There are many moments in our lives when we experience painful goodbyes - the loss of a loved one, children leaving home, or family members moving overseas. When we are moving on from our painful goodbyes, we have much in common with the gospel stories of the resurrection. We are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who, overcome by the death of Jesus, walked dejected and downhearted, thinking all was lost and life no longer held any meaning.
In making our goodbyes, we first need to identify the loss we have experienced and recognise the hurt or pain that is a part of this experience. As the disciples walked along the road to Emmaus, they talked about all that had happened - about how Jesus had been sentenced to death and crucified as a common criminal. They named what they were experiencing. The pain of loss was not only the death of a friend but also the end of their hope that he would be the one to set Israel free.
Like the disciples, we need to take the time to reflect on our goodbyes. This is not easy in our fast-paced culture, where we are under pressure to grieve quickly and get on with life. Our inner world where God dwells can be easily ignored. In reflecting on our goodbyes, we come to discover our deeper feelings; we acknowledge the ache we are suffering. We bring our pain into the intimate relationship we have with God.
However, when we most need to experience the tender compassion and strengthening comfort of God, we very often feel a great distance in the relationship. I wonder if the disciples felt any comfort from God as they pondered over the death of Jesus. They had lost all hope. In our helplessness, we may realise we cannot pray through our own efforts alone. God comes to pray in us and sustain us in our dark times.
A part of our goodbyes is to be reorientated- to be drawn quietly into healing. As the disciples walked along and talked with Jesus, they did not know they were being healed. It was in the breaking of the bread, when their eyes were opened, that they began to understand and accept what their experience meant to them. They were called to let go of their Emmaus experience and hope in the risen Jesus. It gave them courage, and they set out that instant to return to Jerusalem to share their experience with the other disciples.
We, too, are called to let go in our own time - to say goodbye so that we can be free to continue towards new horizons. This letting go is difficult because we fear not being in control, or we fear insecurity. It is natural to want to stay with what we know, to cling to the present pain, the deadness, or the lack of life. If we want to let go, we must recognise what needs letting go. The disciples had to let go of Jesus.
We are not alone as we grieve over our goodbyes. We need the strength to endure the deep emptiness that is a part of us. This strength can come from a family member or a close friend who will stand by us in our pain. This strength also comes from our risen Christ, who gives us hope. Jesus is a witness that when goodbyes do come, we can be raised from our feelings of loss and emptiness and experience something new within us. We can look upon our goodbyes from the direction of hello. Our strength and hope lie in our belief in the resurrection - that there is something beyond death, pain, and hurt.
We read in St Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:18: “I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory as yet unrevealed which is waiting for us.”
I wish you and all your loved ones a blessed Lent and a happy Easter.
Fr Peter O'Neill
Regional Director of Oceania
Listen to "From the Director - Praying our goodbyes"
- Read more from The Far East - March/April 2023