This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Luke’s Gospel ends with one version of the Ascension and his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with another version; we hear both of them today. That gives us a clue as to how we should understand this feast.
Luke’s Gospel is about the life of Christ and His physical presence on earth, beginning with stories of his birth and continuing through His life until His death, resurrection, and ascension: “he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is about the early Church and how the disciples, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, were able to take up the great mission Jesus had given them to go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. It starts with the Ascension, because it was necessary for Jesus to leave so that the focus could be on the mission and not on Him. We can see that in the question the disciples ask Jesus in today’s reading: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still focused on Him, hoping that He would become an earthly power. He had to get out of the way, so that the Spirit could come to them and they could begin their missionary work, the wonderful missionary work that is chronicled for us in the Acts of the Apostles.
We have been given the same mandate in baptism: to preach the Gospel to every creature through our words and actions. It is a struggle for us, as it was for the first disciples. But, we have been given many gifts to help us: the Scriptures, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Community, and the Holy Spirit.
The temptation for the first disciples was to focus on Jesus and not the mission. It can be the same for us, if our focus is only on fulfilling religious duties and not on how we are bringing the Good News to the world. All our religious duties are crucial, but not as ends in themselves: they are to strengthen us so that we can be better disciples, bringing Christ’s love and light to a world so desperately in need of them.
As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension and prepare to celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, let us renew our commitment to grow in our ability to live the great mandate of bringing the Good News to the world around us. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Don’t wish for it, work for it.
"It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us…” With these words, the Church in Jerusalem sent the result of the first Council of the Church back to the faithful in Antioch. There is a message for us that is crucial for our country today: we cannot stay divided; we need to dialog and come to a consensus so we can move forward together.
The first Christians were Jews and they continued following the Mosaic law, including circumcision and dietary restrictions. As Paul moved through the Gentile world and made converts, tension arose between the Jewish Christians in these areas and the Gentile converts.
How was it resolved? Paul and other delegates went to Jerusalem, the center of the Church and the place where the Church was most Jewish. They met with Peter and the other leaders; each side listened to the other; all of them invoked the Holy Spirit and they came to a consensus. They sent Jewish representatives back with Paul, so that it would be clear to the Jewish Christians in the outlying areas that it truly was a decision accepted by the Church in Jerusalem.
What a wonderful example of how we can come to decisions that benefit the whole community, promoting unity and peace. In addition to looking at what they did, it is important to look at what they did NOT do: they did not call each other names or put each other down, they did not close their minds to other ideas, and they did not insist on their own way. They listened to each other and allowed the Spirit to speak to and through them.
There is no doubt we need this kind of dialog and consensus building in our country. The divisions we are experiencing harm everyone, because we are not moving forward for the common good. Ultimately, no one benefits.
This kind of communication is also needed in our Church, our workplaces, and our families. No one has all the answers, no one has the absolute truth, and no one can find their way alone. We need the Holy Spirit, as did the first disciples in the Council of Jerusalem, but most often the Spirit speaks through other people. When we can
listen to each other, discern what is best for the whole, and move forward, the Spirit is able to work through us.
How am I at listening and moving forward toward consensus? Do I allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me through others? How do I need to improve? Come, Holy Spirit, make us a listening people, who cooperate to do Your will. Amen.
Church sign of the week:
Before you speak, THINK.
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
The last line of our reading from the book of Revelations is striking: The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” The death and resurrection of Christ has made all things new and “the old order has passed away.”
What is this talking about? What is the old order that has passed away and what is the new? Our short Gospel gives the answer: I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
The old order was justice, captured in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” The new order says “turn the other cheek.” The old order says “do not kill.” The new order says “do not be angry with another.”
The old order was protection, justice, and retribution. The new order is love of neighbor, which moves beyond and “fulfills” the old order. The new order can be summarized in “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”
This is quite a challenge, because it goes against the way we are wired. God knows this and, therefore, has given us lots of help. First, He sent His Son who showed us how to do it by the way He lived and what He preached. Then He gave us the Eucharist as spiritual food to strengthen us in our struggles to live His Word. Finally, He gave us a community to support us as we all struggle together to live the law of love. All of this is buoyed up with the gift of His Holy Spirit.
We will never be perfect, but we have to be growing. How am I doing at “making all things new”? How can I do better?
Church sign of the week: Those who deserve love the least need it the most.
A couple things come together this weekend. This is Good Shepherd Sunday: the readings of the 4th Sunday of Easter always treat of the Good Shepherd. It happens to be Mother’s Day this year and a good mother is always a good shepherd. It is also the day we are asked to pray for vocations to religious life and the priesthood: religious leaders have to pattern themselves after the Good Shepherd, always being of service. As Pope Francis has said, leaders need to smell like the sheep.
Sheep were very valuable at the time the scriptures were written. They provided wool for clothing to keep the people warm (there were not many other alternatives back then). They provided milk and cheese and, ultimately, meat. They were necessary for ritual sacrifices.
Our readings are telling us that each and every person is valuable to God, as were the sheep to the people in biblical times. In our first reading, Paul quotes the words Simeon spoke to Mary in the temple, saying that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles and bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Our reading from Revelations reinforces this by presenting the redeemed from “every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Jesus says in the Gospel that no one can take His sheep away from Him.
What we celebrate today is that we are all saved by the blood of the Lamb, each and every person. We just need to listen to His voice and follow Him. We also need to do our best to help others hear His voice and follow Him, so that they, too, can receive their share of His
redemption. This is what our faith is all about.
Let us be thankful today for those who have been Good Shepherds to us, especially mothers, fathers, teachers, and religious leaders. Let us be thankful that we have been called to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him, while asking God to help us be better shepherds by being a conduit of His voice for others, especially by the example of our lives. We also pray that those whom God is calling to religious life and/or priesthood may hear His voice and follow Him. May the Good Shepherd bless us today and always.
Church sign of the week: May God be answering someone else’s prayer through you.