Easter 7 A

1. Fr. Ted Martin  

Purpose: The Ascension of our Divine Savior marks the destiny for all human flesh; glory with the Father and the blessed in heaven. The greatest gift of the Christian faith is the supernatural end to which the anchor of hope secures joy amidst the difficulties and sufferings of this life. We learn in this Sunday’s readings that Christian life consists of walking toward Jerusalem with the Apostolic band and our Lady, so that we shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. This Sunday’s readings teach us: 1. The necessity of praying with the Church; 2. Prayer as the key to suffering; 3. The unicity of Jesus Christ; and, the necessity of proclaiming His Lordship. 

As we look around us at a world falling into deeper and darker traps and snares, we can ask ourselves what Jesus has brought? Pope Benedict XVI asked this very question in the first volume of his trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth. His answer was stunning in its simplicity: God. Jesus has brought God. Perhaps this fails to convince us as modern western citizens enjoying the enthralling world of science, technology, and many other legitimate achievements of modernity. Even so, each of us—no matter the level of affluence achieved or comfort enjoyed—faces squarely the reality of our second reading: suffering. Suffering, trial and persecution are part and parcel of every human life, and they culminate in a darkness which seems absolute, the dark night of death. 

What is St. Peter’s response to this perennial riddle? Rejoice! But wait, he says more: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ! What an incredible claim … what an unimaginable paradox. No one enjoys suffering, and it has lead all too many to despair and hopelessness. For the Christian, it is so. Jesus, very God robed in our flesh, has suffered the bitter passion of our sinfulness, the mocking of humanity, before the banner of hope. He truly suffered and died; this we profess with full faith every Sunday at the Eucharistic liturgy in the Creed. The miraculous happens though, the Miracle which stuns the world, and still stands as the only “new thing under the sun”(Ecclesiastes 1:9), and the only perduring revolution of human history: a man returns from the dead. Who cannot but cry out and say with St. Peter, “Lord it is good that we are here!” It is, indeed, good to be here, namely, to be a member of this risen flesh through faith and baptism as Christians. We are witnesses to this life and joy. But there is more.

This risen flesh breaks open the confines of space and time, ascending into heaven. As Pope Benedict so beautifully spoke in his 2008  homily for the Mass of the Ascension: there is space in God for humanity. The flesh we bear shall be ours in eternity, and we shall see God in the flesh. The glory of the Father, shining through the humanity and wounds of Christ, will be the light of that city, and we will all bask in its glow. We are no longer permitted to be pessimists amid the vicissitudes and trials of life and history because we share in the risen and ascended flesh of Jesus Christ! Only because of this great Divine condescension in the Incarnation, and human divination, and elevation in the Ascension of our Lord, can we rejoice in our sufferings. Only in this way can we learn “to suffer as a Christian.” (I Peter 4:16)

How should we journey as Christians, as believers in the works Jesus accomplished? (John 17:10) The first obligation of the Christian is to pray. Not just any prayer though, but to pray in one accord with the Apostles, and their successors—the Bishops, Mary, and the disciples. St. Jose Maria Escriva would lament to his spiritual sons that their prayer wasn’t more liturgical (The Way, 86). He was not speaking of “liturgical” in the sense of vestments, incense, candles, etc…(as important as these all are), but liturgical because he wanted them united quite concretely with the Bishop, his priests, deacons ,and all the lay faithful, in common prayer. It is here, in this appeal of Acts 1, that we find the true need for the Sunday Eucharist, which St. Paul reminds us some absented with great fault (Hebrews 10:25-27). It is this prayer with the successors of the Apostles, Mary, the saints, and the disciples of every age, that equips and strengthens us to suffer like Christians, and find sure hope in a future that can never be denied, or taken from us. It is here that we imitate Jesus in the Gospel who raises his eyes in prayer to the Father (John 17:1) and so receive the courage to proclaim the good news that God is one, and there is no other. He alone is true and anything that promises salvation, or truth, apart from Him, is from the evil one. We are sent forth from this prayer, and the purifying fire of suffering, to proclaim the works of him, Jesus, whom the Father has sent as the only Lord. The Church’s “missionary option,” as Pope Francis reminds us, comes from this encounter with the risen and ascended Christ, who anchors our hope in a love that fills even the darkest moments of suffering, and even death itself, with his light. Praying with the Church we are able to unlock the mystery of suffering and so find joy in the eternal life offered by the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he sent. 

2. From the Connections: 

THE WORD:

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is the climax of the Last Supper discourse: the “high priestly prayer” of Jesus.  As his “hour” of glory approaches, Jesus prays to the Father for the unity of present and future disciples, a union rooted in the love of the Father and the Son.

In the first part of his prayer, Jesus prays that his disciples will be worthy and effective witnesses of the Gospel he has entrusted to them.  When Jesus left this world, he had little reason to hope.  He seemed to have achieved so little and to have won so few.  And the Twelve -- soon to be the Eleven -- to whom he has entrusted his new Church are certainly not among the most capable of leaders nor the most dynamic of preachers.  Yet with so small a beginning, Jesus changed the world.  As Jesus returns to the Father, he leaves a portion of the Father's glory behind: the community of faith.

HOMILY POINTS:

Jesus’ priestly prayer is a prayer not only for his followers at table with him then but also for us at this table: that we may be united and consecrated in the truth Jesus has revealed and that we may reveal to the world the love and care of the Father for all of the human family.

The Church as a community of prayer is at the heart of today’s readings -- prayer that is, first and foremost, an attitude of trust and acceptance of God's presence in the community, an attitude that is not occasional but constant and continuing, an attitude not limited to asking for something but of thanksgiving for what is and for what has been.  The prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper and the prayer of the company of disciples seek not God's acquiescence to their will but that God's will might be done effectively through them.

In baptism, the Gospel first preached by Jesus and then by the Eleven is passed on to us -- we became witnesses of the great Easter event and accepted responsibility for telling our children and people of our time and place the good news of the empty tomb.  Not in words alone but in our attitude of joy, our work for reconciliation among all, our commitment to what is right and just, our simplest acts of generosity and compassion, do we witness the Father's name and presence to the generations who follow us.
 

ILLUSTRATIONS: 

In Act 5 scene 5 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, the character Macbeth has heard that the queen is dead and he knows his own death is imminent. At this time he delivers his famous soliloquy: 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, Out, brief candle
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury signifying nothing. 

Is Macbeth right? Is life nothing but a shadow having no substance, no meaning? Writers and philosophers since recorded time have tried to answer the question. I don't think any of them have been successful in answering the question to everyone's satisfaction. Someone once said that "Trying to speak about the ultimate reality is like sending a kiss through a messenger." I understand their point: Something of its truth is lost in the translation. 

What is the meaning of life? A philosophical question to be sure but this is not only the philosopher's question. It is a genuinely human question and therefore a question that we all ask. It might be a question that is asked in despair or hope, out of cynicism, or out of sincere curiosity and a deep desire to have goals and guidance in life. However we raise the question about the meaning of life, it is our most basic and fundamental question. 

And so it comes as no surprise that Jesus deals with this question and answers it... 
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 In elementary school we all learned the ditty: "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Convinced by Christopher Columbus that a new, faster route to the rich spice regions of India could be found by sailing east instead of south, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain financed an exploratory mission for this new route. Instead of India, Columbus found the New World - the lands that lay across the Atlantic ocean from Europe.  

In the long run it was a very good deal for Ferdinand and Isabella. But while Columbus was floundering about in the sea, the royalty of Spain had some other big-idea irons in the fire. Ferdinand petitioned the Pope and was granted permission to start a serious investigation into the religious orthodoxy of those under his rule. This ecclesial exercise became known as the "Spanish Inquisition." It seems 1492 is a year when both new, exciting frontiers and possibilities were discovered. Yet it is also a year when old prejudices, animosities, and cruelties were reborn with a vengeance. 

Although there were all sorts of free thinkers and some genuine wild-eyed crazies who got caught up in the Inquisitor's net, the primary focus was on the resident Jews and Muslims residing in Spain. Both Jews and Muslims were rounded up and subjected to questions and the questionable tactics (yes torture) of the "Inquisition." In the spring of 1492, shortly after Muslims were driven out of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all the Jews from Spain. Both groups were basically given a "thumbs up or thumbs down" choice: Convert, leave or die.  

The Jews who "converted" were dubbed "conversos" and were subject to suspicion and scrutiny for centuries. The Muslims who "converted" were dubbed "Moriscus," and they too were held at arms' length within the Christian community for centuries. Not surprisingly both conversos and Moriscus' had secret underground networks to keep them connected to their heritage and faith, no matter what they had to show to the political powers that might be.  

But that is a history lesson. That was long ago and far away. Those wrong-headed, wrong-hearted actions are in a past that we as Christians today acknowledge as horrific actions and terrible attitudes. We acknowledge our failures and foibles. We repent and say our confessions.  

The problem is history happens every day. The problem is that history doesn't repeat itself, but it does recur. Nothing repeats, but everything recurs... 
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 Keepers of the Aquarium

Paul Harvey, the well-known radio broadcaster, once said, "Too many Christians are no longer fishers of men but keepers of the aquarium."

I take that to mean that we Christians are more concerned about preserving the Church than we are about touching the lives of other people, more concerned about preserving our "religion" than we are about helping people discover the source of wholeness, the fountain of living water that wells up to eternal life.

Richard J. Fairchild, The Last Words of Jesus
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Humor: Giving While We Are Alive

I'm sure you've heard the old story of the conversation between a pig and a cow. The pig is complaining to the cow that nobody ever has a kind word for him. "Look at the way I give of myself," he says. "I produce bacon, ham, and pork chops. The bristles of my skin are used for brushes, my hide for luggage. Why, some people even pickle my feet and consider them a delicacy. Why is it then that everyone speaks more kindly of you, the cow, than of me?" To which the cow replied, "My friend, perhaps it is that I give of myself while I am still alive."

Lee Griess, Return to The Lord, Your God, CSS Publishing Company
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Losing Sight of Life's Goals 

In Steven Covey's best seller "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," talks about how we can lose sight of our main goals in life. In no other place are the consequences more destructive than in our families: Covey writes: 

"I value my children. I love them, I want to help them.  I value my role as their father. But I don't always see those values. I get caught up in the "thick of thin things."  What matters most gets buried under layers of pressing problems, immediate concerns, and outward behaviors. I become reactive.  And the way I interact with my children every day often bears little resemblance to the way I deeply feel about them." 

For us Fathers...to truly be known by our children would be wonderful. I suspect that this is so much more difficult for men than women. And yet here in Jesus' prayer it is his first thought, that we might know the Father and the Son. This, he says, is salvation. You want to know what being saved means, what the meaning of life is? It is written here in Jesus prayer: If you will come to know God, the only true God, and the Son whom he has sent, you will be saved. 

You might say this is difficult for me to do--to know God. Yes it is. It is difficult for you to do. But it is not difficult for God to make himself known to you. 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com 
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 A Weapon Terrible to Behold 

In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons, Lucy comes into the living room to find Linus in control of the TV. She demands he change the channel. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus.

"These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."

 "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. 

Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?" 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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 Prayer for Work 

Peter Marshall once began a Senate session with this prayer, "O Lord, forgive us for thinking that prayer is a waste of time, and help us to see that without prayer our work is a waste of time." 

Robert J. Bryan, All Constantly Devoted to Prayer. 
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 To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. 

Karl Barth 
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 Shoving It All Back 

The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. 

C.S. Lewis
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 Keep Climbing

A Canadian by the name of Ashleigh Brilliant draws cartoons to go with pithy sayings called "Pot Shots." There is one I really like. Two people with walking sticks in hand are climbing a mountain in knee-deep snow. The caption reads: "Keep Climbing Upwards! You may never reach the top, but it's definitely in that direction."

We have to continue to work toward unity and understanding - between each other, between the races, between cultures and between denominations. We may never reach it, but by working toward it, at least we'll be going in the right direction.

Billy D. Strayhorn, So That We May Be One In Christ 
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 Individual Skills 

We still have to live in the world and each of our individual skills can be used to enhance the kingdom. Some are more visible than others. Some are very subtle. For example; Idlers of a seacoast town watched the village smith day after day as he painstakingly wrought every link of a great chain he was forging. Behind his back they scoffed at such care being taken on such an ordinary thing as a chain. But the old craftsman worked on, ignoring them as if he had not heard them at all. 

Eventually the chain was attached to a great anchor on the deck of an ocean vessel. For months it was never put to use. But one day the vessel was disabled by a breakdown in its steering apparatus while nearing the coast in a storm. Only a secure anchorage cold prevent the vessel from being driven onto the rocky coast. Thus the fate of the ship and hundreds of passengers depended on the strength of that chain. No one knew of the care and skill that had been lavished on each link of that chain by an obscure smith who was only doing his best. The chain held, both the ship and its passengers and crew were saved. The blacksmith had saved the day. 

Keith Wagner, In a Different World 
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 Grabbing up the Truths

Forty-three years ago, I read something by Sherwood Anderson in an upper-level literature class at Albion College. Which took me a while to find, given that I wanted to see if it was as I remembered it. But I did. And it was.

Anderson shared a legend, suggesting that in the beginning there was a valley filled with truths. And the truths were all beautiful. There were truths about every subject under the sun. There were truths about virginity and truths about passion....truths about wealth and truths about poverty....truths about thrift and truths about profligacy....truths about carefulness and truths about abandon. There were hundreds and hundreds of truths, all of them beautiful.

And then the people came along, pouring into the valley. Each snatched up one of the truths. And the strong...