May 16, 2015

Ascenion of the Lord: Consumers or Disciples?

We’ve all done it.  The movie is over, we’ve enjoyed the film and story very much, up come the rolling credits at the end with the appropriate closing song and we make a dash for the exit. With unfinished drink and maybe un-digestible kernels of popcorn we throw the trash in the containers and exit the movie theatre.  We have no idea who was behind the making of the film, other than the lead roles perhaps.  I’ve often felt a little sorry for these invisible folks who design costumes, movie sets, write scripts and create amazing special effects.  They're like unknown forces that create.

This weekend we mark the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension and quite frankly it is one event that has been treated as something like the rolling credits of a film.  Ever wonder why in many areas the Solemnity was moved from a Thursday (Ascension Thursday) to the following Sunday?  Because attendance was so low for Mass despite it being a holy day of obligation in most parts.  While in some Dioceses of the U.S. Ascension Thursday is still celebrated, in most of the Country and other parts of the world it is the Sunday before Pentecost, which does get our attention – fire, wind, tongues!  Now that’s a production. Yet, is the Ascension of the Lord, his return to heavenly glory, just a rolling credit?

Not exactly.  In the entire celebration of the Easter season which concludes next week with Pentecost, the Lord’s return to glory may be viewed as the moment of connection in the grand story of God’s work of salvation through his son Jesus.  As our Lord returns, he promises to come back.  Sure, at the end of time.  Yes then, but as we hear in the first reading from Acts 1: 1-11: “He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” So, the Ascension is not an end but a moment of expectation; something more and greater is about to take place.  The Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus himself and of the Father will come.

God came first in the womb of the Virgin Mary, he walked among us to uncover the mystery of God’s mercy and love, died and rose, returned to where he came from, and now he will come again to give life and breath to the Church for all time!  That hardly sounds like the ending credits. 

Secondly, it is a reminder of our destiny.  A Feast for the future. The Preface of our Mass today says it beautifully: “He ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.” Keep on with living the Gospel because the best is yet to come for all of us as disciples of the Lord – stay in your seats the movie isn’t over yet. 

Finally, it is the moment when the mission of the Church was given.  A Feast for the present. Until the Lord returns in glory at the end of all time – and no one knows when that will be, except the Father of course – what are we to do?  Just watch the clouds waiting for that moment of awesome splendor? 

Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved . . . after he spoke to them, he was taken up into heaven . . . But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them.” (Mk 16: 15-20).

We’ve heard this command of Jesus before in varied ways but all fundamentally the same: “Go . . .” It reminds us that Christianity is not a passive belief but an active faith.  Jesus, front and center, entrusts the mission of the Church to his Apostles and through them to every baptized Christian. It is the same mission of Christ carried on. So Christians are by nature called to be missionaries. 

Yet, is that what we see when we look around?  Is this what our modern day culture promotes?  We pride ourselves as Americans on being independent, free, entrepreneurs, capitalists, and opportunists to achieve wealth, fame, fortune – or at least wealth, comfort, and prosperity.  In the end while we all enjoy the benefits of this uniquely free society we have become a culture of consumers.  So much is offered to us that is constantly new and changing – just think of technology – that we have come to expect that it’s all here for our consumption.  In other words, the “what’s in it for me” syndrome has settled in quite nicely.  Our needs and our wants have become so intertwined that we can barely make a distinction between them.  And all the marketers know this.  It’s the way it all works.  “You need this” or “You want this” is the mantra we live by.

But, the Gospel of Jesus Christ looks at life a bit differently to say the least.  It’s not about consuming wealth but rather about becoming disciples of the Lord Jesus. Not about greed but about sacrifice; not about “me” but about “you.” We are called to “Go” and when we go we need to put our material possessions in perspective for the baggage we carry is the Gospel of Jesus’ mercy and love. 

We are not all called to literarily relocate geographically but we should be missionaries in the land where we live:  at home with family, in our parishes and our schools, our places of employment and with those we meet.  Preach by our actions more than our words and it is the Spirit promised by Jesus at his Ascension that compels us.  

Jesus has raised the bar very high for us but assures us that we are not alone in his work and his mission. No the movie isn’t over and it isn’t time to dash out and move on to the next flashy thing. Be disciples not consumers. 

Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God,
and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving,
for the Ascension of Christ your Son
is our exaltation,
and, where the Head has gone before in glory,
the Body is called to follow in hope.

(Collect of Solemnity)