Saturday, May 16, 2015

We're not called to stand gazing heavenward

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3.6-9; Eph 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20

Without any grousing or griping (my view on this is "on-the-record") this Sunday in our diocese, along with several other dioceses around the country, we're celebrating Jesus' Glorious Ascension into Heaven.

Whenever I read Luke's account of the Ascension, which is our first reading for this solemnity, I am always struck by the fact that, even as they walk with Him to the Mount of Transfiguration, the apostles, despite having experienced His earthly ministry, His passion, death, and resurrection, and even after receiving what Jesus taught them during the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, they still don't get it. They ask Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus, even before the angel levels their gaze as they stare at Jesus ascending, replies- "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:7).

What strikes me about this is not, "How could His closest disciples be so stupid?" I am struck because in them I see myself. Jesus gives me the same patient answer He gave them. After all, in Confirmation, I received the very same Spirit- the Holy Spirit who is the personification of the love between the Father and the Son- that the Blessed Virgin and the apostles received at the first Christian Pentecost. Hence, I am called be His witness. Bearing witness by how live, by what we do and say, selflessly serving others for Christ's sake, this is what it means for the Church to apostolic. Just as the disciples could not rely on Jesus to re-establish the earthly kingdom of King David, I cannot expect to Christ to reign by means of worldly political power. These powers do not save, but they can surely damn.

Ascension, by Francisco Camilo, 1651

The Church, the assembly of those chosen and sent by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, is either apostolic or it is not the Church. This is what we're told in our second reading when we read that some are given a ministry in the Church, a ministry to the assembly of those chosen, "to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry" (Eph 4:12). The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, outlines well "the work of ministry" for which "the holy ones" are equipped"
the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity (par 31)
As Pope Francis said, "It is better to have a Church that is wounded but out in the streets than a Church that is sick because it is closed in on itself." A sick Church closed in on itself is badly in need of a fresh infusion of the Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate this glorious event, which is part of the great Paschal Mystery, let's hear and heed Christ's call anew. What is His call? "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). In light of this one might well ask, how much more will those who believe and have been baptized, but who do not proclaim the Gospel, be held to account? As St Paul wrote in his magisterial Letter to the Romans: "For the scripture says, 'No one who believes in him will be put to shame'... 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?" (Rom 10:11-14).

We're not called to stand "looking at the sky" (Acts 1:11). Rather, we're called and empowered to usher in the reign of God as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Don't dismiss Jesus' promise that signs will accompany those who believe and heed His call. In our Gospel today, we hear Mark's more detailed and specific way of expressing what Matthew, in his account of the Lord's ascension, says more concisely: "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). Stated succinctly, we heed His call and Christ, by power of the Holy Spirit, equips us with what we need to carry it out.

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