Fr. Rick’s Homily – Feast of the Ascension

Feast of the Ascension – Fr. Rick Sherman

Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-9; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20

May 16, 2021

Today is annual collection for the Catholic Communication Campaign …

MK 15 Jesus said to his disciples:  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned”. … (T)hey went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Ephesians 1 Brothers and sisters:  May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ…

It’s important to notice that in today’s Gospel Jesus is stating an imperative when He tells the disciples, “Go into the whole world.  And then to proclaim the gospel to every creature.  And interestingly enough they WENT forth and preached everywhere while the Lord worked with them.

We are so used to hearing these directives year after year that we might automatically presume, “Yep, been there, done that.”  “Check.”  “I’m a good person; I’m nice to people. Now back to my list of things to do and my usual way of thinking and prioritizing.”  OR we might even consider this imperative, this directive, to be more like a suggestion.

Bishop Solis, as you know, has directed us to put more emphasis this year on actually preparing for Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We very often relate this day to Confirmation day in the Church when we have these Gifts of the Holy Spirit sealed into our hearts; our Semitic hearts.  Often on Confirmation day the bishop reminds the adolescent group of confirmandees and their families that Confirmation day is not graduation day when we declare that the formal instruction is over and we now don’t need to come back.  We know, however, that the vast majority of confimandees and their families do not return, at least not until they need some additional life support.  But every Pentecost is an excellent time to renew or recommit to cultivating and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have all had sealed at Confirmation.

If we can believe our Scriptures there is much at stake in actually going forth and proclaiming the gospel to every creature; to all nations.  The gospel says that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved and those who do not believe will be condemned.  Do we actually believe that?  Think of all the people we know who are probably ‘spiritual, but not religious.’  They’re good people.  We wouldn’t consider ourselves any better than them, right?  Even though none of us are perfect, we can just teach and preach by our good example…. even though we are not perfect.

The readings today certainly imply more than this typically casual American attitude toward Christianity.  Not only is salvation at stake, but even our state of life on planet earth is at stake.  Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand 2000 years ago.  And that the Kingdom of God is among us. And the Kingdom of God is within us.  It’s ALREADY HERE!!

Now don’t tell the people in Israel and Palestine that, or in Yemen, Myanmar or Afghanistan or even the desperate people who are trying to break through our southern borders.  Even among them there is probably a wide divergence of opinions about just exactly where the Kingdom of God is.

The gospel tells us that there’s basically two choice on earth:  we believe and are saved or we don’t believe and we are condemned.  Now that’s not to imply that things are black and white out there.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear road to goodness and a clear road to badness.  I don’t think that most people are genuinely evil and deliberately taking the clear road to badness.  So what’s going on out there… Or in here? (Point to one’s own heart).

The gospel reminds us that the Lord went with the disciples.  They felt His personal presence and were using the Gifts that HE sent.  Is the Lord still with us?  Are we still able to work miracles and teach credibly to the nations?

Ephesians tells us that the ‘eyes of our hearts will be enlightened’.  This is more that our personal feelings or even our personal intuitions.  Recall that according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Semitic reference to ‘heart’ is “our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death.”

The disciples are basking in the Gifts and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit…. Their powers now exceed human intellect and volition…. We too have all this same ability to participate in the Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Strength of God, but we must cultivate these gifts and use them on a daily basis.

In today’s bulletin you will notice the list of the Gifts and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Consider cutting this portion out and hanging it on your refrigerator.  This should be a very practical daily exercise.  Consider which fruits of the Holy Spirit might be most needed in our lives today:  in our own hearts, in our families, our parish, our work environment, in our town and in our nation.  It’s not hard to identify the need for more kindness, more patience, more temperance.  Connect this need with the Gift of the Holy Spirit which would most need to be cultivated.  For instance see a connection between Patience and Understanding.  A big part of being an effective disciple and evangelist is the development of a deeper understanding of human nature.  We are all created in God’s image and likeness, so at our deepest level, the ‘Semitic heart’ level, we are all very similar.  If we really make the effort to understand our own hearts, we can much more readily relate to the struggles and joys of others.  This will take more effort than a casual approach to the Holy Spirit. The imperative to GO and PROCLAIM the Truth must be more deliberate.

As we are gradually moving out of some of our pandemic precautions we can sense that we are living in a very dynamic and transitional time in our country and in our world.  Changes that come with a new awareness of our common human vulnerability are already underway.  The Lord is still working with us.

AS we enter more deeply into this sacred mystery this morning let us be especially open to all the healing and grace God is calling us to.