May 18, 2012

A Feast of Goodbye and Hello

Copley: The Ascension of the Lord

"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel . . ."

Acts 1: 1-11
Eph 1: 17-23
Mk 16: 15-20
In a recent conversation with a brother priest we both admitted that one of the hardest things about our life is leaving an assignment that you have really enjoyed.  We find ourselves sent to not just one parish for a lifetime but to many. Then, there may well be other tasks you are asked to do in addition to your parish assignment.  Although there is a term of office for a pastor, the greater needs of the Diocese may interrupt what you thought would be a determined number of years.  Things are going well.  You’ve made some great friends. Certain projects have begun.  Then, in the midst of this environment, the greater needs of the Diocese come forth and you’re asked to move on. I know because I’ve been there myself.  Although we do have some say in our assignments, there is no absolute guarantee that life will go the way you hope. Like St. Paul himself, we must learn to say both “hello” and “goodbye.” Yet, the goodbyes are not final.  You can and do often stay in touch with past parishioners but life goes on.
The above experience is, I think, not unlike what the Apostles must have felt themselves as our Lord returned to heaven in his Ascension.  This Sunday’s beautiful Feast is a turning point in the story of salvation.  I don’t doubt the Apostles were incredibly energized and filled with new hope as they became witnesses to the risen Lord. In the first reading (Acts 1:1-11) this Sunday they ask: “"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? . . .” 
Rather than just say outright, “Don’t you guys get it yet?” Jesus sends them out on mission in the Gospel (Mk 16: 15-20): “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel everywhere . . .” And so begins the mission not just of the Apostles but of everyone who would come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The mission of the Church is our mission as well.  Saying “goodbye” to Jesus at this moment was only the beginning of something greater – the age of the Holy Spirit.  A new “hello” of Christ in which we now live.
As we prepare for this Sunday and the Feast of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost next week, we might wonder about our mission and how we have lived that out.  People come to the Church for a variety of reasons: They feel welcome.  My spouse is Catholic.  I have studied the history and theology of the Church so I have an intellectual reason. I have attended Mass for a number of years as a non-Catholic and now I feel I need to go farther.  I have felt an attraction to the Church for a number of years and I am here to explore that. 
What are your reasons for remaining in the Church?  What holds you here?
More will come of course . . .