Sunday, May 12, 2013

Somewhere... out there...

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.  What a great day to know that Jesus - the one mediator between God and man - has ascended into heaven in bodily form and now stands at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us forever.

In the midst of this joy, there has been challenges.  I lost a dear friend this week, Fr. Scott Carroll, to cancer.  Fr. Scott and I began seminary together.  Even though he dropped back a year because his diocese (Toledo) required that he take a pastoral year, we remained close and I looked forward to having a priest friend close by that I could "get away with", when I needed a break from the good work God has called me to do.  He was scheduled to be ordained on June 22nd, but earlier this week it became clear that he wouldn't make it that long (even though Fr. Scott always hoped that he would) and his bishop ordained him on Wednesday.  Less than 48 hours later he died peacefully at home.  I will write more about this good man later.  For now, I look forward to celebrating his life and giving thanks to God for it on Tuesday at his funeral Mass in Toledo.

Fr. Scott, you are a priest forever.  Rest in peace.

In your charity, please continue to pray for his repose and for comfort for all who mourn his loss.


Homily: The Ascension of Our Lord – Cycle C

Now, I don’t know about all of you, but for me, the feast of the Ascension has always been a bit mysterious.  Not necessarily in the facts, of course.  Those are pretty straight forward.  Jesus finished instructing his disciples after his resurrection and then was taken up, body and spirit, into heaven where he is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.  The mystery for me, rather, is in what the Ascension means for us.  Compared to some of the other great mysteries of our salvation, the Ascension leaves me with something intangible, something somewhat difficult to get in touch with.

Take the incarnation for instance.  The Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, for us and for our salvation, humbled himself to become one of us, a human person.  This is something I can get in touch with.  Every time I celebrate the beauty of a newborn life, every time I am delighted by the coo of a little baby or a toddler’s joyful outburst of laughter, I get in touch with the awesome mystery of God’s humility, that the God of the universe would lower himself to become vulnerable like us and place himself at the mercy of his creatures.

Or how about the mystery of Christ’s ministry on earth?  That one’s easy to get in touch with.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, shows us what it means to be human, to be created in the image of God as male and female, to be created to be in communion with each other and with God.  The narratives in the Gospel give us ample material to help us see how Christ demonstrated for us how we are to live as brothers and sisters.  There is a lifetime of fruitful meditation that can be made on this mystery alone.

Then, there’s Christ’s Passion.  No doubt that since the release of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ few of us would have difficulty getting in touch this great mystery.  I personally have never escaped a viewing of this film without feeling the tinge of guilt knowing that our Lord was willing to suffer and die so that I, even in my sinfulness, might be made clean.  And if you’ve ever heard the sound of a clump of dirt hitting the top of a casket of a loved one, then you know what Mary and the others felt when the stone closed over Jesus’ grave on Good Friday.

Always linked to Christ’s Passion is the mystery of the Resurrection, where sorrow of death was converted into the joy of new life, literally overnight.  We have touched the joy of the resurrection whenever we’ve tasted the bitterness of despair but then were surprised by a miracle that turned the situation around.  Yes these are all great mysteries of the faith that I can immerse myself in, plumbing the depths of them and letting them soak into my bones.

Today, however, the Church presents us with the feast of the Ascension, when Jesus, in his glorified human body, is taken up into heaven.  Now, let’s think about that for a second.  What we are saying—which is what Scripture reveals to us—is that Jesus, in bodily form, exists somewhere… out there… To me, that is just a bit mysterious.

As I think about it, however, I start to realize that, in fact, the Ascension reveals something remarkable.  In order to see it, though, we have to look beyond the Ascension itself.  We have to look at how it fits into the bigger picture.  In two weeks, we will celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity and I think if we start there, we can see just how awesome the mystery of the Ascension is for us.

The great mystery of the Trinity is that God is perfect love within himself.  He does not need to go outside of himself for anything.  He is complete: the Lover, the Loved, and the Love in one divine nature.  Because he is perfect love in himself, he needs nothing outside of himself: not us, not the universe, nothing.  Yet, out of his goodness and his desire that others should share in this perfect communion of love, he created the universe and gave us the privileged place in it for the sole purpose that we might freely choose to enter into his perfect communion of love.

In our freedom, however, we chose against him and separated ourselves from him forever.  He never forgot us, though, and in the fullness of time, he sent his Son to become one of us in order to make possible again our communion with God.  Saint Athanasius summed this up beautifully when he said that “God became man so that man could become God.”

After his death and burial, Jesus rose in a glorified human body.  His resurrection was not just spiritual, but corporal, that is, bodily.  And when he returned to the Father in heaven, he did so in that same glorified human body.  Do you realize what that means?  It means that Jesus now dwells forever in the pure act of love that is the Trinity in a glorified human body.  The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, has always and forever dwelt in the Trinity in spiritual form (even while he was incarnate on earth), but now, since the Ascension, he dwells also—somehow, mysteriously—in bodily form, and not just any body, a glorified human body.

My brothers and sisters, this is a reason for great rejoicing!  As humans here on earth, we know how difficult it is to experience true communion with another person.  This is because all of our expressions of unity must be mediated through our bodies.  A handshake, a hug, a kiss, giving gifts and saying things like, “I love you.”  These are all ways that our communion with others is expressed, but also limited because we have bodies.  Christ’s ascension, however, promises us that our bodies, once glorified, will no longer be a barrier to communion, but rather a conduit, a means for entering into perfect communion with God.  Now that’s something that I can get in touch with.  Yet the Ascension is more than that.

The Ascension is not just about Jesus returning to heaven to mount his throne where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever—which is an awesome mystery in itself.  But it is also about how much more God desires to give us.

If Jesus remained with us here on earth, let’s be honest, it would be pretty amazing.  We know how wonderful it is to have Christ-like people in our lives and in our world.  Just look at what an impact Blessed John Paul II had on our lives.  I could only imagine how much more wonderful it would be to have Christ himself, in his glorified human body, here with us today.  Yet that would only be a fraction of what God truly longs to give us.  Remember those words of Saint Athanasius: “God became man so that man could be made God.”  Although it was not necessary for him to do so, Christ returned to the Father in bodily form so that we, who can only come to him in bodily form, could also enter into his perfect communion of love.

My brothers and sisters, the lesson of the Ascension is a lesson in letting go.  On the day of his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “Stop holding onto me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  Forty days later, his disciples would need to let go of his bodily presence among them so that they could be open to being filled with “the promise of the Father,” the sending of the Holy Spirit that was spoken of in the first reading.  As we enter this last week of the Easter Season and anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, perhaps we can spend some time examining our lives and identifying some things that we need to let go of so that we can make more space for the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  In doing so, we will not only make ourselves ready to fulfill Christ’s commission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” but we will also prepare ourselves for that great day when we will be welcomed, body and spirit into the communion of love that is God, the communion that in a few moments we will receive sacramentally here from this altar.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 12th, 2013

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