Before attempting to fill this space, I read scripture. I consider the current season of the church year and recent events as well. If I have the time, I also allow myself a walk outdoors. Rain or shine, the fresh air clears my head while the vast expanse of sky above puts things into perspective. Allowing my thoughts to steep in the midst of God’s handiwork helps me to focus. This proved especially helpful this time around. I’m taken with the message of a ninety-one word passage from John’s gospel. It’s amazing how much can be said in six sentences! I’ve also been troubled by the unexpected passing of a friend. Pat was a very good man –far more so than I knew.
It occurred to me that Jesus spoke through John’s gospel (John 13:31-33a, 34-35) to offer indispensable words of encouragement. Though we are in the midst of the Easter Season, we return to the Last Supper for this lesson. Jesus told his friends, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus was desperate to give his disciples precisely what they needed to survive the trials on the path before them. They had to appreciate the extent of God’s love for them. Jesus knew that when we realize how deeply God loves us, we cannot help sharing that love with one another. So it was that my thoughts turned to my friend.
Pat and I met some years ago when we shared a pew for the 7:30 Mass. We talked for the first time during the sign of peace when I apologized for my invariably cold hands. Every week thereafter, those cold hands prompted the same apology which eventually lead to conversations after Mass. Since Pat was often in the gathering space when the Knights of Columbus sponsored activities, more opportunities to talk arose. It didn’t take long for me to look forward to these encounters which always left us smiling in unison. I eventually learned that Pat was battling cancer. Whenever I asked about his progress, Pat responded, “So far, so good.” He never complained. As long as Pat moved on his own power, he considered himself to be blessed. Pat was certainly a man of hope. Some weeks ago, Pat was hospitalized with pneumonia. This bout took its toll and Pat’s battle with cancer took a turn for the worse. After a short release, Pat returned to the hospital.
A few days later, I visited Pat. When I arrived, I met his family in the hospital lobby. On the way to Pat’s room, they shared that several of Pat’s friends and coworkers had come by. When I asked if my presence was “too much”, they assured me that Pat would welcome my visit. Pat’s smile confirmed their assessment. After talking a bit, I asked Pat what the plan was to deal with this setback. When Pat shared that his next stop would be hospice, I admitted my surprise. Pat responded with calm certainty, “Well, this isn’t my plan -not what I would have chosen. But I know where I’m going, so it’s okay.” I can’t recall what I blubbered in response, but it doesn’t matter. Pat had said it all.
It seems to me that Pat attended carefully to Jesus’ lessons regarding God’s love for us. Pat considered God’s love a given. Why else would he have faced his prognosis with such peace? Pat also took to heart Jesus’ invitation to love others. Though I witnessed Pat’s kindness at church, I had no idea of the impact he’d made on his family, friends and co-workers. When we gathered for his wake, stories from those who knew Pat indicated that church isn’t the only place where Pat had improved the path ahead. Family stories confirmed that Pat was a loving and devoted son and sibling. Friends marveled at Pat’s ongoing generosity. One told me, “Pat supported lots of causes. He was a generous guy.” Co-workers’ comments were most revealing. Though Pat held a significant position, he never overlooked the value of those who worked for him. One man tearfully shared, “He was my boss for ten years -ten good years!” A young woman told me, “You know, some people worked there for a month before they knew Pat was the boss. If something was up and the night shift had to handle it, Pat stayed with us to help. He was so down to earth and helpful. He was one of us, you know?” One of us, indeed. That’s what happens when we love one another! We clear the path ahead as best we can for all concerned.
I think that the most important message we can take from John’s gospel and from Pat’s life is that we are deeply loved by God. When we take God’s love to heart, we can’t help loving one another. Through expressions of love, both great and small, we clear the path home to God for ourselves and for those we are given to love.
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