The Many Ways of Good-bye

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  June 5, 2022

There are good-byes that are brief or lengthy, and good-byes that are temporary or permanent. I suspect all of us have known both. Today’s readings (June 1, 2022 – Acts 20:28-38, John 17:11b-19) speak to the meaning of the word, “good-bye.” I love words, and I love to find fresh ways to break open their meaning. So I’d like to add the nuance of language.

In Acts, Paul clearly conveys to the people of Ephesus that this is the last time they’ll see one another.  It’s quite an emotional scene, isn’t it? We read: They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him…They were deeply distressed that he had said they would never see his face again.” This good-bye is permanent. Perhaps we’ve been in that place.

This is anticipatory grief, because Paul is still standing right in front of the people of Ephesus. Their farewell has the feel of an Italian phrase, “Mi manchi.” I’ve been told that in Italian, there are no words that actually say, “I miss you.” Instead, there’s “Mi manchi,” which translates, you are missing from me. Can we hear the longing that’s underneath those words?

A few years ago I heard news about a father who had just found out his adult daughter had been murdered. A reporter thrust a microphone in his face and asked the question no person can ever answer: “How do you feel?” The father looked at him, wept, and then choked out, “How do I feel? How do I feel? I am incomplete! We are incomplete!” It’s the feeling of “Mi manchi.” You are missing from me. Can we hear the longing that’s underneath those words?

Jesus’ farewell has a different feel to it. Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is part of several chapters we might call “the long good-bye.” We hear the farewell discourse of Jesus preparing us for his departure. It’s like a parent or a partner summoning every last bit of strength to capture what they want to leave as a legacy for their beloved. There’s a softness, a tenderness in Jesus’ words. He prays for us, he promises to protect and guard us. He tells us that this good-bye is necessary, but temporary. He must go so that the Advocate, the Spirit, may come. He desires us to share in his joy completely.

So Jesus’ good-bye is different from Paul’s. Jesus’ farewell has more the feel of “Auf Wiedersehen.Auf Wiedersehen, in other words, til we see one another again. It has more the feel of the Irish expression, Ta Bron Orm,” which means not “I am sad,” but instead “sadness is on me.” In other words, sadness is on me for a little while, temporarily, but then I can make room for other emotions, like joy, to be on me.

Whatever our experience with the language of good-bye, we’re all called to develop greater fluency in one language, the language of the heart. Noticing, listening deeply, paying attention to the nudges of the Holy One. Everything we’ve been about this week of retreat.

We carried with us into these days the people we love and care for. So this last day of retreat might hold an invitation to remember those in our world who, right now, at this very moment, are experiencing the pain of letting go and leavetaking. The raw wounds of the people of Uvalde, Texas. The ache of relationships that are terminated not by choice. The farewell that is the death of a loved one. The heartbreak of the refugee from Ukraine or Central America, forced to leave behind everything that speaks of home. Perhaps our own diminishment, loss, illness, or the saying good-bye to a way of life we have cherished.

Our time of retreat will be ending soon, but we take with us the experience of deep reflection and rich silence. A deep knowing that all our longing for the Holy One is really an echo of God’s first longing for us, isn’t it?

As we leave, we carry with us and within us a world that is at once hauntingly beautiful and profoundly wounded. Our challenge is to be people of hope who refuse to allow sin and death to have the last word. Our call is to be agents of healing for a world that longs to taste God’s dream for us.

Matthew Henry, Unsplash

All our farewells, past, present, and to come, are held in the heart of the Holy One, and so, from the spaciousness of that loving heart, we offer our thanks for these days and we say “Good-bye.” In other words, “God be with us always and everywhere!”

Vaya con dios. Go with God.

May it be so!

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on any good-byes, past or present, that remain in your heart.
Ask the Holy One for healing for yourself and for those in our world carrying the heartache of farewell.
Spend time in that healing space.

Featured Image: Aziz Archarki, Unsplash

Today’s blog was actually the homily I shared on June 1st, when I was one of the guest directors for a directed retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, MA, May 26 – June 2. Thank you for your prayer for the wonderful people who were part of that retreat experience. Special thanks to Father William Campbell, director, for his gracious hospitality and the many touches of beauty he added to our time together in that lovely place by the ocean.

June 12-18:
Please now hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat for Sisters that I’ll be leading at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford, CT. Thank you.

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4 thoughts on “The Many Ways of Good-bye”

  1. So comforting to know our loved ones carry us in their hearts always loving us like Jesus till we say Hello again face to face❤️

  2. This was so mocing Chris. I was holding the grieving families in >Texas, Oklahoma, Buffalo and the Ukraine and Russia in my heart as I read it. I love the meanings of the words” good-bye” in the difeferent languages. In Spanish “Vaya con Dios” are special for me. ” Go with God.”. May you go with God to wherever your ministry takes you. You do!

  3. Goodbye has so many meanings and so good to know that each meaning is alright and hope is just a prayer away.

  4. Gloucester holds a special place in my heart and your blog added to it. Thanks, Chris for tapping into moments and experiences of the heart. No doubt your retreatants left listened to, tendered and full of hope. You reflect Christ’s love so well. Prayers continue for you and your ministry. Love, Kay

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