This is the time of year when people move on and things change. It is the end of term, and those who are leaving school will move on either to another school or college and that can be difficult for some. There are members of staff who retire or change their jobs, and in our school there is the chaplain who has decided that she (yes, we have a young lady who has the name “school chaplain” as her title) should move on and start a different career.

Tuesday morning mass at 8am is one in which we invite our students at school to come to mass, and a solid core of about 10 have been there regularly over the last year. Teachers come too, and also our chaplain. Last Tuesday the young altar server asked me if she could say a word after mass to thank our chaplain Gemma for supporting her and the students in the school and wish her God speed in her new job; after Holy Communion she did just that. It was an emotional moment because the pupils and staff are very sorry to see Gemma go, even if objectively it is the right thing. This all made me reflect.

It is hard For priests to leave a parish, just as in many cases for parishioners it is hard to lose their priest. He has often become a part of the parishioners’ lives, part of their families through his ministry. When asked “what is it like to be a priest on a parish”, the response I give is that it could not lead to better “job satisfaction” because you become a trusted member of so many different families. That is as long as a priest has a small amount of love and giving in him and an interest in people. It is such a privilege to be invited to be so fully trusted, almost a member of the family.

It all ends when things change and moves happen and that can be a strong emotional experience of loss and little gain. It is true also for teachers who leave schools and those who leave friends and neighbours as circumstances take them away to new places. What remains of all the time that people have shared each others’ lives? The events and happenings do not remain: they may be happy or unhappy memories but they cannot return. Nothing remains except the love that has gone into the days lived together.

Faced with these young people at that Tuesday morning mass I felt suddenly quite incapable of explaining to them the special nature of Christian Love. It is quite different to the love that we hear proclaimed in so many songs or expounded in the newspapers or in novels or TV plays. How are you able to go beyond the mundane to the genuine article of a really satisfying experience of loving? Especially as I have seen young people, older than the ones in front of me in the chapel last Tuesday morning, who are aimless and bored, into drugs, sitting cabbage like in front of Television or computer with seemingly little purpose in life. Jesus was on this earth and has given each person the chance to find out the meaning and purpose of his life. It is all to do with “love” and yet how hard it is to share what this really means. The saying is true: “Love does make the world go round”.

What is love? For some people love and sex are completely entwined. How then did Jesus love? Had he failed in love, a person who chose not to have a personal intimate relationship with another human being? I know a man who thinks that anyone who is consecrated to God by vows of celibacy has repudiated love.

Everyone wants both to love and be loved. Yet it is not something that you can keep and preserve. It is a bit like water: if you try to grab it the liquid runs between your fingers and goes.

Love necessarily includes relationship. I think it would be true to say that the relationship of Jesus and Mary his mother was the strongest human relationship that has ever existed in this world. Since Mary, Jesus’ mother is considered to be the “type” or the “model” of the Church, and the Church is the spouse of Christ, Mary must not only be the mother of Jesus but also his spouse. Given that Jesus is God made man, Mary is immaculate and made worthy to be the mother of God, a short reflection makes a person realise the uniqueness of their relationship. Their parting must have been very hard, especially in the circumstances of the crucifixion where it happened.

John and Mary at the foot of the cross

During his time on the cross Jesus seemed to have said to his mother “I am no longer your son” because in St. John’s Gospel, from the cross Jesus saw his mother the disciple whom he loved standing next to her and said “Woman, this is your Son”. Turning then to the disciple he said, “Here is your Mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19: 26-27) That must have been an agony for Mary his mother, precisely as his mother.

One day Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his mother and brothers appeared, standing outside, anxious to have a word with him. A man came to Jesus to tell him, and Jesus said to him “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Stretching out his hand to his disciples he said, “Here are my mother, and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother, and sister and mother”. (Mt. 12: 47-50)

Your mother and brothers are here

On the surface what an extraordinary thing Jesus said about the one with whom he had such a strong relationship. It is amazing to think that Jesus found those who were his disciples and did God’s will were also in relation to himself like a mother or a brother; i.e. people who make him feel good, loved and wanted. He too gave others that sense else why did they leave everything to follow him? Our Lord it is said did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to become human. (cf Phil 2; 6-8). It seems that he also did not cling to his relationship with his mother, but quite deliberately left home and family to begin a new adventure with others who would follow him and become another kind of family. This was the prototype of the Church that would later be formed by his disciples. At the same time he never forgot his mother Mary, and she never forgot her son Jesus, but they went about in their own way their Fathers’ business for them.

I read a meditation linked with this thought recently. It runs:

Whoever follows Jesus does not do so in order to live in a particular place (like a presbytery or religious house)…Whoever follows Jesus follows God and therefore has no place except in God himself.

If on the one hand this might seem negative, a renunciation of everything, on the other hand it can also be viewed in a positive sense. Every place in the world, all the houses in the world, become ours, because the Son of Man is master of the universe and his home cannot just be a little house in a little town.

Whoever follows Jesus finds his home everywhere, finds his town everywhere, and similarly finds his family and his homeland everywhere.

This is an overwhelming aspect of a vocation; we do not follow Jesus in a particular place, in a particular house; we follow Jesus in order to be his children and his brothers and sisters throughout the whole universe.

This thought may be able to throw light onto what Love is: probably the words will help us to understand if we have experience personally of what it speaks.

Let us remain open to God teaching us by his Holy Spirit what true Christian Love really is. It is this Love that in the midst of our tears will assuage sadness at parting and make sense of all the difficulties we will face in life.