John 17 + the Acadians

abandoned stationThe Seventh Sunday of Easter. A station where the trains no longer stop.

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after He rose from the dead. He ascended, therefore, on a Thursday.

But, for the past twenty years, most of us Catholics have commemorated the Ascension of Christ on the 43rd day. Our bishops decided it would suit people better to have the Solemnity of the Ascension on Sunday. (Theodore McCarrick preferred it that way.)

This replaced the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Now that liturgical day haunts us only as a phantom.

Thing is, we would read something kinda important at Mass, if we kept the Seventh Sunday of Easter. John 17. The priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, the message you delivered to Me, I have delivered to the men you singled out from the world and entrusted to Me. They have accepted it. They really understand that I come from You, and they believe that I am Your ambassador.

I am not long for the world. Holy Father! Keep them loyal to Your name, which You have given Me. Consecrate them in the service of the truth.

As You made Me Your ambassador to the world, so I make them My ambassadors to the world. I also pray for those who, through their preaching, will believe in Me. You love them as You love Me.

May the love with which You love Me dwell in them, as I dwell in them.

There’s more. The Lectionary apportions the entire chapter over the three-year Sunday cycle. I quote here just some passages. And I quote from the translation of James Kleist, which I find particularly moving.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church dedicates an entire article to John 17. St. Thomas Aquinas commented on this chapter of John: “Previously the Lord consoled His disciples by example and encouragement. Here He comforts them by His prayer.” I personally find bottomless comfort and consolation in reading John 17.

Neglecting to read John 17 at Sunday Mass seems almost as odd as it would be to neglect to read John 1 at Sunday Mass. The Prologue to the gospel.

Wait. We actually do neglect to read John 1 at Sunday Mass. Owing to similar circumstances. The Lectionary includes John 1 for the Second Sunday of Christmas. Another phantom station where the train never stops. Since the bishops moved the Solemnity of the Epiphany from January 6 to the second Sunday after Christmas.

Not sure the Fathers of Vatican II had this in mind, exactly. But we still have our Bibles, and know how to read. Thank God.

Today not only comes as the anniversary of the ordination of a certain clodhopper priest. We also keep the 265th anniversary of the British expedition from Boston that conquered Fort Beauséjour, in what is now Nova Scotia. (The expedition left Boston on May 22, 1755.) This conquest led to the Great Expulson of the Acadian people.

A rendering of Evangeline

The Acadians had lived in the maritime provinces of Canada for well over a century. French Catholics, they intermarried with the Mi’kmaq and created a distinct ethnicity. When the French colonial authorities abandoned Acadia, the Mi’kmaq refused to acknowledge British sovereignty.

After the British conquered Fort Beauséjour in early June, they proceeded to deport 11,500 Acadians, over the course of nine years. The Spanish helped many of them to re-locate to Louisiana. There, the “Acadians” became “Cajuns.” Still speaking their colonial French and still Catholic.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline sings the tragic tale of the displaced people.

A fellow seminarian, a Cajun, taught me all this history. It has stuck with me ever since. I take the moral as: God always has a plan.

American Aeneid

The Aeneid by Virgil is one of the greatest things of all time. It is the epic poem which tells the story of how Aeneas and the Trojans fled from their burning city after the attack of the Greeks. They crossed the Mediterranean to reach the place where they were destined by the gods to live: Rome. Aeneas is confronted with temptations to give up the long journey, including the lovely Dido, but he never gives in. He is driven on by his sense of destiny. Nothing is more important than his duty to reach Rome.

A likeness of the heroine
A likeness of the heroine

Earlier this week I was thinking about the Acadians. I first learned the history of the Acadian exile from a Creole seminary classmate. The Acadians were French colonists who lived in Nova Scotia. During the French and Indian War (1755-58), they were exiled by the British and their towns were burned. They were forced to return to France or to move south in North America. Many of them eventually came to Louisiana.

I am ashamed to admit that I had never read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline, so I got up early this morning to read it.

Evangeline is the most beautiful Acadian maiden in the village of Grand-Pre. Longfellow depicts Acadia as a kind of Eden; Evangeline’s greatest pleasure is to pour bowls of fresh ale for the men. She is engaged to marry the blacksmith’s son Gabriel, the love of her life. But then the British arrive and burn the town and put Evangeline and Gabriel on different ships to send them to an unknown fate.

Longfellow refers at least once directly to the Aeneid, and his style is like Virgil’s throughout the poem. But Longfellow’s Aeneas is not a swashbuckler driven by destiny but a kind, pure, long-suffering woman driven by love. She searches the rivers, plains, mountains, towns, and cities of the beautiful America of two centuries ago for her lost love. I am not going to give away the sublime ending.

Evangeline is even more a hero than the great Roman Aeneas–more admirable, more hearbreaking. The American Aeneid is a long, sad poem. But, man, oh man, is it worth reading. It will make you fall in love with our country again. It makes you feel like our country really is something–something wonderful and storied. Don’t get me wrong: the U.S.A. has many claims to fame. But to have our own Aeneid is…well, beautiful. Many things come and go, but having your own Aeneid does not easily slip away.