For many reasons, the past few days have brought to my mind the way we say goodbye to each other. Sometimes we utter the word expecting our parting to be short. In other times, we speak it knowing full well it may be the last time we see the other. It is said to strangers, to friends, and to those we love most dearly in this world. The word has, I think, perhaps lost for us what it was once meant to convey—but perhaps still can.
Although we don’t think of it anymore, the word “goodbye” is in fact a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye.” The Romance languages have similar words for goodbye. In Italian, “addio.” In Spanish, “adios.” These words ultimately derive from the Latin “ad Deum,” literally, “to God.” The French word “adieu” is a contraction of the Old French phrase “a Dieu vous comant,” which again literally means “I commend you to God.”
It is, of course, always praiseworthy to commend others to God, but note that we do not commend someone to God upon our greeting them, but upon our departing from them. Why is this?
I think the answer lies in the words of Our Lord. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” God could easily feed, and give drink to, and clothe all those that needs these things. He could do this without any help from us. He doesn’t need us to do anything. And yet, He desires that the hungry are fed, not through miraculous means, but through the means of His creatures.
He desires this because He wishes us to become like Him.
Our Lord tells us that we must see Him in others—even the least of His brethren. Indeed, He tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, but then—somewhat shockingly—He tells us that “a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What is not explicitly stated is that we must see Christ not merely in our neighbor, but ourselves. The command to love our neighbor—to feed him, clothe him, counsel him in his doubts, forgive his offenses, bear his wrongs against us with patience, comfort him when he is afflicted—finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Person of Christ Himself.
The command to love our neighbor, then, is a command to be other Christs.
Why does God not do all this Himself, then? Because He loves us too much to not share His life of Grace with us. He grants us the immense dignity, and the profound responsibility, to share in His work of sanctification and mercy to the world. Then, we may echo with St. Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We may join with St. Patrick and exclaim:
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Why then do we not commend someone to God upon greeting them? Because, dear reader, as shocking as it may sound, it is precisely then that God has commended them to us. For that short time we are with them, we are privileged to share in the Divine plan, wherein we are called upon to be Christ to the other.
For a time, Christ has sent us in His place, and woe to us if our neighbors do not find Him.
This then is our charge: that as we are commended by God, and as we commend to God, that the least of our brethren are not startled by the change.
Until next time then, God be with you.