Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ascension)

Friday was the last day of school for our St. Raphael students. Youngsters often say things as they plainly see it. For example, a little girl, attending a wedding for the first time, whispered to her mother, “Why is the bride dressed in white?” The mother replied, “Because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life.” The little girl thought for a moment and then asked, “So why is the groom in black?”

It's also a holiday weekend—a time to enjoy the outdoors. You may have heard about two college students who went hiking and suddenly encountered a bear.  One quickly put his running shoes on. The other said, “You don't think you’ll outrun the bear?” The other replied, “I don't have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you!” Quick thinking!

Monday the nation honors the men and women who died in the wars of our country.  Some may remember the adage, if the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for. Washington, D.C., a city of monuments, will be at the center of many tributes.  When I went to D.C. and had time, I occasionally would stop by the Vietnam memorial.

 On the 492-foot long, V-shaped black granite wall are 58,000 plus names. Occasionally I would read a letter at the foot of the wall that a soldier had written home.  And I would think: how many hopes lie buried here. And then I thought about the Easter season. Our faith assures us that Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection reconnected us to God, that God's life bestowed upon us in baptism and nourished in the sacraments, will not disappear. No, in the mystery of death we will make an evolutionary leap into a new kind of spiritual embodiment. What that is we really don't know.

During these last forty some days we have been celebrating different aspects of the one paschal or “passover” mystery: not only the death and resurrection of Jesus but also his ascension or return to his Father in glory and the descent of the Spirit of God upon the disciples at Pentecost. This passage of Jesus from an earthy life into a new, transfigured heavenly reality anticipates our own transformation. The ascension is Jesus’ final leave-taking from his community of disciples so that something new can happen: the descent of the Spirit.  Yes, the living Christ continues among us incredibly active, but henceforth through the power and energy and vitality and force of the Spirit.

Now what does the word of God have to say to us?
The author of the Book of the Acts flat out indicates that the Lukan Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are a two-volume work. The Gospel is about Jesus; the Acts is about early Christianity.
The ascension connects Luke and Acts. It signals the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry and heralds the beginning of the Church’s ministry by the power of the Spirit--the proclamation of the Good News--Jesus Christ is alive.  He lives and because he lives, we live.

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Ephesus prays that we will grow in true wisdom and spiritual enlightenment so that we will see more clearly God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. Jesus is indeed the “head” of the “body,” the Church, the people of God, you and I. And we with our multi talents are called to build up this Mystical Body of Christ.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to be missionary disciples. The disciples, you and I, are now the hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice of the Living Christ until He comes again in glory to transform this universe into a “new heaven and a new earth.”

So what is this Church, this world-wide community of disciples to which we belong?  A week ago, thirty-five of us parishioners made a stirring pilgrimage to central Italy: Assisi, Florence, Siena and Rome, to name some sites. In Rome, we participated in a papal audience in St. Peter's Square with thousands from all over the world.  We even saw the motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Luckily, we stood about ten feet from Pope Francis in his pope-mobile. He is indeed a friendly, compassionate face for the Church universal. Afterwards, I reflected on this global Catholic Community, and what I like about it.

First, we are a community of disciples that remembers and celebrates the awesome presence of Jesus Christ—our way into eternity with God, our truth who scatters falsehood, and our life who overcomes death. We retell the stories of Jesus; and we celebrate the presence of the living Christ all around us: especially in people, in the bible and in liturgical signs like water, bread and wine and oil. The living Christ through the power of the Spirit lives within this community, within you and me, and the power and energy and force and vitality of the Spirit can fire us up to do wonders for God.

The second thing I like about belonging to this world-wide community of disciples is that we are a family. We are sons and daughters of God our Father. Oh yes, we argue about this or that but don’t all families.  An argument can be a good sign that we care enough to disagree about something.  We are a global family that stretches back to early Christianity: a family that will continue into this millennium and perhaps many more. This family lives under a huge tent or umbrella. Yes, some are good and others are not so good; in fact some are downright dysfunctional. Yet we have to strive to do the right thing, despite falls or lapses. We have to continually forgive ourselves and one another, let go of burdens of guilt for behaviors done or not done, let go of bitterness for wrongs done to us, and get our lives “back on track.”  Every day should be a fresh start into eternity.

A third thing I like about belonging to this Catholic family is that we take a stand on peace and justice. I think of the statements of Pope Francis. I think of shelters, hospices, soup kitchens, literacy programs, immigration services, day-care centers, hospitals and schools all over the world that our Catholic Community sponsors. I also think of international agencies like Catholic Relief Services, Caritas and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, to name but a few.

My friends, we should be proud to belong to this world-wide community of disciples. It is indeed a community which remembers and celebrates the presence of the living Christ; a family that strives to do the right thing, despite falls and lapses.

May the living Christ inspire us to become co-workers with God in doing all the good we can. By all the means we can. In all the ways we can. In all the places we can. At all the times we can. To all the people we can. As long as ever we can.

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