Today's first reading from the Acts describes the beginning of the Church after Jesus had ascended into heaven. It would appear that Jesus had to leave in order that the Church might begin. His going away physically from this world signaled the coming into existence of the Church and His new presence in their midst. Yes, Jesus was leaving the world in a sense, but not really leaving it. He was not abandoning his disciples to their fate; in fact he was concerned about them and knew they would miss his physical presence among them. Before he goes he instructs them and affirms their faith by time and again appearing to them to convince them that he is alive. While being with them he asked them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.
Witnessing to Christ
Ruddell Norris was a conscientious young man. But he was also a shy young man. He found it hard just to talk to people, much less to discuss religion with them. Then one day he got an idea. Ruddell did a lot of reading, and he was aware of the many pamphlets about the catholic faith. So he decided to set aside a part of his weekly allowance to buy pamphlets. Ruddell placed his pamphlets in places where he thought people would pick them up and read them. For example, he placed them in waiting rooms and in reception areas. One day a young woman who was a friend of his family told his parents how she became a convert and how her husband returned to the Church. "It all started with a pamphlet," she said. "I found it in the hospital waiting room." You can imagine the boy's excitement when he learned of the impact just one of his pamphlets had.
The gospel from the final chapter of Matthew links the end of the ministry of Jesus to the beginning of the new ministry of the Spirit in the Church. Jesus seems to shift the focus from himself to his disciples. "You will receive power and you will go out proclaiming the good news from here to the ends of the earth, baptizing those who believe, casting out devils, picking up snakes, using your gift of tongues and laying your hands on the sick." Jesus has finished his mission now it is our turn. "Let's discuss how you -yes, you will receive the Spirit. Go, start moving. You, not me. I'm leaving; it is up to you now!" The mission given to the apostles and the followers is quite clear. They are told that they will receive His power and will act in His name. They will have power to forgive one another; they will have power to cast out evil. They will have power to handle snakes with their bare hands, animals that had always been symbols of sin. He told them that they would drink the deadly poison of this corrupt world without harm. He told them that He would send them his Holy Spirit. How many of us Christians are ready for the mission that he gave us as he ascended to heaven? Most of us are caught in between the many happenings of life. The temptation is to sit where we are and to use Jesus as an excuse for sitting comfortably in this rubble and rubbish. In so far as we are concerned, insofar as it depends on us nothing is going to change in this world. Perhaps we are waiting for Him to do something while He is waiting for us to act in the power of His spirit.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
At the conclusion of Part One of Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, two radiant birds come as Jonathan's brothers to take him higher, to take him home. Jonathan balks, but the birds insist: "But you can Jonathan, for you have learned. One school is finished, the time has come for another to begin." It was a moment of enlightenment for Jonathan. He realized that he "could fly higher and it was time to go home." Taking one last long glance across the sky and land where he had learned so much, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull 'rose with the two star-bright gulls to disappear into a perfect sky. ' -There are striking similarities between this episode in Bach's book and Luke's account of our Lord's Ascension in today's readings. First, the 'school' and the 'learning' mentioned in Jonathan recall how Jesus 'taught' his disciples until the day he was taken up into heaven. Second, the 'time for another school to begin' for Jonathan, reflects Christ's promise to send the Holy Spirit upon his apostles so that they could be his 'witnesses to the ends of the earth. ' Third, the two 'star-bright gulls' suggest the presence of the 'two men dressed in white' who spoke to the apostles after Jesus ascended. Fourth, when Jonathan 'rose to disappear in the sky, ' it was reminiscent of Jesus being 'lifted up in a cloud which took him from their sight. ' The Jonathan Livingstone Seagull story can be taken, then, as a modern myth to help understand the significance of Christ's Ascension.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'
Does God show through?
A little girl, on her way home from church, turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, the Preacher's sermon this morning confused me." The mother said, "Oh! Why is that?" The girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?" "Yes, that's true," the mother replied. "He also said that God lives within us. Is that true too?" Again the mother replied, "Yes." "Well," said the girl. "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?" Does Jesus really show through in your life and mine?
Broken but Renewed
In 1981 Peter Cropper, the British violinist, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. As a personal favour to Peter, the Royal Academy of Music lent him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius for use in the concert. This rare instrument takes its name from the Italian violin maker, Antonio Stradivari. It is made of 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. Its beautiful sound has never been duplicated. When Peter Cropper got to Finland, an incredible nightmare took place. Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell. The violin broke into several pieces. Peter flew back to London in a state of shock. A master craftsman named Charles Beare agreed to try to repair the violin. He worked endless hours on it. Finally he got it back together again. Then came the dreaded moment of truth. What would the violin sound like? Beare handed the violin to Peter Cropper. Peter's heart was pounding inside him as he picked up the bow and began to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin's sound excellent, but it actually seemed better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on the worldwide tour. Night after night the violin, everyone thought was ruined forever, drew standing ovations from concert audiences. The violin story is a beautiful illustration of what happens when God comes into our broken lives and makes us whole again. We need His touch, His Spirit!
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'
Thus far the Master
Puccini wrote La Boheme and Madame Butterfly. It was during his battle with terminal cancer in 1922 that he began to write Turandoe, which many now consider his best work. He worked on the score day and night, despite his friends' advice to rest and to save his energy. When his sickness worsened, Puccini said to his disciples, "'If I don't finish Turandoe, I want you to finish it. " He died in 1924, leaving the work unfinished. His disciples gathered all that was written of Turandoe, studied it in great detail, and proceeded to write the remainder of the opera. The world premiere was performed in the La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and it was conducted by Toscanini, Puccini's favourite student. The opera went beautifully, until Toscanini came to the end of the part written by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down the baton, turned to the audience, and announced, "Thus far the master wrote, but he died." There was a long pause; no one moved. Then Toscanini picked up the baton, turned to the audience and, with tears in his eyes, announced, "But his disciples finished his work." The opera closed to thunderous applause, and to a permanent place in the annals of great works.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'
No back-up plan!
There is an ancient legend about the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. According to the legend, when Jesus reached heaven, his body still showed the wounds of his crucifixion. When the people in heaven saw these marks, they fell on their faces before Jesus. Then angel Gabriel rose up and said to Jesus: "Lord, do all the people on earth know and appreciate how much you went through for them?" Jesus replied: "Oh no! Only a handful of people in Palestine know that. The rest haven't even heard of me. They don't know how much I suffered, and how much I love them." Then Gabriel said to Jesus: "How will the rest of the people on earth ever learn about your suffering and your love?" Jesus said: "Just before I left I told Peter, James and John and a few of their friends to tell the rest of the world for me. They'll tell as many people as they can. Those people in turn will tell other people. In this way the whole world will eventually learn about my love for them." Gabriel looked even more confused now. He knew how fickle and forgetful people are. So he turned to Jesus and said: "But Lord, what if Peter, James and John grow tired and frustrated? And even if none of these things happen, what if the people they tell become frustrated? What if they begin to have doubts about you? Didn't you take these things into account? Don't you have a back-up plan just in case?" Jesus answered: "I did take all these things into account, but I decided against a back-up plan. This is the only plan I have. I'm counting on Peter, James and John not to let me down. I'm counting on the people they tell not to let me down." Twenty centuries later, Jesus still has no other plan, He is counting on us.
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'
Practical Application. Heavenly departure means earthly involvement. We profess that Jesus has gone home to the Father and conclude that the Church is solely his business. We announce that the Lord has been exalted and maintain that the earthly community is only his operation. We proclaim that Jesus has achieved his mission and hold that the Church is still only his achievement. We are tempted to be dropouts from community. We fail to see that we can and must make a difference. Heavenly departure means earthly involvement.
Luke was concerned to show that Jesus' departure meant the ongoing involvement of his earthly community. His audience was no longer to be concerned about the timetable of the parousia. It was no longer to continue looking up to the skies. This world was their world and they had to be involved in making it a better world by witnessing to the message of Jesus. For Luke, heavenly departure means earthly involvement
The author of the longer ending of Mark saw Jesus' departure as the springboard for human involvement. "The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere." To proclaim the Good News meant to be the catalyst for provoking a faith response. To be sent meant to be involved in continuing the kingdom. For the author of the longer ending, heavenly departure means earthly involvement.
Those who support and sustain their local church community by being involved proclaim the meaning of Jesus' departure. Those who offer constructive criticism for improving the Christian community announce the understanding of Jesus' departure. Church leaders who attack new problems with both courage and conviction communicate the sense of Jesus' departure. The laity who seek to make their experiences a vital part in building up the Body of Christ reveal the proper notion of Jesus' departure. All such people overcome the temptation tote dropouts from society. They believe that heavenly departure means earthly involvement.
Eucharist is the sacrament of Christian involvement. While proclaiming that Christ will come again, Eucharist announces that the present is the moment of human interaction. To share the bread and the wine means to be responsible for the destiny of the community. In Eucharist, heavenly departure means earthly involvement.John Craghan, cssr
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection: