This reflection is written by Cole Powers, a Toronto Seminarian who recently finished his second year of Theology and is spending his summer working in the Office of Vocations.
In the days following the celebration of Easter, the next major feast we look forward to in the Church is the feast of the Ascension. I have always thought that it was a bit strange that the Church would celebrate the day that Her Lord left Her. It is easy to imagine the Apostles’ bewilderment in the days following the Lord’s Ascension. Why had he gone to the trouble of returning from the dead only to leave us alone again?
We may very well think the same thing in these days of lock-down and quarantine. How can it be that the Lord is asking us to refrain from participating in the very and only thing that gives our lives their savour – their meaning? How can it be that the Lord, who promises us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20) now asks us to be without His carnal presence?
There is a saying in Italian to the effect that “distance is like the wind, that snuffs out little fires, and inflames great ones.” That is, when you are far from the one you love, you come to realize better what and how much your beloved means to you – whether that love is superficial, or more profound. Could it be that the Lord needed to withdraw His physical presence from the disciples precisely in order that they would realize the depth of what He had accomplished in their hearts? The risk is always before us of walking with the Lord without realizing who He is, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus. They had Jesus next to them, but they were so preoccupied with the tragedy that had befallen them that their eyes did not recognize Him. In fact, it was only after He had left that they reflected: “did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” (Lk. 24:32).
If this time fills us with sadness, nostalgia, and yearning we should know that we are not alone, and, moreover, that this is a very positive sign for our discernment. We do not miss losing something which does not matter to us. If we miss Him now, it is because something truly great has happened in our lives: we have met the Lord. In this time, perhaps more than ever before in our lives, we can discover, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger writes, that “we can understand how, paradoxically, the impossibility of sacramental communion, experienced in a sense of remoteness from God, in the pain of yearning which fosters the growth of love, can lead to spiritual progress. […] from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.” (Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius, pp. 98-99).
Perhaps this time of lock-down is precisely such a time for us. Now is a time to reflect on our path with the Lord so far, and to ask God and ourselves what it is that has occurred to us, within us, in our discernment. As a seminarian, my days at the seminary are often filled with many things to do, meetings to attend, talks to listen to, papers to write, and so on. It is only in the silence of prayer and reflection, however, that I am able to discern what God is doing in my heart, and where He is leading me from day to day, week to week, year to year. If I refuse to allow myself time for such reflection, I inevitably lose the sense of my vocation – why I do the things I do. Now can be a beautiful opportunity to discover precisely this sense and this meaning for ourselves and our lives with the Lord, that is, our vocations.