Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the greatest obstacles to the Christian life is comparing ourselves to others. Because, and I’ll just say it, discipleship isn’t meant to be fair. At least not as we see fairness. The essence of discipleship is doing what we were put here to do, we ourselves. We discern that vocation by reflecting on our own gifts and talents, given to us by God, by prayerfully meditating on God’s will for us, and then engaging in conversation with the Church to see how best to use those talents and gifts. That’s the process of discernment, which is always aided by the working of the Holy Spirit.

What causes us to get off track, though, is looking at other people and what they are doing, or the gifts they have, or the opportunities they have received. We might be envious of their gifts or the opportunities they have to use them. We may see what they are doing and think we can do it better. We might be frustrated that they don’t do what we would do if we were in their place. And all of that is nonsense. It’s pride, and it’s destructive. It will ruin the Christian life and leave us bitter people.

That’s the correction Jesus made to Peter. Poor Peter was getting it all wrong once again. He thought Jesus was revealing secrets to John that he wanted to know also. But whatever it was that Jesus said to John as they reclined at table that night was none of Peter’s business, nor was it ours. Peter had a specific job to do, and so do we. If we are serious about our discipleship, then we would do well to take our eyes off what others are doing or saying or experiencing, and instead focus on the wonderful gifts and opportunities we have right in front of us. As for what other people are up to, as Jesus said, “what concern is that of yours?”

As always, the Psalmist has it right. We don’t look at others, we have only one place to look: “The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.”

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Jesus’ words to Peter in this Gospel reading are a mixture of comfort, challenge, and warning. Peter had just messed up in the worst way possible by denying his friend not once but three times. But then comes the question not once but three times: “Peter, do you love me?” This is comfort because with each asking, Jesus is healing Peter from the inside out.

Then words of challenge: “Feed my sheep.” When we are forgiven or graced in any way, we, like Peter, are then challenged to do something about it. Feed my sheep, follow me, give me your life, come to know my grace in a deeper way.

And then words of warning: “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” When we give ourselves over to God, that necessarily means that we might have to go in a direction we might not otherwise choose.

But then Jesus brings Peter back to comfort and healing once again by saying “Follow me.” No matter what we disciples have done in our past, no matter how many times we have messed up or in what ways, there is always forgiveness if we give ourselves over to our Savior and our friend.

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Sometimes we get an idea and it seems well, a little uncomfortable.  We may well have had a call or even a gentle moving from the Lord, and are afraid to act on it.  Today’s Scriptures speak to those of us who are sometimes hesitant to do what the Lord is calling on us to do.

I think St. Paul must have been exhausted by this point in his life.  As we hear of him in our reading from Acts today, he is saved from one angry mob, only to learn he is to go to another.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire.  He has borne witness to Christ in Jerusalem, but now he has to go and do it all over again in Rome.  And underneath it all, he knows there is a good chance he is going to die.

In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for all of his disciples, and also for all those who “will believe in me through their word.”  And that, of course, includes all of us.  He prays that we would be unified and would be protected from anything or anyone who might seek to divide us from each other, or even from God.  He says that we are a gift to him, and that he wishes us to be where he will be for all eternity.

What we see in our Liturgy today is that God keeps safe the ones he loves.  If he calls us to do something, he will sustain us through it.  Maybe we’ll have to witness to Jesus all over again or we’ll have to defend our faith against people in our community or workplace – or wherever – who just don’t understand.  We might well feel hesitant at these times, but we can and must go forward, acting on God’s call.  When we do that, we can make our own prayer in the words of the Psalm today: “Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.”

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

The stewardship of the truth has always been the special care of the Church.  Error and lies can destroy us, and so we must constantly be vigilant that we are protecting the truth as Jesus gave it to us, as it has been revealed by God through Scripture and Tradition.  In our first reading, Paul pounds that message home, pleading with the Ephesians and recalling the tears with which he taught them.  In the Gospel, Jesus too, praying for the fledgling Church, asks the Father to “consecrate them in the truth.”  We are told that the truth will set us free; the converse then is that it is error and lies that enslave us.  We then, must be custodians of the truth too, so that the Church can continue to preach the word in freedom.

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

In these days after the Ascension, the Liturgy calls us to turn and find our hope in God.  Even though he is unseen, he is still very much with us.  He may be in the heaven of our hopes, but he also walks among us.  We are sustained by the hope that we will join him one day in the place he is preparing for us.  The world may very well scatter us and give us trouble; Jesus said as much.  But we can take courage in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world and has not abandoned us.

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 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.

One of the great themes of Catholic theology is the “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.

Today, as Christ ascends into heaven, he once again, with the Father, is transcendent, because we, along with the Apostles, can no longer see him. But he remains immanent by his promise to be with us always. Again, I will quote St. Augustine who said of Christ that “He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.” St. Augustine teaches that the notion of time is that everything is present to God all at once. This explains how our celebration of the Eucharist in a few minutes brings us to Calvary at the moment when Jesus gave his life for us. And it explains how Jesus can ascend into heaven and yet remain among us. Time is a limitation for us humans, but not for God who created time in the first place.

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:

Christ, the mediator between God and humanity,
judge of the world and Lord of all,
has passed beyond our sight,
not to abandon us but to be our hope.
Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church;
where he has gone, we hope to follow.

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 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 and New Age Oprah and Dr. Phil philosophy 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, as our opening prayer said so eloquently, Christ’s “ascension is our glory and our hope.”  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.

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today we’re gathered on what is, for us, the eve of the Ascension.  While the reading that we have in today’s Gospel is from John’s account of the eve of the Passion, the words could well have been spoken to the Apostles on the eve of the Ascension too.  Jesus speaks of leaving the world and going back to the Father, this time until he returns in glory.  The Twelve had to be broken hearted all over again.  They had lost their friend and Lord briefly to death, but had been encouraged by him as he appeared to them after the Ascension, and now he is preparing to leave again.

But the truth of it is that nothing will happen with the fledgling Church until he does leave.  Only then will the Father send the Holy Spirit to be with the Church until the end of time, giving the early disciples and us later disciples the grace and strength to go forward and proclaim the kingdom and call the world to repentance and grace. If God’s purpose is to be advanced on this earth, then Jesus has to return to the Father. If the Spirit does not descend, the Church would not be born. If the Church were not born, the Gospel would be but an obscure footnote in the history of the world.

The Good News for us is that the Holy Spirit continues to work among us today, as often as we call on him.  “Ask and you will receive,” Jesus says, and so we ask and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the glory and praise of God. We disciples, we friends of Jesus, can count on his blessing, the rich gift of the Holy Spirit, the great witness of the Church. Our lives are enriched by our faith and our discipleship. What we do here on earth, what we suffer in our lives, what we celebrate — all this will bear fruit for the glory of God.