Seventh Sunday of Easter: WITH
May 16, 2011
Marlene Milasus, OSB, Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth, NJ
What do you think is the most important word in the Gospels, if not in the entire New Testament? According to one writer (and If I could recall who wrote the article and where it was published, I’d give her/him full credit) that word is “WITH.” Not God, or Jesus, or love, or peace, or any other word you might expect, but “WITH.”
Once I encountered that insight, I began to see “WITH” everywhere: in the common life I live with my sisters in the monastery, in the companionship of praying/working/eating/recreating with them, in the care and concern that Jesus calls us to show to others, in the life of our Three-Personed God who is an eternal, infinite “WITH.” In fact, it’s that divine “WITH” relationship that’s the source and energy of all the “WITHS” that we are called to sustain.
When we pray in solitude, we are not only with (I’ll stop the capitalizing!) God, but we are also with everyone else, past, present, and to come, in the heart of God. Our Christian and monastic traditions call us to pray and worship with one another, because “where two or three are gathered….” In our own time, we are experiencing both in Church life and in international and national life the importance of seeing ourselves not as separate individuals, but as beings whose boundaries are porous and somehow touch the boundaries of others. A cheer-up note or a comforting phone call or a gesture of sympathy are all ways of assuring others that we’re with them, because at the difficult times of our life, isolation can be especially painful. Ownership and possession begin to lessen in importance as we realize that we are somehow one with, and responsible for, everyone, and everything, else. Care for the environment becomes not simply a pleasant side interest, but a moral imperative, because it affects not only others today, but those who will come after us. Our being “with” goes far and wide.
And just in case we still don’t get the point, there’s the past year’s experience of pandemic. The entire globe has been affected. The fact that I’ve been doubly vaccinated and probably now in no great danger isn’t sufficient; I live with a planet full of people to whom I can still carry the disease, even if I never have a sniffle. I can still send off that virus to multiply again, over and over. Perhaps never before have we been so directly responsible for one another! So when I put on a mask or stand six feet from the next person, when I use sanitizer one more time in the course of the day, I could ultimately be protecting someone on the other side of the planet. That word with has taken on a whole new layer of meaning, thanks to COVID-19.
As we celebrate – either today or last Thursday – the Solemnity of the Ascension, let’s remember Jesus’ promise to be with us. Try going through one day and counting all the “withs” in your life, on every level. And resolve each day to be the “with” that one other person might need. After all, Jesus promises that heaven is going to be an eternal “with.” We may as well get started.
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Sister Marlene Milasus is a member of Benedictine Sisters of Elizabeth, NJ, St Walburga Monastery. Currently, she is serving as community treasurer and liturgist. She works in a monastery retreat program and is a licensed New Jersey boiler operator!