Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Listen to those words of Jesus again:

“Enter through the narrow gate;

for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,

and those who enter through it are many.

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.

And those who find it are few.”

Those are pretty challenging thoughts, I think. But they are thoughts we can resonate with. Certainly Lot fell into the trap of going through the wide gate into the land of Sodom, the residents of which our first reading says “were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” And how true for us as well. Isn’t it always easier to take the road more traveled, despite the fact that that road doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go? We might very well take that easy road time and again, and end up, with Lot, well, in a place like Sodom.

Because the narrow gate isn’t easy to find and is harder still to travel. Living the Gospel and laying down our lives for others is hard work, and may often seem unrewarding. We may have to set aside our desires for the pleasures and rewards of this life. And we may even fail to get through that gate by our own efforts, due to the brokenness of our lives and the sinfulness of our living. We may find it next to impossible to travel through that narrow gate by ourselves.

But we don’t have to. The one who is our teacher in this constricted way is also the way through it. Our Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and through him we can all find our way to the Father. He even gives us the key to that narrow gate: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.” As we pledge to live our lives by considering the needs of others just as we would consider our own needs, we will indeed find that traveling that narrow road is the way that gives most joy to our lives. As the Psalmist reminds us today, “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Bilingual Procession Mass)

This is the homily I preached for our bilingual Mass including the Procession with the Blessed Sacrament. I fear my Spanish was lacking, but I did the best I could…

Quizás el aspecto más distintivo de nuestra devoción católica es nuestra celebración de la Eucaristía. Afirmamos firmemente que no es solo un símbolo. Es el verdadero Cuerpo y Sangre de nuestro Señor. Sabemos que estamos espiritualmente ante la presencia de nuestro Señor cada vez que recibimos la Comunión o ante la Adoración al Santísimo. Aún más, creemos que, en la Eucaristía, nos convertimos en lo que recibimos: nos convertimos en parte del Cuerpo Místico de Cristo, y en ese Cuerpo todos nos convertimos en uno. Nosotros los católicos creemos que la Eucaristía nos hace uno, y por eso es bueno que todos nos unamos para celebrar esta fiesta del Santísimo Cuerpo y la Sangre de Cristo.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Catholic worship is our celebration of the Eucharist.  We state very strongly that it’s not just a symbol.  It is the actual Body and Blood of our Lord.  We know that we are spiritually in the presence of our Lord whenever we receive Communion or adore the Blessed Sacrament.  But even more, we believe that, in the Eucharist, we become what we receive: we become part of the Mystical Body of Christ, and in that Body we all become one.  We Catholics believe that the Eucharist makes us one, and because of that, it is good for all of us to come together as oneto celebrate this feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

I remember when I travelled to Mexico when I was in seminary to learn Spanish.  I have forgotten, unfortunately, a lot of what I learned, but I’ll never forget the first day.  The first day was a Sunday, and we flew into Mexico City, got picked up by the school, and then we were introduced to the families we would be living with.  The people I was going to live with assumed correctly that I wouldn’t have been to Mass yet, so on the way home we went to Mass at the cathedral in Cuernavaca.  So I’m attending Mass with only my high school Spanish, and the little bit of liturgical Spanish I picked up from when we used Spanish in Mass at seminary.  A lot of what I heard, I didn’t understand, but there was one thing I couldn’t miss, and that was the Eucharist.

We may express our unity in many ways in the Mass.  We all sing the same songs.  We all stand or sit together.  We might all join hands at the Lord’s Prayer.  And those are all okay things, but they are not what unites us.  They put us on a somewhat equal footing, but that can happen in all kinds of gatherings.  The one thing that unites us at this gathering, the experience we have here that we don’t have in any other situation, is the Eucharist.  The Eucharist unites us in the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, where all division must necessarily cease.  The Eucharist is the definitive celebration of our unity.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us. We know that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we will receive all that we need and more, because our God loves us and cares for us. But to really trust in God’s care can sometimes be a bit of a scary moment.

It was certainly scary for the disciples, who asked Jesus to “dismiss the crowds” so that they could go into the surrounding cities and get something to eat. They were afraid for the crowds because they had come to the desert, where there was nothing to eat or drink. They were afraid for the crowds because it would soon be dark and then it would be dangerous to travel into the surrounding cities to find refuge and sustenance. And, if they were to really admit it, they were afraid of the crowds, because all they had to offer them were five loaves of bread and two fish – hardly a meal for Jesus and the Twelve, let alone five thousand.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that. Fear is no match for God’s mercy and care and providence, so instead of dismissing the crowds, he tells the disciples to gather the people in groups of about fifty. Then he takes the disciples’ meager offering, with every intent of supplying whatever it lacked. He blesses their offerings, transforming them from an impoverished snack to a rich, nourishing meal. He breaks the bread, enabling all those present to partake of it, and finally he gives that meal to the crowd, filling their hungering bodies and souls with all that they need and then some. Caught in a deserted place with darkness encroaching and practically nothing to offer in the way of food, Jesus overcomes every obstacle and feeds the crowd with abundance. It’s no wonder they followed him to this out of the way place.

The disciples had to be amazed at this turn of events, and perhaps it was an occasion for them of coming to know Jesus and his ministry in a deeper way. They were fed not just physically by this meal, but they were fed in faith as well. In this miraculous meal, they came to know that their Jesus could be depended on to keep them from danger and to transform the bleakest of moments into the most joyous of all festivals. But even as their faith moved to a deeper level, the challenge of that faith was cranked up a notch as well. “Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus said to them. Having been fed physically and spiritually by their Master, they were now charged with feeding others in the very same way.

Christ has come to supply every need. In Jesus, nothing is lacking and no one suffers want. All the Lord asks of the five thousand is what he also asks of us each Sunday: to gather as a sacred assembly, to unite in offering worship with Jesus who is our High Priest, to receive Holy Communion, and to go forth to share the remaining abundance of our feast with others who have yet to be fed. After the crowd had eaten the meal, that was the time for them to go out into the surrounding villages and farms – not to find something to eat, but to share with everyone they met the abundance that they had been given. So it is for us. After we are fed in the Eucharist, we must then necessarily go forth in peace, glorifying the Lord by sharing our own abundance with every person we meet.  We too must hear and answer those very challenging words of Jesus: “Give them some food yourselves.”

What we celebrate today is that our God is dependable and that we can rely on him for our needs. Just as he was dependable to feed the vast crowd in that out-of-the-way place, so he too can reach out to us, no matter where we are on the journey, and feed us beyond our wildest imaginings. The challenge to give others something to eat need not be frightening because we know that the source of the food is not our own limited offerings, but the great abundance of God himself. We need not fear any kind of hunger – our own or that of others – because it’s ultimately not about us or what we can offer, but what God can do in and through us.

In our Eucharist today, the quiet time after Communion is our time to gather up the wicker baskets of our abundance, to reflect on what God has given us and done for us and done with us. We who receive the great meal of his own Body and Blood must be resolved to give from those wicker baskets in our day-to-day life, feeding all those people God has given us in our lives. We do all this, gathered as one in the Eucharist, in remembrance of Christ, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again.

Que el Cuerpo y la Sangre de Cristo nos mantengan seguros para la vida eterna.  May the Body and Blood of Christ keep us all safe for eternal life.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

I once read a very interesting story about some of the aftermath of World War II.  During the war, the officers of the Third Reich’s secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into the Junior Gestapo. The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint. After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter. As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities. There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror. But one doctor had an idea for handling their fears. After serving the boys a hearty meal, he’d tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning. The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad’s life, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time. He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus’ own Body and Blood. We call that last Communion Viaticum which, in Latin, means “bread for the journey.” Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us. We know that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we will receive all that we need and more, because our God loves us and cares for us. But to really trust in God’s care can sometimes be a bit of a scary moment.

It was certainly scary for the disciples, who asked Jesus to “dismiss the crowds” so that they could go into the surrounding cities and get something to eat. They were afraid for the crowds because they had come to the desert, where there was nothing to eat or drink. They were afraid for the crowds because it would soon be dark and then it would be dangerous to travel into the surrounding cities to find refuge and sustenance. And, if they were to really admit it, they were afraid of the crowds, because all they had to offer them were five loaves of bread and two fish – hardly a meal for Jesus and the Twelve, let alone five thousand.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that. Fear is no match for God’s mercy and care and providence, so instead of dismissing the crowds, he tells the disciples to gather the people in groups of about fifty. Then he takes the disciples’ meager offering, with every intent of supplying whatever it lacked. He blesses their offerings, transforming them from an impoverished snack to a rich, nourishing meal. He breaks the bread, enabling all those present to partake of it, and finally he gives that meal to the crowd, filling their hungering bodies and souls with all that they need and then some. Caught in a deserted place with darkness encroaching and practically nothing to offer in the way of food, Jesus overcomes every obstacle and feeds the crowd with abundance. It’s no wonder they followed him to this out of the way place.

The disciples had to be amazed at this turn of events, and perhaps it was an occasion for them of coming to know Jesus and his ministry in a deeper way. They were fed not just physically by this meal, but they were fed in faith as well. In this miraculous meal, they came to know that their Jesus could be depended on to keep them from danger and to transform the bleakest of moments into the most joyous of all festivals. But even as their faith moved to a deeper level, the challenge of that faith was cranked up a notch as well. “Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus said to them. Having been fed physically and spiritually by their Master, they were now charged with feeding others in the very same way.

Christ has come to supply every need. In Jesus, nothing is lacking and no one suffers want. All the Lord asks of the five thousand is what he also asks of us each Sunday: to gather as a sacred assembly, to unite in offering worship with Jesus who is our High Priest, to receive Holy Communion, and to go forth to share the remaining abundance of our feast with others who have yet to be fed. After the crowd had eaten the meal, that was the time for them to go out into the surrounding villages and farms – not to find something to eat, but to share with everyone they met the abundance that they had been given. So it is for us. After we are fed in the Eucharist, we must then necessarily go forth in peace, glorifying the Lord by sharing our own abundance with every person we meet.

You might do that by participating in a small faith community or a Bible study, sharing the Scriptures and our own living faith with your brothers and sisters. Maybe you would do that by becoming an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and dedicating yourselves to the ministry of distributing the precious gift of the Lord’s own Body and Blood each Sunday, or even volunteering to bring Holy Communion to the sick and homebound.  You could become part of our Adoration ministry, signing up to spend an hour praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  And you could also do that by volunteering with the food pantry.  Or you might do this in a smaller, quieter way: You might just bring a meal to a friend going through a hard time or visit a neighbor who is a shut-in. Jesus is the font of every blessing, and it is up to us to share that blessing with everyone in every way we can. We too must hear and answer those challenging words of Jesus: “Give them some food yourselves.”

What we celebrate today is that our God is dependable and that we can rely on him for our needs. Just as he was dependable to feed the vast crowd in that out-of the-way place, so he too can reach out to us, no matter where we are on the journey, and feed us beyond our wildest imaginings. Just as the Junior Gestapo boys were able to rest easy as they clutched that bread for the next day, so we too can rest easy, depending on our God to give us all that we need to meet the challenges of tomorrow and beyond. The challenge to give others something to eat need not be frightening because we know that the source of the food is not our own limited offerings, but the great abundance of God himself. We need not fear any kind of hunger – our own or that of others – because it’s ultimately not about us or what we can offer, but what God can do in and through us.

In our Eucharist today, the quiet time after Communion is our time to gather up the wicker baskets of our abundance, to reflect on what God has given us and done for us and done with us. We who receive the great meal of his own Body and Blood must be resolved to give from those wicker baskets in our day-to-day life, feeding all those people God has given us in our lives. We do all this in remembrance of Christ, proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes again.

May the Body and Blood of Christ keep us all safe for eternal life.

Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning we have to wrestle with the question: is there something in my life that distracts me from living my life as God intended that I need to cut out?  It’s a ruthless image that we find in our Gospel reading: gouge out an eye, cut off a hand – all of that is better than taking the road to hell.  And it really does need to be that ruthless.  Because hell is real and it’s not going to be pleasant.  So we really need to attach ourselves to Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.  And whatever gets in the way of that needs to be brutally ejected from our lives.

Yes, that might hurt sometimes.  But, as the cliché goes, whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  Saint Paul is a good model of that:  he was constantly subjected to torture and imprisonment and death, but he considered that as gain so that he might have Christ.  And in today’s first reading, he testifies that all he endures is manifesting the sufferings of Jesus in his flesh, for the benefit of the Corinthian Church.

So in like manner, we too need to be willing to put to death in us anything that does not lead us to Christ.  The pain of it can be joined to the sufferings of Christ for God’s glory and honor.  It is something that we can offer to our God, as our Psalmist said, as a “sacrifice of praise.”

Saint Anthony, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Saint Anthony is probably one of the best-known Catholic saints. As the patron for finding lost objects, I’m sure so many of us have prayed, “Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found.” We all lose track of things from time to time, and it’s nice to have someone to help us find them. But the real story of Saint Anthony centers around finding the way to Christ.

The gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ was the rule of Anthony’s life. Over and over again God called him to something new in his plan. Every time Anthony responded with renewed zeal and self-sacrifice to serve his Lord Jesus more completely. His journey as the servant of God began as a very young man when he decided to join the Augustinians, giving up a future of wealth and power to follow God’s plan for his life. But later, when the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs went through the Portuguese city where he was stationed, he was again filled with an intense longing to be one of those closest to Jesus himself: those who die for the Good News.

So Anthony entered the Franciscan Order and set out to preach to the Moors – a pretty dangerous thing to do. But an illness prevented him from achieving that goal. He went to Italy and was stationed in a small hermitage where he spent most of his time praying, reading the Scriptures and doing menial tasks.

But that was not the end for Anthony’s dream of following God’s call. Recognized as a great man of prayer and a great Scripture scholar and theologian, Anthony became the first friar to teach theology to the other friars. Soon he was called from that post to preach to heretics, to use his profound knowledge of Scripture and theology to convert and reassure those who had been misled.

So yes, Saint Anthony is the patron of finding lost objects, but what I really think he wants to help us find, is our way to ChriSaint As a teacher, a scholar and a man of faith, he was devoted to his relationship with God. And so his intercession for us might go a little deeper than where we left our keys. Maybe we find ourselves today having lost track of our relationship with God in some way. Maybe our prayer isn’t as fervent as it once was. Or maybe we have found ourselves wrapped up in our own problems and unable to see God at work in us. Maybe our life is in disarray and we’re not sure how God is leading us. If we find ourselves in those kinds of situations today, we might do well to call on the intercession of Saint Anthony. Finder of lost objects, maybe. But finder of the way to Christ for sure.

Saint Barnabas, Apostle

Today’s readings

Saint Barnabas, a Jew of Cyprus, was not one of the original Twelve, but is honored as an apostle because of his work of evangelization in the early Church. He was closely associated with Saint Paul, in fact he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles. He also served as a kind of mediator between Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians, and the still understandably suspicious Jewish Christians.

When a Christian community developed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to incorporate them into the fold. He and Paul taught in Antioch for a year, after which they took relief contributions to Jerusalem.

We see in today’s first reading that Saints Paul and Barnabas had become accepted in the community as charismatic leaders who led many to convert to Christianity. The Holy Spirit set them apart for Apostolic work and blessed their efforts with great success.

Above all, these men hungered and thirsted for righteousness, a righteousness not based on the law or any merely human precept, but instead on a right relationship with God. Just as they led many people then to that kind of relationship with God through their words and actions, so their witness calls us to follow that same kind of right relationship today.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we might follow their call to righteousness by examining our lives in light of the theme of salt and light that we hear in today’s gospel reading. Saint Barnabas was a man who took risks to shine the light of faith in his corner of the world. How willing are we to take a risk and witness to our faith to people who might judge us? Blessed are we who follow the example of Saint Barnabas and blessed are we who benefit from his intercession.

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We say these words every Sunday, we will say them in just a few minutes.  They are wonderful words and express a very essential element of our faith, but I think they can unfortunately become a little rote.  And that’s too bad, because they have been given to us at great cost.  We should pray them perhaps a bit more reflectively today, on this feast of the Holy Spirit.

So these words are the part of the Creed that speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.  We celebrate the Holy Spirit in a special way today, when the Spirit was sent forth from the Father and the Son to the apostles on the feast of Pentecost. Today is the birthday of the Church, the moment when the Spirit descended upon the Church and has then been passed on to every Christian, through the Church, ever since.  The Holy Spirit emboldened those first disciples and continues to pour gifts on all of us so that the Church can continue the creative and redemptive works of the Father and the Son until Christ comes in glory. 

At the Ascension of Christ into heaven, which we celebrated last Sunday, the apostles had been told to wait in the city until they were clothed with power from on high.  This is exactly what we celebrate today.  Christ returned to the Father in heaven, and they sent the Holy Spirit to be with the Church until the end of time.  That Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary so that God can continue to work in the world and be in the world while Christ was no longer physically present.

I don’t know if we understand how radically the Holy Spirit changes things.  The Fathers of the Church wrote about it very plainly. Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes: “It can be easily shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life.  Saul was told by the prophet Samuel: The Spirit of the Lord will take possession of you, and you shall be changed into another man.  Saint Paul writes: As we behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, that glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit, transforms us all into his own likeness, from one degree of glory to another.”

And we do see the work of the Holy Spirit on those disciples of the early Church.  They were confused people.  They had no idea what to do now that Jesus had died and risen.  Think about it.  What if you were one of them?  What would you have made of all that?  Would you know what to do next any better than they would?  I don’t think I’d do very well!  But it was the Holy Spirit that changed them.  And thank God for that, or we wouldn’t have the Church to guide us today!

The Spirit changed Peter from an impulsive, bumbling disciple to an Apostle of great strength. He shared his own gift of the Holy Spirit with many others, baptizing them and confirming them in the faith. He guided the Church from its rough beginnings to the birth of something great.  The other Apostles likewise went out, bringing the Gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit to all corners of the then-known world.  Their witness eventually brought the Church to us, in our own day.  The Spirit changed Saul from a man who oversaw the imprisonment and murder of Christians into Paul, a man who was on fire for the faith.  His preaching and writing converted whole communities of Gentiles and helped them believe in the Gospel, and continues to inspire us in our own day.

The Holy Spirit has continued to work in the hearts and minds of countless saints through the ages, making up for any personal inadequacies they may have had and giving them the strength to teach truth, write convincing testimonials, reach out to the poor and needy, bind up the broken and bring hurting souls to the Lord.

That same Holy Spirit continues to work among us in our own day, if we are open, if we let him do what he wills.  The Holy Spirit is still making saints, guiding men and women to do things greater than they are capable of all on their own, for the honor and glory of God. This is the Spirit who enables you to have words to speak to someone who is questioning the faith, or to a child who wants to know why the sky is blue, or to a friend who needs advice that you don’t know how to give.  The Spirit even speaks for us when we are trying to pray and don’t know quite what to say to God.

The Spirit gives us the inspiration to do acts of mercy and love.  It is the Holy Spirit who encourages you to take on a ministry at church, or to help out in our school or religious education, or to look in on a sick friend or neighbor, or give an elderly neighbor a ride to church.  It is the Spirit who inspires us to pray in new ways, to grow in devotion, to spend more time getting closer to the Lord. All in all, it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to find the way to heaven, the goal of all of our lives.

We should pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit every morning of our lives.  It’s amazing how much that changes me over time.  The prayer I learned at my Confirmation is as good a way to pray that as any, and maybe you know it too.  If you do, pray along with me:

Come, Holy Spirit

fill the hearts of your faithful

enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created,

and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Amen.

Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

Today’s readings

Today, Father John and I celebrate our anniversaries of ordination to the priesthood. He for 30 years, me for thirteen. Those anniversaries always fall on this memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, a feast I always find inspirational.

One of 22 Ugandan martyrs, Charles Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action in most of tropical Africa. He and his companions were pages in the court of Mwanga, the Bagandan ruler. He protected his fellow pages, aged 13 to 30, from the immoral demands of Mwanga, and encouraged and instructed them in the Catholic faith during their imprisonment for refusing the ruler’s demands. For his own unwillingness to submit to Mwanga’s demands, and his efforts to safeguard the faith of his friends, Charles was burned to death on June 3, 1886, by Mwanga’s order.

It’s hard enough to live the faith when you can do so without challenge, or even with support. But Jesus prophesied the kind of challenge Charles and his companions faced. In our Gospel today, Jesus foretells that the disciples will flee and leave him alone, which, of course, they did. They later turned back, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and gave their lives as did Charles Lwanga and his companions.

How are we called upon to stand up for others and protect each other from the immoral onslaughts of our own time and place? Witnessing to what is right and good is often inconvenient, and for those like Saint Charles and Jesus’ disciples, sometimes dangerous. But that is what disciples do. That is our ministry, the work to which we have all been called.

The Ascension of the Lord

Today’s readings

For the early Apostles and disciples, today’s feast had to be a kind of “now what?” experience for them. Think about what they’ve been through. Their Lord had been betrayed by one of their friends, he had been through a farce of a trial and put to death in a horrible, ignoble way, they had been hiding in fear thinking they might be next, they had questioned what they were supposed to do without their Lord.  And then they witness the Resurrection: Christ walks among them for a time, appearing to them and making himself known. They had seen redemption of a way of life they almost had abandoned, and now, on this feast of the Ascension, their Lord is leaving them again. In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, you can almost feel the amazement and desperation they are experiencing as they stare up into the heavens, incredulous that their Lord is gone, again.

So once again, God sends two messengers, two men in white garments, to set them straight. God had sent two men in dazzling garments to the women at the tomb on the day of the Resurrection as well. That time, the men reassured the women that the Lord had not been moved or stolen, but had indeed risen from the dead. This time, the men appear to the Apostles, assuring them that the Lord would return in the same way as he had just departed from their sight. Both times, it was the same kind of messengers, with the same kind of hopeful message. Go forward, don’t worry, God is in control.

I think we need that same message today, after our state legislators passed the so-called Reproductive Health Care Act, which basically takes away all rights from our unborn brothers and sisters.  We can be tempted to all kinds of things: anger, despair, even apathy.  But today’s feast says none of that is helpful.  Our Lord is in control and he has the last word on the sanctity of human life, he always has and always will.  So we have to work to elect legislators who have courage to stand for that, and we have to continue our prayer and advocacy for the unborn, and we have to continue to be there to support mothers who are facing problems during pregnancy.  And then trust that God will take our efforts and make them real solutions.  The Ascension message is important for us to hear in this heart-breaking moment:  Go forward, don’t worry, God is in control.

One of the great themes of Catholic theology is the idea of “already, and not yet.” Basically, that means that we disciples of Christ already have a share in the life of God and the promise of heaven, but we are not yet there. So we who believe in Jesus and live our faith every day have the hope of heaven before us, even if we are not home yet. And this hope isn’t just some “iffy” kind of thing: it’s not “I hope I’ll go to heaven one day.” No, it’s the promise that because of the salvation we have in Christ, we who are faithful will one day live and reign with him. This gives us hope in the midst of the sorrows that we experience in this world.

Another great theme of Catholic theology is that our God is transcendent, but also immanent. Transcendent means that our God is higher than the heavens, more lofty than our thoughts and dreams, beyond anything we can imagine. Whatever we say about God, like “God is love” or “God is good” – those things only begin to scratch the surface of who God is, because God is transcendent beyond anything our limited words can describe. But our God is also immanent. God is not some far off entity that has brought the world into existence and set the events of our lives in motion and then drops back to observe things from afar. No, our God is one who walks among us and knows our sorrow and our pain and celebrates our joy. Saint Augustine said that God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. Our God may indeed be mysterious and beyond us, but he is also the one we can reach out and touch. If that weren’t so, the Eucharist would be pretty meaningless.

As you can see, Catholic theology is generally speaking not exclusive. We are not either already sharing in the promise or not yet sharing in it, but we are “already and not yet.” Our God is not either transcendent or immanent, but both transcendent and immanent. These two great theological themes come to a kind of crossroads here on this feast of the Ascension.

Today, as Christ ascends into heaven, our share in the life of God and the promise of heaven is sealed. We have hope of eternal life because our Lord has gone before us to prepare a place for us. If he had not gone, we could never have shared in this life. So, although Jesus has left the apostles yet again, they can rejoice because they know that the promise is coming to fulfillment. We do not possess it yet, because we are not home yet, but we share in it already, because Christ is our promise.

All of this theology can be heady stuff, but what it boils down to is this: because Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, we now have the hope of heaven and of sharing in the very life of God. Even though we do not possess heaven yet, we know that it belongs to all who have faith in Christ and live that faith every day. And even though we do not see Jesus walking among us, he is still absolutely present among us and promises to be with us forever. The preface to the Eucharistic prayer which I will sing in a few minutes makes this very clear; it says:

Mediator between God and man,

judge of the world and Lord of hosts,

he ascended not to distance himself from our lowly state

but that we, his members, might be confident of following

where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.

Jesus, having explained the Scriptures to his Apostles yet again, tells them “You are witnesses of these things.” And so they don’t have the luxury of just standing there, staring up into the sky for hours, dejected and crushed because the One who had been their hope had disappeared. No, as the Gospel tells us today, they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” They are witnesses, “clothed with power from on high,” and they must be filled with the hope and joy of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord.

We disciples are witnesses of these things too. We must witness to a world filled with violence and oppression and sadness and no regard for the sanctity of human life, that our God promises life without end for all those who believe in him. And we have that hope already, even though not yet. We must witness to a world languishing in the vapidity of relativism and individualism that it is Jesus Christ, the Lord of All, who is one with us in heaven, and present among us on earth, who fulfills our hopes and longings and will never leave us. We must be witnesses to all these things, living with great joy, continually praising God because Christ’s ascension is our exaltation. We too might hear those men in dazzling white garments speak God’s words of hope to us: go forward, don’t worry, God is in control.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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