Passing the Torch

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Here is a link to today’s readings.

In his excellent textbook, Path Through Catholicism, Jesuit father Mark Link retells the story of the Italian composer Puccini concerning his final work, Turandot. “While writing it,” says Link, “he was stricken with cancer. When his cancer worsened, he said to his students, ‘If I don’t finish this opera, I want you to finish it for me.’” The cancer finally got the best of him, and he died two days after being operated on, but his students finished the work. In fact, the finest student of all, Toscanini, directed the opening performance in Milan to “thunderous applause.”

What is the unfinished work of your life? What is mine? How do they intersect with the mission of Jesus and the Church concerning the Reign of God? We may be young in life or in our senior years, but we always have more to do. I like the Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin says, “God put me on Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind, I will never die!” Of course, at some point we will. Our work will remain unfinished by us. Who will finish our work?

shutterstock_412505572In the last few decades, there has been a great emphasis on promoting religious vocations in the Church. This is a good thing and of critical importance. Without priests, especially, we have no Eucharist, the very “source and summit of the Christian life” according to the bishops at the Second Vatican Council. From what I’ve read, the most successful means of introducing a young person to the possibility of a religious vocation is the personal invitation to consider it. This is especially powerful when it comes from someone already living that vocation, a handing on of the torch. We should continue to pray for vocations, but let’s also take a moment to think about whom we might tap on the shoulder and simply ask if they’ve ever thought God might be calling them. The work of Christ must go on. Who will finish the work?

In the first reading today, we hear the second part of the story of the call of Elisha the prophet. What we missed is that Elijah had become depressed by the apparent failure of his prophetic work. Fleeing Jezebel for his life and “bemoaning his outcast state” (as Shakespeare might have said) as the only Israelite faithful to the covenant, “He prayed for death: ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19:14, NABRE). Have you ever been to that dark place? Have you ever felt the bitterness expressed by Linkin Park in the lyrics: “I tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter”? Elijah was encouraged by an angel, who woke him up and ordered him to eat (1Kings 19:15). Who were your “angels” in those dark days? Have you been an “angel” to someone else who was in the darkness simply by sharing the light of your torch, the light of your own faith, hope, and love?

Elijah then heard the voice of God—not in the wind and the earthquake, but in a quiet whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). It was only then that he was given instructions by God to name Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). Now today’s reading makes more sense. Now we understand why when Elijah came upon Elisha, he “threw his cloak over him” and Elisha “left the oxen… and followed Elijah as his attendant.”

Who will follow us? Who will ensure that our little share in the work of the Gospel continues, whether as religious educators or lectors, as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion or as youth ministers and scout masters, as leaders of women’s or men’s prayer groups or as organizers of food pantries and shelters? How will the good work continue? Just as with religious vocations, all the various vocations of the laity need to be handed down as well. It is the very meaning of the word “tradition.” Handing on the faith means more than handing on the theology. It also means handing on the practices and the ministries. When young people are asked to get involved, they often feel empowered, honored, and more deeply committed. We acknowledge their importance in the Body of Christ. All of us must pass on the torch continuously. It is an essential aspect of evangelization and catechesis. Perhaps we should take some time to pray. Sit quietly. Listen for the tiny whisper of God. Discern whom you are going to throw the cloak over next. Who will finish our work?

 

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4 Comments
  • John Ellsessar
    Posted at 16:02h, 24 June

    Very well done Kevin! Thought provoking and inspiring! God be with you!

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 18:40h, 25 June

      Thank you, John. God bless you and your family (on earth and in Heaven) as well!

  • Marion Collins
    Posted at 18:02h, 25 June

    Kevin Dowd has challenged us once again to live the Voice of rhenScriptures. We have been given a mission and a map to follow Christ. We are asked to pray for priests and an increase of Vocations while we also acknowledge the great work of the Laity in the Church.
    Pope Francis has given much emphasis to the role of all the men and women in the life of the Church. We are challenged to encourage more involvement in the many ministries that contribute to the Reign of God . We should be models for our young people and encourage their involvement in the Church- they are our future!
    Young people who do engage in ministry in their Church and Parish come away feeling a great sense of accomplishment and renewed enthusiasm to do More!
    We need to walk with our teens and adolescents and be the models we are challenged to be..
    Thank you, Kevin Dowd and Bayard for the personal way the blog is written and the inspiration.

    • Kevin Dowd
      Posted at 18:39h, 25 June

      Thank you, Mamie. Always good to see your responses here. You have a lot of experience on the ground and I appreciate your insights and your continued commitment to handing on the faith.