BY FATHER PAT TRAVERS, DIOCESAN ADMINISTRATOR
I think that most of us have happy memories of and associations with the time
of year we are now entering—the beginning of summer. When we are children, the excitement of getting out of school for three months and the prospect of long days of fun and adventure give this period a super-charged, almost magical quality. As we move into adolescence and young adulthood, changes in location and routine, and opportunities for travel, as well as the blossoming of new relationships, continue to make summer a very special, if often somewhat complicated, time. As we grow older, the “specialness” of each summer might seem less intense, but the aura of our past summer memories and experiences continues to work its magic.
The joy and wonder of this time of year are, perhaps, greatest for the mostly very young people who are completing various stages of their education. High school and college graduation in particular are occasions of special happiness and pride for the young people themselves, their friends, and their families. The sense of ending a chapter in one’s life and beginning another is practically programmed into these events, and their impact is likely to be experienced in significant, even if diminishing, ways throughout a lifetime. For some young people, graduation might be the first experience of a significant, permanent transition in their lives, one of many that most of us will have. And what we find over the course of the years is that even the most positive and desirable transitions—such as graduation, marriage, and the arrival of one’s children have their challenging, sad, and even tragic aspects. From the Christian perspective, transition, like other human experiences, combines elements of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ, to whom we are joined as members of the Church
It is very appropriate that our Church celebrations and accompanying Scripture readings for this time of the year focus on events of transition in the history of our salvation. The Ascension of our Lord recalls a transition to eternal glory for Jesus. For Mary, the Apostles, and the other members of the early Church, however, it meant that they would no longer experience him in the ways in which they had come to know and love him. And yet, he had assured them that his return to the Father would make possible his even more wonderful presence in the Church through the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, another event of transition that we celebrate at this time. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles received the wisdom and power that made it possible for them to take their places as proclaimers of the Gospel and leaders of the Church. They also, however, were required to confront the challenges of opposition, persecution, and, for many, their own violent deaths. Through that same Spirit, however, they knew that their experience of the Cross was not the final stage of their transition, but rather the pathway to eternal life and glory, as it had been for Jesus.
As Catholic Christians, we are participants in the great events of transition that made our salvation possible. Through the Sacraments, we are with Jesus and the Apostles at the Ascension, and we receive the Holy Spirit together with them and Mary at Pentecost. Later this summer, as we celebrate the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven, we will celebrate the fact that our bodies, too, are destined to rise again in glory to share the eternal life of heaven. In these ways, we are prepared to celebrate the events of transition in our own lives, thereby sharing in the saving work of Jesus in the time and place in which we now live. Like Jesus, we experience the suffering and death of the Cross; like Jesus, we surmount these experiences even in this world, rejoicing that our sufferings and sacrifices joined to his will bring salvation, not just to us, but to the whole world.
Some of the transitions that take place at this time of year here in Southeast Alaska are temporary and seasonal. For those involved in the fishing and visitor industries, they might nevertheless be highly significant, involving long journeys, separation from home and loved ones, financial uncertainty, and the physical risks inherent in these activities. Our summer visitors, who come from all over the world to experience the beauty and adventure of our region, often encounter unexpected challenges, including those related to health. Some men and women arrive on our shores and doorsteps without means of support, having been lured here by unrealistic expectations of employment or lifestyle.
We who live and worship here are called, from the experience of our own physical and spiritual transitions, to reach out to these brothers and sisters who find themselves in our lives, often in circumstances of great need.
Most of the young people whose graduations we celebrate at this time are facing transitions that are more permanent and life-changing. Many are leaving behind their families, homes, and communities for the first time, or beginning to support themselves for the first time through their own labor. Some are moving on to new levels of education, with all of the uncertainty and anxiety that this can cause. Many young people enter the armed forces at this time of year, sacrificing their personal security and also the freedom and autonomy that most of us take for granted. And some of our new graduates are uncertain and lack direction, continuing to depend on their families for support, but now as young adults from whom more is expected. These and other groups of young people face challenges that can, at times, seem overwhelming, as well as the very real dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and crime. We who have the opportunity to accompany them can draw on our own faith-filled experiences to help these young adults keep their focus on the opportunities for growth in knowledge, love, and service that are so characteristic of their stage of life, and that can lay the foundation for happiness and fulfillment in the future. In so doing, we play our roles in the great work of transformation of our world to conform to the will and vision of the God who created it.
As Catholics, we should be especially aware of the choices that some of our young and even of our older people make at this time of year to undertake a lifelong vocation, such as marriage, the priesthood, and religious life. Each of these ways of life requires a radical transition in a person’s ways of feeling, thinking, acting, and relating to God and others. They expose our vulnerabilities to sin, weakness, and error; but they also have the potential to open us more and more fully to new opportunities to make Christ present here on earth, to share him with others in our lives, and ultimately to share his life with the Father and the Holy Spirit in eternity. Let us pray now and always for those who are preparing for the great vocation of marriage and parenthood; and that more and more Catholic young people might respond to the call of the Lord to serve him and his Church in ordained ministry and in consecrated life, both here in Southeast Alaska and throughout the world.