Today’s readings describe the ascension of the Lord Jesus into his heavenly glory after he had promised his disciples his Holy Spirit as their source of heavenly power, and commanded them to bear witness to him throughout the world by their lives and preaching. But the ascended Jesus is still with us through his indwelling Holy Spirit as he has promised, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Today’s feast celebrates Jesus’ final glorification after his suffering, death and resurrection – a glory in which we hope to share.
The first reading gives an account of the event of Jesus’ ascension as recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First, Jesus instructed his apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then a cloud took Jesus from the sight of the disciples and two heavenly messengers in white garments gave them the assurance of Jesus’ “second coming” or return in glory. Today's psalm suggests that, by his Ascension, the risen Lord "mounts his throne" in glory. In the second reading, Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation, giving us the assurance that one day, we, too, will be ascending to heavenly glory, provided we carry out the mission entrusted to us by the ascending Lord. Today's gospel describes how Jesus ascended to heaven after giving his final blessing and missionary command to his disciples. The command was to “proclaim the good news to every creature”(Mark 16:15), “to be his witnesses"(Acts 1: 8), and “to make disciples of all n ation s.” (Matthew 8:19).
1) We need to be proclaimers and evangelizers: To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. Let us ask the guidance of the Spirit of God to bear witness to Jesus by our transparent Christian lives. 2) We need to transmit his teachings to the world: Jesus taught us lessons of faith, hope, love, forgiveness, mercy and salvation by his life and preaching and gave us the mission to teach these to others. Hence, let us learn about Jesus and his teachings by our daily study of the Bible and the teachings of the Church, experience him in personal prayer, reception of the sacraments and works of charity, and convey to others Jesus whom we have experienced with the help of his Holy Spirit.
3) We need seek our help in this mission from the ascended Jesus who is our strength and encouragement: We will be able to overcome doubts about our faith and baseless fears, anxieties and worries by meditating on Jesus’ Ascension and the lesson it teaches, that we, too, are called to share his glory in heaven. L/12
1) The disciples who completed Puccini’s opera Turandot. The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini wrote La Boheme, Madama Butterfly and Tosca. It was during his battle with terminal cancer in 1922 that he began to write Turandot, 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 Turandot, I want you to finish it.' He died in 1924, leaving the work unfinished. His disciples gathered all that was written of Turandot, studied it in great detail, and then proceeded to write the remainder of the opera. The world premier took place in La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and Toscanini, Puccini’s favorite student, conducted it. 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 found a permanent place in the annals of great works. Jesus instructs us in his Ascension message to finish his work of saving mankind by proclaiming His good news in words and deeds.
2) “Is this thing working?” There is the funny story of the raw army recruit standing at attention on the drill field. The drill instructor yells, "Forward, march!" And the entire ranks begin to move, all except this one raw recruit. He's still standing there at attention. So the drill instructor strolls over to him and yells in his right ear, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The recruit yells. Then the drill instructor walks around to the other ear and yells, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The soldier says. "Then why didn't you march when I gave the order?" "Sir, I didn't hear you call my name." Some of us are like that soldier, standing around waiting for God to call our names. But the great commission given by Jesus on the day of his Ascension is a blanket order. It has everyone's name on it. And you can be sure that the man in charge says, "Go! Make disciples! Teach!” It is your mission and my mission.
3) "I have no other plan -- it must work." A beautiful old story tells of how Jesus, after his ascension into Heaven, was surrounded by the Holy Angels who began to enquire about his work on earth. Jesus told them about His birth, life, preaching, death and resurrection, and how he had accomplished the salvation of the world.
The angel Gabriel asked, “Well, now that you are back in Heaven, who will continue your work on earth?" Jesus said, "While I was on earth, I gathered a group of people around me who believed in me and loved me. They will continue to spread the Gospel and carry on the work of the Church.” Gabriel was perplexed. "You mean Peter, who denied you thrice and all the rest who ran away when you were crucified? You mean to tell us that you left them to carry on your work? And what will you do if this plan doesn't work?" Jesus said, "I have no other plan -- it must work." Truly, Jesus has no other plan than to depend on the efforts of his followers!
Today’s readings describe the ascension of the Lord Jesus into his heavenly glory after he had promised His disciples his Holy Spirit as their source of heavenly power and commanded them to bear witness to him by their lives and preaching throughout the world. What we celebrate is Jesus’ exaltation and the end of his earthly existence as a prelude to the gift of the Spirit. The ascended Jesus is still with us because of his promise, "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” He is with us at all times and in all places, releasing a new energy upon the earth, the energy of the Holy Spirit to preach his Good News of salvation by bearing witness to him. Hence, today’s feast is the celebration of Jesus’ glory after his suffering and death – the glory in which we hope to share. The Ascension and Pentecost, taken together, mark the beginning of the Church. The feast of the Ascension tells us that the church must be a community with a mission, guided by God’s Spirit and confident of God’s protection, even facing suffering and death.
The first reading (Acts 1: 1-11), gives an account of the event of Jesus’ ascension as recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First, Jesus instructed his apostles to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism by the Holy Spirit so that they might become his “witnesses to the ends of the earth” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then a cloud took Jesus from the sight of the disciples, and two heavenly messengers in white garments gave them the assurance of Jesus’ return in glory.
Today's psalm, “God is king of all the earth,” celebrates God's universal kingship. It was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honoring the Ark of the Covenant. By his Ascension, the risen Lord likewise "mounts his throne" in glory.
The second reading (Eph 1: 17-23 or 4: 1-13): Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation by saying, "May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called." Our great hope is that one day we, too, will be ascending to heavenly glory, provided we carry out the mission entrusted to us by the ascending Lord. Our mission is to preach the good news of salvation to the whole world in word and deed. We continue to receive the divine assistance and spiritual gifts necessary for our Christian witnessing through the Spirit of the risen and ascended Jesus living within us.
In today's gospel Jesus gives his final message, his final instructions, his final promise, and his final blessing to his apostles. Our mission, as recorded in Mark, Acts and Mathew, is to 1) proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). 2)
"Preach the good news and be my witnesses:" (Acts 1:8). 3) “ Ma ke disc ipl es of all n ation s” (Matthew 28:19). Completing Jesus’ mission should be our goal in life, and the prospect of sharing the ascended Jesus’ heavenly glory should be the driving force of our lives.
A) The ascension: Each Sunday we profess through the Creed, "He ascended into heaven." Christ’s Ascension, his return to his Father with his “Mission Accomplished," was a culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ. Jesus’ Ascension was the grand finale of all his words and works, done for us and for our salvation. It was a culmination, but not the conclusion. As he is now with God in glory, he is now with us in Spirit: "Lo, I am with you always." The feast of the Ascension celebrates one aspect of the resurrection, namely Jesus’ exaltation. He did not wait 40 days to be glorified at God’s right hand. That happened at his resurrection. The focus of this feast is the heavenly reign of Christ. The Lord would be “seated at God’s right hand,” meaning He alone would be in control of the continuing plan of salvation through the Spirit, unrestricted by time, space or culture. Thus, the Paschal Mystery of Jesus' passion, death, resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit form one unbroken reality which is to be understood by faith. This continuing plan of salvation will come to its fulfillment with Christ’s return in glory to pass the Final Judgment on all humanity.
B) The Ascension account: The Biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not so much on the details of the event as on the mission Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension took place in Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, the event occurred in Galilee. All accounts, however, agree that the Ascension took place on a mountain. In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, a period during which Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of the time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy of historical detail but were more concerned with transmitting Our Lord’s message.
C) The ascension message: "Preach the good news and be my witnesses:" Matthew, Mark and Acts record Jesus’ last words differently: 1) “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 2) “Go therefore and make
disc ipl es of all n ation s” (Matthew 28:19). 3) “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). All are in agreement that (a) Jesus gave his
disciples a mission of bearing witness to him by preaching and living the good news. They were to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus' life, suffering, death and resurrection. (b) He assured them of the divine assistance of his Holy Spirit in the carrying out of this mission.
D) Christmas and Ascension: The Ascension is most closely related, in meaning, to
Christmas. In Jesus, the human and the divine become united in the person and life of one man. That's Christmas. At the Ascension, Jesus, True God and True Man, now risen from the dead, His scarred human flesh glorified, became for all eternity a part of who God is. It was not only the spirit of Jesus or the divine nature of Jesus that ascended to the Father. It was the Whole Divine Person of Jesus, His body now-glorified. This was the same body the disciples had touched, a body that had eaten and drunk with them, a real, physical, but gloriously restored body, bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This Risen Jesus is the One Who ascended and, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God. The Ascension, along with the Incarnation, is here to tell us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being. It is such an important thing that God did it. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being.
1) We need to be proclaimers and evangelizers: In today's gospel, Jesus gives his mission to all believers: "Go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” This mission is not given to a select few but to all believers. To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. There is a difference between preaching and proclaiming. “We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives.” As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven – His Ascension -- we are being commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, by the witness of our lives. On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning with our family and our parish, "living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”
2) We need to live a life of Christian joy in the presence of the ascended Lord. According to Luke, the disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Apparently Jesus' exaltation and final blessing gave them, as it gives us, the assurance that, though absent, he is still present, present even in the pain and sorrow we undergo. That is why St. Augustine assures us, “Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?' and when he said: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food.’ While in heaven he is also with us; and while on earth we are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love."
3) We have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, redemption and love. We cannot put these lessons on a shelf and ignore them. They stand before us in the person of Jesus. Although no longer visibly present in the world, He is present in his words. We must make his words real in our lives and in the lives of others. Christianity was meant to be a faith in which Jesus’ followers would help and care for others, just as Jesus had done. But the spreading of the Good News to all nations is not a goal that can be attained by human might and craft. This is why Jesus promises to empower his messengers with His abiding presence and that of the Holy Spirit. The challenge of sharing the Good News with all mankind should, therefore, begin with our admission that we have often been arrogant and overbearing. We must learn to be humble and let the Holy Spirit lead the way.
4) The ascended Jesus is our source of strength and encouragement: Perhaps some of the nagging doubts which inevitably accompany the journey of faith could be lessened by our meditating on the Ascension and its implications. When we are too far from faith to pray on our own, let us remember that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, praying for us. When the trials of life feel too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory, the same glory in which he arose from the tomb, the same glory in which he ascended, and the same glory in which he currently abides. Though our limited perception might find him absent, he is fully present, participating in every moment of our lives. By His ascension, Christ has not deserted us but has made it possible for his Spirit to enter all times and places. In this way it is possible for each of us to be transformed by the power of the Spirit into agents or instruments of Christ. We become enlivened with his Spirit. Our actions become animated in a new way by the Spirit of the God we love and serve. We have become Christs in the world.
# 1: The ascension mission to preach the gospel: After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has already provided you with a congregation in your own home.”
# 2: Ascension walk-out: There was a long-winded pastor who preached salvation history from Genesis to Revelation in every sermon. On the feast of Ascension as he reached Isaiah, he remarked that the prophet said nothing about the ascension of Our Lord. He asked his audience, “What shall we do with him?” One old man in the front seat said, “He can have my seat, Father, I am leaving.”
# 3: And after death ascend or descend? At the end of school what do you want to do? I want to do my Senior Certificate. After your Senior Certificate what do you want to do? - I want to go to college. After college what do you want to do?
- I want to get a job. Then what do you want to do? - I want to make big money. What do you want to do after making money? - I want to build a big house. After that what do you intend to do? - I want to get married. What will you do after getting married? - I will have a family. What will you do after having a family? - I will retire. What do you want to do after you retire? - I want to take a rest. What will you do after taking a rest? - I don’t know. Will you die? - Oh yes, I will die too. What will happen after death? I am not sure!
1) The Unfinished Painting:
Leonardo da Vinci had started to work on a large canvas in his studio. For a while he worked at it – choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colors, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he stopped working on it. Summoning one of his talented students, the master invited him to complete the work. The horrified student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which his master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him. "Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?" Jesus our Master began to spread the Good News two thousand years ago, by what he said and did, and supremely by what he suffered. He illustrated his message, and he has left us to finish the picture. Will his life not inspire us to finish the picture? This is the message of the Ascension (John Rose in John's Sunday Homilies).
2) Solar Power:
One of the national coordinators of Sun Day held early in May every year is Denis Hayes. He worked as researcher at a Washington D.C. ‘think-tank’ and has written a book on solar energy entitled Rays of Hope: The Transition to a Post- Petroleum World. Hayes claims that we are at the crossroads of making a critical choice for mankind – the choice between going solar or going nuclear for a power source. Hayes opts for the sun because it is “the world’s only inexhaustible, predictable, egalitarian, non-polluting, safe, terrorist-resistant and free energy source.” We’ve already learned to use the power of the sun to grow food, make wine and operate greenhouses. All we need to do is develop better technology to harness solar energy to heat houses, drive our cars and run our industry. People like Hayes are looking at the sky with its sun as the main source of our future energy supply. Today we turn our attention to the sky for another reason – to commemorate our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. In the first reading, from Acts, Jesus makes a promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” That Spirit is the power source that can give us all the energy we need to live our lives to the full. (Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’)
3) Passing the Baton:
The critical moment in a relay race is the passing of the baton from one runner to another. More relays are won or lost at that moment than at any other. The feast of the ascension might be compared to the passing of the baton in a relay race. On this day over 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed the baton of responsibility for the Kingdom of God to his followers. Jesus commissioned them to complete the work he had begun. Practically, what does this mean? How do you and I, in the 20th century, carry out Jesus’ commission to be his witnesses to the world and his teachers to the nations? There are as many ways to do this as there are Christians. We can do what two 25-year-old university graduates did recently. After completing their degrees, one from Georgetown and the other from Marquette, they entered the Seminary. We can do what Albert Schweitzer did. At the age of 30 he abandoned his
music career in Europe to study medicine and became a missionary doctor in Africa. We can do what the baseball coach of Spring Hill College, Alabama, did a few years back. At the age of 35 he resigned his position and began his studies for the priesthood.
[Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’ (quoted in Net for Life)]
4) Great commissions:
Actually there have been many persons given exciting commissions in their lifetimes. There was Michelangelo's commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Sir Christopher Wren's commission to build St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Walter Reed's assignment to stop yellow fever at the "Big Ditch" in Panama, Chamberlain's orders to stop the Confederates at Little Roundtop in Gettysburg and most recently the mission of the U.S. Navy Seals to get the terrorist master-mind, Bin Laden, dead or alive. But I tell you, in my life and yours, there is an even greater commission. It is found here in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus Christ turns to his disciples and says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
5) "Torpedo evangelism."
Rebecca Pippert, the author of Out of the Salt Shaker: Into the World, tells of a time she was sitting in her car at a traffic light with her window rolled down. As the light turned green a car drove by and its occupant threw something into her car hitting her on the cheek. It didn't hurt but she was so startled that she pulled over immediately. When she unrolled the paper, she discovered it was a gospel tract. She says she was the apparent victim of what she refers to as "torpedo evangelism." I'm sure the torpedoer meant well. At least I hope so, but he or she did the wrong thing for the right reason in the wrong way. We can engage people in conversation about their faith and their relationship with God in a non- judgmental manner. We can encourage. We can invite. We can offer counsel. But we leave the hard work, the heart work, up to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You see, we are not on some sort of spiritual mugging mission.
6) Reaching Peak Performance:
One of the superstars in that professional speakers’ circuit is a man named Charles Garfield. He is a psychologist from San Francisco. He makes up to 150 speeches a year, he says. Actually, if the truth were known, he makes one speech 150 times. He began his career as a mathematician for NASA. He was part of the Apollo Project that put a man on the moon. He left NASA to study psychology. He became interested in what motivates people to reach their highest possible achievement in this life. He went to Berkeley and got a PhD in psychology. Then he interviewed 1,500 people on how they achieved what he called "peak performance." He published that result in a book, and then he started on the lecture circuit. He said the one thing that all peak performers have in common is a sense of mission. "What you need in this life if you want to have fulfillment is a sense of mission." It is giving yourself to something that is greater than yourself. That is what a mission is. Our mission is found at the conclusion of Matthew's gospel: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the
end of the age." Not only does the Church have a mission to perform in this world, but everybody in the Church is supposed to have a part in performing that mission.
7) “They don't drink no water."
The chief warrant officer was brought before the provost marshal and asked if he had received the general's order. "Yes, Sir." "Then why didn't you comply?" roared the provost.
"Well, Sir, I didn't think it applied to us." "And why not?"
"Because, Sir, when my men go to town, they don't drink no water."[Robert L. Jamison, "Humor in Uniform," Laughter, the Best Medicine, (New York: Berkley Books,
1981), p. 29.] Fortunately, those men who first heard the ascending Lord's orders did not look for ways to get around them but did what they told.
8) Nietchze and Hitler:
Nietchze, the German philosopher, said, "God is dead and the stench of his corpse is all across Europe." He advocated humanism and proposed the development of a "superman" of Aryan heritage, protected by selective breeding and superior education. The Nazi Party picked up his idea, and men like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Mengle, Himmler, and Rommel set about building such a society in Germany's Third Reich. But it all ended with bullets and bombs, chaos and suffering such as the world has seldom seen. The Christian faith has no less a plan. But it involves a higher order. Hitler would have renewed man by his own efforts. We seek to renew the human race by the work of God. Our mission as given by the ascending Jesus is not to make converts or church members, but baptized, obedient disciples!
9) Three-step baptism:
In one of the great cathedrals of Europe there is a baptistery that tells the story. The water flows through it reminding us that Jesus says he is the living water. To be baptized, a person walks down three steps, each one marked by a word: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Descending the steps the convert is plunged beneath the water to die to sin and then raised from the depths to newness of life in Christ. To leave the baptistery now he must climb three steps, each one marked by a word: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So it is that a new creature is born, a new breed of man, a citizen of a new kingdom, a breed apart. Dead to sin, he is alive to God and is sent forth to grow to love and to give light to a lost, dying world. He doesn't do it alone. He does it in the Church, in little communities. In these, people demonstrate, in their way of being together, God's eternal kingdom come upon them. It took Michelangelo over ten years to paint the Sistine Chapel. Our missionary commission lasts until the job gets done, until life is over, "until the close of the age."
10) “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”
Have you heard the story of a sea captain who was guiding his ship on a very dark night? He saw faint lights in the distance and told his signalman to send a message, “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” A prompt message returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain became angry because his command had been ignored, so he sent a second message, “I command you to alter your course 10 degrees south!” Again a message promptly returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” Infuriated, the captain sent off a third message: “I am the captain and this is a battleship. Alter your course 10 degrees south!” Once again a prompt reply came, “Alter your course 10 degrees north – I am a lighthouse.” These last words of Jesus are the signal we are to obey. No wonder we label the call “the Great Commission.” The tragedy of the church – our great sin – is that the Great Commission of Jesus is our “great omission.”
11) Plus Ultra = "More beyond!”
“In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two/Columbus sailed the ocean blue!" In 1992 the world marked the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' adventure in the Santa Maria. As we all now know, Columbus did not end up where he was headed, which is why some native Americans are now called Indians. This man from Genoa believed, "God granted me the gift of knowledge ... (and) revealed to me that it was feasible to sail ... to the Indies, and placed in me a burning desire to carry out this plan." Columbus set out with a belief that he had tested with his mind, and with a faith to which he was willing to give his life! How many of us can walk in Columbus' shoes? When, on Friday, August 3, 1492, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, eased away from their moorings at Palos, in southern Spain, Columbus was putting his beliefs and his faith into the realities of life. Before the reports of his trans-Atlantic travel penetrated the Old World, Spanish coins had stamped upon them an outline of the Straits of Gibraltar. Underneath the outline of the Straits was the Latin inscription Ne Plus Ultra. It translates, "No more beyond." It meant that the world ended in the great expansive voids of water beyond the Straits. There was nothing more. But once Columbus returned home and told of what he had seen, of what he had discovered, and once that report was widely shared, new coins were minted. The inscription was changed to Plus Ultra. It translates, "More beyond!" That is the mountaintop affirmation which came to the disciples in Galilee and the word that ends Matthew's gospel.
12) Wellington defeated:
Wellington and Napoleon were fighting the battle of Waterloo. It was a decisive battle. Life for many, many persons hinged on its outcome. At last, word was transmitted to London by means of semaphores - a visual code with reflected sunlight spelling out the message letter by letter. A sentry picked up the message from his post atop a great cathedral. Letter by letter he passed on the message to London. The first word was "Wellington." The second word was "defeated." Suddenly a very dense fog settled in upon the cathedral, making it impossible for the light to penetrate the mists and allow the message forwarded on. The fog grew more dense, and its darkness was mirrored in the hearts of the Londoners who had received the word, "Wellington defeated." It meant that Napoleon had won. The English of London were a conquered people. Hope was gone. Liberty was no more. England was ruled by another. But as suddenly as it had come, the fog lifted. The sentry returned to his tower, and went back to his duties, feverishly attempting to transmit the whole message. And London saw it - the good news breaking upon the city and telling the full story: "Wellington defeated the enemy!" Whether the semaphores' message to London is history or fiction, it does convey the truth of Christian faith! That truth is first seen in Joseph's garden, as the earliest followers of Christ make the discovery of the empty tomb. It is the victory message of Jesus' word to his disciples upon that Galilee mountaintop, and it is the shout heard through the centuries as people have come to understand that human life is life lived in two worlds - one temporal, the other eternal.
13) "I am the smartest man in the world”.
A ridiculous story with religious significance has been making the rounds lately. It is about a pilot and three passengers a boy scout, a priest, and an atomic scientist in a plane that develops engine trouble in mid-flight. The pilot rushes back to the passenger compartment and exclaims, "The plane is going down! We only have three parachutes, and there are four of us! I have a family waiting for me at home. I must survive!" With that, he grabs one of the parachutes and jumps out of the plane. The atomic scientist jumps to his feet at this point and declares, "I am the smartest man in the world. It would be a great tragedy if my life were snuffed out!" With that, he also grabs a parachute and exits the plane. With an alarmed look on his face, the priest says to the Boy Scout, "My son, I have no family. I am ready to meet my Maker. You are still young with much ahead of you. You take the last parachute.” At this point, the Boy Scout interrupts the priest, "Hold on, Father. Don't say any more. We're all right. The world's smartest man just jumped out of the plane wearing my knapsack!" For such smart people who do not believe in an afterlife, today’s feast of ascension seems a myth. But it is the guarantee of their resurrection and ascension to heaven for Christians.
14) Are we going to them?
95% of North American Christians will not lead a single person to Christ in their lifetime, and I cry, “Lord, help us!” Some of you know the story: 36 million Americans (14% of the population) live in poverty. Of those, the portion living in our urban centers has increased from 30% in 1968 to about 47% today. Are we going to them? And are we going to the 57% of the 36 million poor who remain in rural America? Seventy million individuals in the United States are under the age of 18—are we going to them? Nearly one million foreign-born people immigrate to this country every year. Are we going to them? Thirty-two million people in America speak some language other than English as their primary language. Are we going to them? We have more unsaved and unchurched people in our nation than ever before in our history—172 million. Are we going to them? Ninety percent of the population of the United States now lives in urban settings. Are we going to them? Over 150 million people in America claim to be “born-again Christians.” We have to question what that means. And we wonder if people are not interpreting the Christian faith as mere mental assent to correct doctrine, accepting forgiveness and professing Christ as an insurance policy – a way to get into heaven when we die and leave this earth – missing the whole notion of discipleship, growing into the likeness of Christ. If all born-again Christians were disciples, would there not be greater signs of the transforming power of Christ at work in the world?
15) “The City of the World increasingly oozes its decay.”
Peter Kreeft, professor at Boston College, has perceptively noted, “The City of the World increasingly oozes its decay.” We saw signs of it in the half-time show of the 38th Super Bowl. One hundred million people – how many children were among them? – saw Justin Timberlake rip off a portion of Janet Jackson’s upper clothing, exposing a private part of her body. We cringed at that and the media talked about it for days. But not much was said about the “dirty” dancing and lewd lyrics, including words about getting a woman naked before the song was done. Other singers through lyrics and dance displayed sexual lust as they gyrated with female dancing partners. The truth, friends, is that halftime show is not the exception in television fare. In fact, it was rather tame compared to what constantly flows from television and the Internet. “The City of the World increasingly oozes its decay.” But what about disciples of Jesus? What about the Church? What about the City set on a hill? What are we doing about “the fact that all the septic tanks on the hill are backing up”? We need disciples with a passion of shedding the light of Christ into every dark corner of the world.
16) Gaze heavenward but go worldwide!
Nicky often boasted about his deep faith. Once, a storm arose and the rains threatened to flood Nicky’s house. A fireman rushed in and said, “Come, I’ll carry you away!” Pointing upward, Nicky exclaimed, “Jesus is the way!” The downpour continued and the waters reached Nicky’s waist. A fisherman rowe d by and screamed, “Jump in, I’ll steer you to safety!” gazing heavenward, Nicky retorted, “Only Jesus saves!” Later, rising rainwater forced Nicky to climb onto the rood. The pilot of a helicopter hovering overhead shouted, “I’ll help you!” Nicky replied: “I trust in God alone!” Nicky drowned in the raging waters. In heaven, he complained: “Lord, I trusted you, but you abandoned me!” God replied, “No, I didn’t! I tried to save you as fireman, fisherman and pilot! Why didn’t you do anything besides gazing heavenward?” [Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds ’(quoted in Net for Life)]
7) He is the same yet different……
Lech Walesa worked for years as an electrician in the Gdansk shipyards. During those years he and his fellow workers founded the movement which came to be known as “Solidarity.” Walesa became its leader. This brought them into open conflict with the communist leaders. Eventually the workers won out. The communist regime collapsed and democracy returned to Poland. Then on December 9, 1990 something happened which a few years prior would have been unthinkable. Walesa the shipyard worker was elected the first president of a free and democratic Poland. It was a great honor for Walesa. His fellow workers were delighted. They too felt honored because of their association with him. However there was sadness too. They knew that it would change forever the way they related to him. They knew they were losing him. However, they were hoping that he would not forget them, and that he would help them from his new and more influential position. -The illustration may go some way in helping us to understand what we are celebrating on this great feast of Ascension. [Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’ (quoted in Net for Life)]
18) The power within:
A priest, Walter Ciszek by name, was in Russia for 23 years, five of which were spent in the dreaded Lubyanka prison in Moscow and ten of which were spent in the harsh Siberian slave labour camp. He was finally released from Russia in 1963, in exchange for two Soviet spies held in USA. He died in 1984 at the age of 84. After release he wrote a book He Leadeth Me. In this book he tries to answer the question: “How did you manage to survive in Russia?” He says: “I was able to endure the inhuman conditions in which I found myself because I experienced somehow the presence of God. I never lost my faith that God was with me, even in the worst of circumstances.” What was true of Fr. Walter Ciszek is true of each of us. Jesus is with us; God is with us in the power of his Holy Spirit. [Vima Dasan in ‘His Word Lives’ (quoted in Net for Life)]
In the familiar story entitled “Footprints” a man at the end of his life wanted to know why in though times there was only one set of footprints in the sand. After all, the Lord had promised to walk with him all the way. The Lord replied by telling him that he never left him in times of trial. When the man saw only one set of footprints, it was then that the Lord carried him. The Lord was with Fr. Ciszek for twenty-three years of hardship in Russia. The Lord was with the man walking in the sand. May the risen Lord be with us all the days of our life.
[Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’ (quoted in Net for Life)]
20) Run the race well: Many years ago, a great Arctic explorer started on an expedition to the North Pole. After having spent two years in the freezing and lonely place, he wrote a message, tied it to the leg of a carrier pigeon, and let it loose to make the two thousand miles journey to Norway. The bird circled thrice, and then started its southward flight in the freezing cold for hundreds of miles; it traveled and crossed the icy frozen oceans and wastelands until it reached and dropped into the lap of the explorer’s wife. The arrival of the bird proved that everything was well with her husband in that deserted, lonely and frozen arctic North. Likewise, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost proved to the disciples that Jesus had entered the heavenly sanctuary after His Ascension as He had promised. Now He was seated at the right hand of God the Father, for His redemption work was over. The coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of the promise of Christ. [John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’(quoted in Net for Life)] L/12