Jun 1, 2011

Ascension of the Lord: I go so you may go

Ascension of Christ: Garafolo 1520

Scriptures for Ascension: http://www.usccb.org/nab/060511a.shtml

When we pray, I think it's right to be very specific about the things we need. When we want something done the same would be true. In this Sunday’s celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, Jesus was very specific with his Apostles about the job they were to do: “Go and make disciples.” It was a task that would not be easy but as the Lord left this earth he was not to be forgotten. His mission on this earth was now complete but in another sense it was only beginning.

The final disappearance of Jesus from this earth must have been a bitter-sweet event for the Apostles. Saying “goodbye” is never easy particularly to those who have played an intimate role in our lives. We say goodbye when we go off to College, although most youth of that age are more than ready to set out on their own, at least they think so. We say goodbye when friends leave; goodbye when we move to a new location; we priests say many goodbye’s when we move from parish to parish or assignment to assignment. Families in the military say goodbye often as they move from location to location. And, sadly, we say goodbye when a loved one dies and that too can be bitter-sweet as we see them relived from pain but we are sad they will no longer play a direct role in our lives.

Yet, Jesus’ goodbye was not final by any means. He offers his Apostles, and through them the Church and the larger world, the hope of a new beginning: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them . . . I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28: 18-20).

Jesus’ goodbye is laden with a promise that though he may not be physically visible in our midst, he is with us. His presence is far more than just a memory or a collection of stories or a wall of photographs as we may have of our friends and family who have passed on. His presence is real, full, and living through the vibrancy of the Spirit among us. In word and sacrament; in shared faith and witness; in leadership and prayer; in social service and the corporal works of mercy.  The Spirit's (Christ's) work is everywhere!

Jesus’ ascent into heaven, his “going up” is our “going out.” As he goes up, we go forth to carry on his mission. But, as the first reading relates: “. . . he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak . . . the Holy Spirit . . .’” (Acts 1: 3-4). Like the well known song, “Me and my shadow,” the Holy Spirit is given to the Church and to all believers that he may in a sense walk with us, guard us, and strengthen us so that we are not on our own, preaching the “Gospel of Me.” But rather, witnessing to the Gospel of Christ.

Our Holy Father Benedict XVI has been skilled at encouraging the present day tools of communication such as the internet, websites, blogs, and social meeting sights such as Facebook, as proper tools for Evangelization. He recently stated: “The term, ‘new evangelization’ recalls the need for a renewed manner of proclamation, especially for those who live in a context, like the one today, in which developments of secularization have left a lasting mark . . . Proclaiming Jesus Christ the only Savior of the World, today appears more complex . . . the mission is not changed just as the enthusiasm and courage that moved the Apostles and first disciples must not change . . .” (Papal Address at the Council for Promoting the New Evangelization: 5/31/2011).

What Pope Benedict reminds us is that the challenge of believers living in a secular world may feel more daunting but social conditions do not change the core message of the good news which Jesus preached and the Apostles died for.

If it feels like a lot of work, it is. I think the greatest sin of today’s culture is the sin of indifference or apathy. It’s not that many are hostile to religion; it’s more that they just don’t care one way or another. Yes, the hostility is there as we’ve all seen and heard. But for the most part we live in a very, “I won’t bother you if you won’t bother me” culture. That perspective is not an egg you can crack very easily.

But, as Pope Benedict reminds us later in his address: “Even for those who remain tied to Christian roots . . . it is important to realize that being Christian is not a type of clothing to wear in private or on special occasions, but is something living and all-encompassing able to contain all that is good in modern life . . .”

Let us not be afraid but pray for the Spirit’s gift of fortitude, courage, right-judgment and charity. Let’s do more than just put on our Sunday best with the veneer of Christianity in all of its Catholic show. As the Pope says our faith, “. . . is something living and all-encompassing . . .” We, like St. Francis, can preach without words if necessary.

“God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”