Sunday, May 17, 2015

Go and proclaim - homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension

May 16, 2015                        Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling              The Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1:1-11                Ps 47              Eph 1:17-23              Mark 16:15-20

Today is that great feast day that completes the Paschal Mystery.  Now, let’s remember what the term, Paschal mystery, refers to - the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the ascension of Jesus.   Today completes the celebration of the Paschal Mystery with the great Solemnity of the Ascension.

This idea of the Paschal mystery is dynamic.    It is dynamic because of what Jesus has to say to us in this moment.  Let’s listen to his words from the gospel of Mark once again.
“Go into the whole world 
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;"

Those are amazing words.  We call this short speech Jesus gave at his Ascension “the Great Commission.”  His last words to us on earth were two commands to his disciples – and to us as well.  Now, remember when Jesus said this to his disciples – “if you love me then keep my commands.”  So if you love Jesus say “amen.” 

Let’s look at the first command:  “Go into the whole world.
Jesus’ heart burns with love and mercy for the whole world.  When he ascended to heaven that didn’t mean that he left the world.  On the contrary, our almighty God is all-present in the world that he loves so much.  The ascension of Jesus from this 3 dimensional earthly existence into what we might call the 7 dimensional heavenly existence means that he became even more present to the world and to his disciples.  Jesus calls all of his followers to go with him into the world - to bring the message of his love and mercy to every creature.

Jesus shows us how to do this.  The gospel gives us many stories where Jesus encountered people.  Sometimes he encountered them in large groups through preaching and teaching.  Many times he encountered them in amazing one on one situations.  Remember the woman at the well?  Remember the man born blind?  Remember the paralytic carried by 4 friends to Jesus?  We are given story after story where Jesus changed the world one person at a time.  This is where the message of the love and mercy of Jesus gets practical.  Many times the command “go into the whole world” means that we go into somebody else’s world with the gospel message.

Now, let’s understand what it really means to go into somebody else’s world.  Especially when we are really doing what Jesus asks us to do, which is to go out and find the lost.  The lost are living messy and complicated lives.  The lost struggle with sin, isolation, addiction, and meaninglessness.  The lost pursue false lives through social media and worship money and sports far more than God.  The lost can be living violent and dangerous lives.  When we enter into their lives, it’s messy.  And the door only opens to enter into somebody else’s world when we go with Jesus.  The love and humility of Jesus opens doors.  The compassion of Jesus opens doors.  Prayer and the gentle power of the Holy Spirit opens doors.  Indeed, Jesus calls us to go with him into the whole world.  After all, Jesus entered into the mess of our own world.  He does this one heart at a time.

Truth be told, we are the lost who Jesus came to save.  Don’t we long for someone to come and find us?  To enter into our personal world and bring the love and mercy of Jesus into the dark places of our own existence?  We are recipients of the great commission just as much as we are also sent as witnesses of the great commission.  Dear good people – heed the call of Jesus with humility and love.  Go into the whole world.

This leads us to the 2nd command that Jesus gives us.  Proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Here again, we have an awesome image of the love of Jesus for the whole world – for all of Jesus’ precious creation.  Every person around us is infinitely loved by God!  Our own conversion of heart means that our capacity to love each and every person also grows.  St. Teresa of Avila once asked Jesus to show her how much she loved him.  His response was rather challenging.  He said this to her, “you love me as much as the person you love the least.”  Wow!  May our capacity for love grow.

Because love leads us to proclamation.  When we experience the love of the Lord for us and we share in his love for the world, we can’t hold back in talking about the love and mercy of Jesus.  As Catholics, we aren’t called merely to preach this, though it is essential to speak the message.  We need to know our faith very well so that we can share our faith with others.  But words mean nothing if we don’t live the meaning of the message.

Remember the corporal works of Mercy?  Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless.  Visit the sick.  Visit the imprisoned.  Bury the dead.
Remember the spiritual works of Mercy?  Instruct the ignorant.  Counsel the doubtful.  Admonish sinners.  Bear wrongs patiently.  Forgive offenses willingly.  Comfort the afflicted.  Pray for the living and the dead. 

Yes, dear people.  Proclaim the gospel in words.  Share the stories of the gospel.  Speak of the teaching of the church.  Bring the liberating message of the gospel that proclaims the life and dignity of each human person.  This message becomes real when we live the gospel through the works of mercy.  The mercy of Jesus operating in our own lives gives more eloquent testimony than anything else. 

Of course, to do any of this, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us.  This is why Jesus instructed his disciples to pray to receive the Holy Spirit.  And this is why, on this great solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, we also dedicate ourselves to praying for a new Pentecost.  St. John Paul prophesied about this when he prayed for a new Pentecost in the world.  And so we pray:

Come Holy Spirit, and renew each and every heart. 
Come Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

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