Saturday, May 12, 2018

Homily for 13 May 2018

13 May 2018
The Ascension of the Lord

The Ascension is like Jesus taking the training wheels off.  From the Incarnation at Christmas, through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus showed his followers the Way.  He taught them how to love, how to love their neighbors, and how to love one another.  He taught them—especially on the Cross—how deeply God loved them (and all humanity and all creation).

It’s like his disciples were learning how to ride a bicycle (the bicycle of Life), and Jesus himself was their training wheels.  But then, with the Ascension, those training wheels came off.  And Jesus said, “Now, let me see what you can do.  I’ll still be right there, but now it’s your time to take over.”

The Ascension was a major step forward for the infant Church.  Just then, that little community of believers heard their basic vocational call.  They knew what they were about and what they had to do.  Jesus said it very clearly: “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

And that involves, primarily, preaching the gospel, sharing the “good news.”  But that “good news” has a very specific message.  Pope Francis puts it this way: The good news, the gospel is that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you” [Evangelii Gaudium, 164].  That’s the gospel message at its core.  And that’s the message Jesus entrusted to his followers.

He said, “Here is this magnificent truth I’ve tried to share with you and teach you.  Now, take it and share it to the ends of the earth.”  And the Church did, to much success.  When we think of all that’s happened in the history of the world ever since then, it’s incredible that the message survived at all.

Ruthless persecutions of early Christians, the fall of the Roman Empire, barbarian invasions and general chaos throughout Europe and the Middle East; the Church getting too entangled with secular politics in the Middle Ages, corruption, fights over power, the influence of science and the demand for hard evidence to prove anything; abuse scandals, Post-Modern thought (or lack of thought).

It’s amazing that the gospel message has survived through all that (and more).  But it has.  And that’s because the message Jesus entrusted to the Church is eternal; it can’t be destroyed.  “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”  It’s a message that can’t be destroyed.  But it can be overlooked and ignored.

Not everybody buys the gospel message.  Some people couldn’t care less about it.  And so we don’t have to wonder where the swords come from that pierce the Blessed Mother’s heart.  They come from indifference, apathy, and even hostility toward what Mother Church holds as…precious.

And so, the Church’s vocation isn’t just to share the gospel message (in a mechanical sort of way).  It’s also: to share God’s joy when others believe it, and to share in the sorrow when others reject the message or, worse, when Christians turn cold toward it.  The vocation involves both sorrow and joy.  And it’s a vocation the Church has always fulfilled, with the training wheels off, and with the Lord’s help.

In recent years, the term the “New Evangelization” has become popular in the Church; the idea being that we need a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit so the Church can “go to the ends of the earth,” to fulfill her vocation, to share the gospel and to remain strong when that message is rejected.  But, with the New Evangelization, there’s also a need in the Church for renewing a sense of “vocation.”  The Holy Spirit empowers one to fulfill his or her vocation.  But without a sense of vocation...what’s the Holy Spirit for (other than for sacraments and as a divine Companion to pray with)?

The Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our vocations.  But without a sense of vocation—a sense of “my calling in life”—the Holy Spirit has only limited relevance.  “Church” doesn’t have much to do with “my life.”  When, in reality, the Holy Spirit is there to help us live the whole of life.  And “life” is that “calling,” that vocation we each have as members of the Church.

So we call on the Holy Spirit for the Sacraments and in personal prayer.  But we also call on the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and to strengthen us in our vocations.  Our prayer is, “Come, Holy Spirit.  Give me the grace to do what Christ has given me to do."

Now, the Church has a universal calling: a vocation to holiness, a call to share the gospel message.  And that’s a call we each have from our baptism, when we’re called to “keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts.”  That vocation isn’t just for priests, deacons, bishops, nuns, and monks.  It’s a vocation that every baptized person has.

But, at the same time, we each have our own specific vocations.  For example, we’re not all called to be evangelists.  Saint Paul says as much in his Letter to the Ephesians: Christ “gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers.”  The Church is a body with “many parts,” not just one big evangelizing part.  Imagine if you had three too many fingers and not enough toes; we’d be a little off kilter.  Well, it’s the same with the Church and our vocations.

God didn’t make each of us just to take up space.  He made each of us for a purpose.  And it’s important that we each live our specific vocations—not selfishly, but for the good of the whole, for our own personal flourishing, and for the good of the gospel message.  In fact, it would be a mistake to try to fulfill a vocation which is not ours. 

In the Gospel of Mark, there’s something called the “Messianic Secret.”  And we call it that because in that gospel Jesus was constantly saying to people, “Don’t tell others who I am; don’t tell others who I am.”  It looks like Jesus wanted to keep it a secret that he’s the Messiah.  So we call it the “Messianic Secret.”

But, from the standpoint of “vocation,” Jesus was maybe saying to those people, “Don’t be an evangelizer; don’t go out there and tell people about me; you have a different vocation.”  But then we see it again and again in the Gospel of Mark, people wouldn’t listen to Jesus; they’d go off and tell people, making it impossible for Jesus to do the work he was trying to do.  And so, we can say: It would be a mistake to try to fulfill a vocation which is not ours.

We’re not all called to be evangelists, or apostles, or prophets, or pastors, or teachers.  Some are, and some have other vocations.  But we each have some part to play; we each have some vocation. 

On this Mother’s Day weekend, we celebrate the vocation of motherhood.  Just imagine if mothers didn’t fulfill their vocation.  First off, none of us would be here.  But, so too, we wouldn’t know (through experience of Mom) that the gospel message is true: that we are loved, that others do sacrifice for our good, that we are not alone.  Motherhood is a precious vocation, and we celebrate those women—past and present—who fulfill that vocation in all the marvelous ways they do.

Think of artists, musicians, poets, architects, story-tellers: people whose vocation—from a Christian perspective—is to feed our imagination, to open our minds up to the unbelievable.  You know, the Ascension is an almost unbelievable thing: Jesus going up into the heavens, disappearing into the clouds.  So, too, is the idea that God took on human flesh at Christmas.  Or, even the idea that there is a God in the first place.  It’s all almost unbelievable.  We talk about angels and saints, a whole other realm of existence alongside earthly life—unbelievable.  We talk about people living on after death, the sacraments as channels of God’s grace, the Eucharist as the real Body and Blood of Jesus—it’s unbelievable. 

For a lot of people—especially today when everything has to go under the microscope for it to be believed (and even then, that’s not enough)—for too many people today, Christianity or any sort of spirituality is just...laughable; a bunch of ignorant, simple-minded people who waste their Sunday mornings going to Church to pray to an imaginary God.

Artists, musicians, poets, architects, story-tellers—their vocations are important in that they keep the human spirit open; open to other worlds, other ways of seeing things, other possibilities; open to what seems impossible.  You know, everything we do here at Mass is strange…if we aren’t able to have at least a little belief in the unbelievable.

For some people, their vocation is to be faithful to weekend Mass; to be a witness of fidelity to God for their neighbors.  For some people, their vocation is to a good friend in the workplace; to be a witness of God’s love to others—even if those others aren’t aware they’re being touched by God’s love.

Everybody has a vocation—everybody.  Some people allow themselves to be drawn into the confines of a monastery, to spend their lives in quiet prayer for the good of the world.  Others are more active out in the world; to be “in the world,” but not “of the world.”  Some are called the vocation of marriage; others to the single life.

Jesus did his part; he taught us how to love, our neighbor, and each other.  Now it’s the Church’s responsibility to spread the gospel message, each in our own way.  Jesus took the training wheels off, and he says to each of us, “There you go!  Now let me what you can do with what I’ve given you.  I’ll be right here to help.  But it’s your vocation now; see where you can take it.”

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