Thursday, May 9, 2013

Walk with determination on the path of holiness! | Solemnity of the Ascension


I’m always glad on this day that we live in New England.  Here in our part of the word, we celebrate today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord right where it belongs, 40 days after Easter, 40 days after the Resurrection.  You might be thinking to yourself, “Of course.  We’ve always done it that way. Doesn’t everyone?”  The answer is, no. In other parts of the country and the world, the feast of the Ascension is transferred to Sunday.  So, for those people, they won’t celebrate this great event for another three days and since Sunday for them will be taken over by the Ascension readings, they will miss on Sunday powerful moments like the martyrdom of St. Stephen in the first reading.  They won’t hear proclaimed the great witness of Stephen, the first to give his life for the Gospel, for Christ.  They will not hear at Mass the words of Jesus who loves us so much that He prays for us.  The very Son of God, offering words of prayer for you and for me.  They won’t hear Him say, “Father, I pray for them... that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”

You see, there is a beautiful symmetry in the celebration today.  As we gather in this Church tonight, it has been 40 days since we gathered to celebrate the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – 40 days.  Think about that for a moment.  We know that God does great things in 40s.  The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood.  God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land after 40 years in the desert. Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry.  We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus.  As a side note, have you ever wondered why those 40 days before Easter seem so much longer than the 40 days after, or is it just me?  Keeping with our theme, that is brought to a wonderful balance with today’s celebration, Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead.  Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father.  And because Jesus likes to spoil us – Fr. Rick reminded those of us at his talk last night that “God cannot be outdone in generosity” – there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close. 

First a word on ascension.  In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven.  So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption?  Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting.  Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up into Heaven.  He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He ascends to Heaven.  Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power.  Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven.  The same activity, but a different active party.  But, in a way, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we are free from sin, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton that took place not long after his conversion to Catholicism. He was walking with a friend of his who asked him a simple question, now that you are a Catholic, “What do you want to be?”  Merton didn’t know how to answer and stumbled and said simply, “I don’t know, I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”  His friend was stunned and said, “What do you mean you want to be a good Catholic?  What you should say is that you want to be a saint!”  That thought struck Merton as strange and he said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to.”  Merton backtracked.  “I can’t be a saint. I can’t be a saint. I’m satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin.” But, his friend remained firm. “No,” he said. “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply remember and commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation – in anticipation of our own sainthood.  In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” And just this Tuesday Pope Francis picked up the theme. He said, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.”   If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too.  And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of eternal life in Heaven.  Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways.  He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”  It is as simple as that.  Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature.  We’re called to remember that commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today.  We’re called to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission.  After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters.  It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue.  God’s only question will be how have you loved?  How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed; have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where He has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

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