This spring we’ve watched as a pair of morning doves built a nest on the outdoor crucifix located in our cloister garden. Nestled on the shoulder of the crucified Jesus, the mother sat motionless on her eggs for days and days. At last the chicks emerged.
I had the extraordinary good fortune to be watching the nest this past Monday evening. The two chicks are now adolescents, about 2/3 the size of their adult parents and darker in coloring. They were sitting side by side in the nest, eagerly looking out on the world. Their mother appeared and, standing on the head of the crucified Jesus, she fed them. Then she flew off and perched nearby where she could keep a close eye on them.
You could tell there was something happening. The young birds began rocking back and forth in the nest, as if working up their courage to leave the warmth and security of the nest. Finally, one of them took the leap. It flapped wildly around the cloister, unable to control its flight, banging into the walls and ceiling until it finally fell stunned to the floor. The second one readied itself for its first flight, rocking in the nest before finally launching its body into the air. Like the first, it flapped wildly about, crashing into the ceiling and walls, and then landing on the floor. It waited for a bit, then took off again, this time successfully navigating its way through the arches and out into the garden.
The first bird, who had had the rougher maiden flight, still stood on the floor of the cloiser, though it moved gradually closer to the edge. The mother was watching from her perch and finally flew down next to the young bird, as if to give it encouragement and support. The mother appeared to be moving the young bird closer to the edge, but she never made contact with it. After a few minutes she flew back to her watching place. The little bird paused on the edge, shifting back and forth, and finally launching itself into the air, successfully flying to the eaves above the cloister, where the mother soon joined it.
It was a remarkable experience, seeing these young birds taking flight for the first time, awkwardly and without much control at first, needing the support and watchful eye of their parent.
I thought of this experience as I was reading this story from Acts of the Apostles. Here are the disciples, sent on mission by Christ and now on their own, testing their wings for the first time. A power has been unleashed within them and miracles are taking place, but it’s not a power they can control. At the same time as they are experiencing signs of success, they are also encountering challenges they have not known before: opposition from religious leaders, arrest and imprisonment, persecution and the threat of physical harm or even death.
I feel certain that the Risen Christ is watching them, offering love and support, rejoicing with them when they get it right, and suffering with them when things go wrong. He saw their fear and trepidation in the wake of the crucifixion, and now I imagine him watching them with parental pride as they flex their ministry muscles for the first time on their own.
It is always remarkable for me to see how God entrusts God’s mission in the world to us human beings, who are plagued by weaknesses and faults. It was not long ago that all of these disciples abandoned Jesus in his hour of great need, and yet their past infidelities and failures do not prevent them from being chosen and sent to proclaim his Good News and to carry on his ministry. What a great consolation for us, who are trying our best to fly but are not always graceful or effective.
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