into the world will be the death of us. Actually, Jesus promises that if we are his disciples, it will be the death of us. We will suffer the letting go of our own will. We will die and, in that death, we will experience peace, a new life and a resurrection.
I have every reason to believe that my niece, as she goes off to college, will be transformed, and it will be great in the long run. We can have every reason to believe too, that if we follow Christ, if we choose to be like his disciples and drop our nets (our own wills), it will mean that death. It will mean that suffering. It will ultimately be that resurrection. Just like Kelsey will come home from time to time, and she will get to see that family, we too come back together every Sunday as a worshipping body of Christ. Ultimately, we will all come back together in our heavenly kingdom. This time is already a time of discipleship. It is already a time of separation. It is already a time of suffering. It is already a time of dying until we experience the resurrection.
I invite you in your heart right now to think about what God is calling you to. Is he calling you to let go of anything? Is he calling you deeper into discipleship? Really be open to that so that he can work the Paschal Mystery in each and every one of us.