Ascension 2015



Starters: From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
Anecdote 1) God’s love in action: 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 was performed 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 to 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 by words and deeds.


Anecdote 2): “I have no other plan”: A beautiful old story tells of how Jesus, after his Ascension into Heaven, was surrounded by the Holy Angels who began to enquire about how his work on earth had gone. Jesus told them about his birth, life, death and resurrection, and how he accomplished the salvation of the world. One of the angels 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.” The angels were perplexed. "You mean Peter, who betrayed you and all the rest who ran away when you were arrested and crucified? Do 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."
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Catholic Ireland: Michael
At the beginning of today’s passage we are reminded that these words were once spoken by Jesus himself to some disciples who were facing a difficult time. They felt very disorganized and lost; here now was Jesus standing before them and giving them a way to go forward. He continues to do this for us today through different “messengers” whom God sends to us. We must be aware of them and thank God for them.  Jesus makes a first crucial statement to his followers: they are to “go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation”. We think today of many parts of creation where the gospel of Jesus has not yet been preached.
We think of signs in the modern world which we can associate with true believers:
“In my name they will cast out devils.”  Many people in our modern world think that no one cares for them, not even God. True believers, however, speak in words which convey that gifts like true selflessness can bring help for all.
“They will have the gift of tongues.” There are people in the world today who cannot speak in new languages; they use words that cannot touch unyielding hearts. True believers however will be able to communicate their message of love to all they meet, no matter what their original circumstances were.
There are people who can act out their role as evangelisers, even in what seems to the rest of us as very difficult circumstances. They venture into difficult worlds. They work in difficult surroundings, among prostitutes, drug addicts and other outcasts of society. They can “pick up snakes in their hands and be untouched by them”. We can say about them that, “they will remain unharmed even when they drink deadly poison.”
– Finally, Jesus tells us that “true believers” can “lay their hands on the sick who will recover.” There are people who can lay their hands on those who are sick and see them recover before their very eyes. It is truly a wonderful experience of God’s salvation and “true believers” can feel it happening.
The passage concludes with a beautiful saying about the Lord Jesus. It is said of him that “he was taken up to heaven” and that “at the right hand of God, he took his place.” We who believe can now think of the Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.  We are in this world surrounded by all our difficulties and yet we feel great trust in the Lord.jesus-peter-lovest-thou-me-2
“They, going out, preached everywhere” and the “Lord is working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.” As believers, we know well that the Lord is with us. He is confirming what we say by the signs he has sent to accompany us, and the great miracles he achieves through us.
Prayer Reflection
“In the Church’s history, missionary drive has always been a sign of vitality,  just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith.”   John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, 1991
Lord, there comes a time in life when we know
that what we believe in is good news for the whole of creation.
We feel like the apostles when they met Jesus after his resurrection.
It is strange, but the conviction always seems to come
after we have experienced a setback,
some of our members may have deserted us as Judas deserted Jesus.
Yet we know we must go out to the whole world.
Our cause is with you,
as safe as Jesus taken up to heaven and taking his place at your right hand,
so that we can go out, preaching everywhere,
our words confirmed by the signs which accompany them.
Lord, there are certain signs that are the mark of true believers.
Demons have been causing havoc in our community and no one has been able to  confront them – a person of faith will cast them out in one moment.
Believers can express an old message in a totally new way,
so that people who have been listening to that message for years
will suddenly become convinced.
The rest of us are afraid of going into places for fear we might be corrupted:
believers do it and remain totally unharmed.
They can enter into discussion with enemies of the faith and remain calm and loving.
They go to someone whom the community has written off as a hopeless case
and at the touch of their hands this person returns to normal living.
Lord, we thank you for believers.
“Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world
       will keep it for the eternal life.”   John 12:25
Lord, it is clearly a law of life that we must eventually commit ourselves
commit to Jesus– to marriage,
to a noble cause,
to the following of Jesus.
We must take the risk.
If we hold back, afraid of this baptism,
we are condemned to lives of mediocrity.
To go forward in faith is the only way to be saved.
“On the day that the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea so miraculously,
God was surrounded by angels who sang and danced. They noticed that God was    crying. ‘Are you not glad?’ they asked. ‘How can I
rejoice?’ God asked. ‘My children are also drowning.'”
Jewish legend quoted by Rabbi Hugo Gryn at a vigil for the Gulf War, London 1991
Lord, forgive us that we set limits to your love.
Remind us that the good news you revealed to us
is to be proclaimed to all creation.
Lord, so often as a Church we give people the idea
that following Jesus can be done with minor adjustments to their lifestyle.
Help us to teach plainly, like Jesus,
that being disciples means taking enormous risks of being drowned,
but unless we are baptised in him, he cannot save us.
“This is the end of the Chinese people’s adolescence, and their initiation into  political maturity. They are no longer waiting to be liberated; they are now ready to  pay the price to liberate themselves.”  Liu Binyan, dissident Chinese journalist
Lord, we thank you for people and cultures
who have been through crucifixion experiences
and have emerged with their faith and their courage intact.
We pray that like the apostles at the ascension of Jesus
they may now go out into the whole world
and announce with confidence the good news
that the human spirit cannot be enclosed in a tomb
and will always rise again.
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 Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
paschalcandle2015There is an air of finality about today’s festival. Our focus is on the retelling of a story declaring that Christ has returned to the Father, and so we think of it as the ‘end’ of the Christ event or the ‘end of Easter’ – in times past there was a custom of extinguishing the Paschal Candle after the gospel to signify: ‘he is gone’.
But the air of finality must be presented in a different way – it is not the final song to mark the sorry close of a party, but the joyous finality of a building job completed: Christ’s presence is no longer limited to a small group in one place at a particular time, now his presence is diffused throughout creation through his body the church. It is this mystery of Christ’s presence we celebrate today: we are not here to recall some ‘event’ that ‘happened’ on some fixed day in human historical time. Ascension is not about Christ’s absence, but about his presence in a different way to that which he had before his death. He now is present in our community, and as a group we must make him present by testifying to him before the world as the community of justice, peace and love.
Comments on Gospel: Mk 16:15-20
gospel of markHere we have the conclusion of Mark’s gospel as that gospel is commonly found in printed editions, and so it adds to the tone of finality that can pervade the liturgy today. Moreover, it seems to accord well with the theme, with its challenge from Jesus to them to proclaim the Good News to all creation, and that having said that he was taken up into heaven. However, we are dealing here with the famous’last eleven verses’ (16:9-20) which did not originally belong to this gospel and are a later conflation from Matthew and Luke added to Mark, as 16:8 seemed too stark an ending for a gospel. Indeed, apart for the traditional ending, which we read today, there are several other endings extant. But the fact that sometime in the second century (possibly before Justin’s time, (died c. 165) and certainly prior to Irenaeus, (died c. 202) this ending was added, is crucial for our understanding of this feast: it is the mystery of ascension that that community felt had to be included in any account it would receive of the Christ-event. They saw and celebrated that event as one where they were the continuation of the work of the Christ: they were being upheld by his presence so that not only was heatthe right hand of the Father’ but with them in their trials protecting them. And if Christ was with them, they were going everywhere preaching and making him present.
So, in the three readings we have three different ways of viewing this early Christian belief in their on-going life in Christ. All three assume that this is something that animates the community, and are incomprehensible in their imagery of Christ in the heavens unless that mystery was already part of their liturgical life prior to these writings.
Homily notes
1. Today’s feast celebrates our belief in the presence of Christ in the universe and sets it in a tension with the demand that we then be the vehicles by which that presence is made manifest. It is his presence in us that makes the demands of disciple-ship upon us that we must proclaim him. The mystery of ascension is that his presence with us and our witness to him cannot be separated.
Jesus amazed
2. But do we take his presence in the universe seriously? Do we believe he is present in every poor person, every sick person, every prisoner? Mt 25:34-46 can be read as the ‘other side’ of this mystery: in today’s texts we think of the beginning of the ascended presence of Christ in the church; in Mt 25 we have a reflection on the eschaton and when that presence in the disciples ceases.
3. Do we take seriously the notion that there is no area of the universe from which Christ’s presence is excluded? So Christ is present in every creature (see Jn 1:3) and in every aspect of human life. But there are powerful forces that would want to silence those who preach concern for the environment or, at least, argue that ecology is not something with which the church should concern itself. Or in the human universe, there are many who see Christian concerns in politics, economics or medicine as meddling and would like to limit church concerns to ‘Jesus and religious matters’. But this feast is our proclamation that Christ is now to be found everywhere as the risen one forming a kingdom for his Father, and so in every area of existence his followers must be witnessing to him. In rising from the dead, the whole creation has been transformed and is a’religious matter’.
4. ‘To be witnesses’ (manures) and ‘proclaim’ (kiruxate) were key terms for the early church: one was descriptive of what they must be, the other a command as to what they must do. But, by the second century, both were very expensive words. A misty sweet image of Jesus floating away, alongside an arcane discussion about ‘whether you can trust “the bible”‘ in its creative poetic narratives such as Acts 1, fails to do justice to this mystery on both counts.
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Sean Goan
These remarkable verses are taken from what is sometimes called the longer ending of Mark’s gospel and they represent a final summary explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Mark offers no description of the ascension of the Lord but sees the whole mystery in the light of Easter. It is the good news that all who respond to Jesus in faith are saved and the power of the risen Christ will be with the church to ensure the success of its mission. The signs that are mentioned are not to be taken literally but show that, in Jesus, good triumphs and evil is defeated. The affirmation that those who do not believe will be condemned is not understood by the church as saying that only Christians will get into heaven. Rather it is a warning about those who willfully refuse to respond to God at work in their life. Christians are always asked to leave judgement to God.
Reflection
It is a temptation for every generation of Christians to stand looking up to heaven and wringing their hands wishing that Jesus walked our streets as he did the streets of Palestine or that he would come back in some dramatic way to show the world the error of its ways. However, such an attitude entirely fails to appreciate the dignity of our calling. We have been entrusted with a task and today’s feast is a reminder to us thatholy spirit comes
Jesus only left this world so that he could be with us in a more effective way.
So, in the coming week let us pray with urgency for a renewed outpouring of the Spirit so that we can become more effective witnesses of his love.
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From The Connections:
The WORD:
Today’s readings include two accounts of Jesus’ return to the Father:
Reading 1 is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke's “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus’ ascension begins volume 2 of Luke’s work.  The words and images here evoke the First Covenant accounts of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2) and the forty years of the Exodus:  Luke considers the time that the Risen Lord spent with his disciples a sacred time, a “desert experience” for the apostles to prepare them for their new ministry of preaching the Gospel of the resurrection.  (Acts alone places the ascension forty days after Easter; the synoptic Gospels -- including, strangely, Luke’s -- specifically place the ascension on the day of Easter; John writes of the “ascension” not as an event but as a new existence with the Father.)
Responding to their question about the restoration of Israel, Jesus discourages his disciples from guessing what cannot be known.  Greater things await them as his “witnesses.”  In the missionary work before them, Christ will be with them in the presence of the Spirit to come.
Scholars call today’s Gospel the “longer ending” of Mark’s text.  In style and substance, these six verses are very unlike Mark; the best guess is that these verses were added sometime in the first century to “complete” Mark’s account to include the tradition of the ascension of Jesus.  Before returning to the Father, Jesus commissions his new church to continue Christ’s presence on earth through their proclamation of the “good news.”
HOMILY POINTS:
The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start.  Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants.  And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family. 
Jesus’ Ascension is both an ending and a beginning.  The physical appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the “good news” is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled.  Now begins the work of the disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed.
The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start.  Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants.  And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family. 
The Church Jesus leaves to the disciples on the mount of the Ascension is rooted not in buildings or wealth or formulas of prayer or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in joy and understanding that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives us the strength and freedom to be authentic and effective witnesses of the Risen One, who is present among us always.
Christ entrusts to his disciples of every time and place the sacred responsibility of teaching others everything he has taught and revealed about the Father: God's limitless love, his unconditional forgiveness and acceptance of every person as his own beloved child and our identity as God's sons and daughters and brothers and sisters to one another.  Christ also calls us to be witnesses of God's presence in our lives: to bring into the lives of others his healing forgiveness and reconciliation with God and one another, to hand on to others the story that has been handed on to us about Jesus and his Gospel of love and compassion.

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From Fr, Jude Botelho:

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.
Anonymous

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?
Anonymous

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'

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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
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ILLUSTRATIONS:
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) We are to be proclaimers and evangelizers: To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven we should remember that we are commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, forgiveness and salvation by the witnessing of our lives. Hence let us renew our commitment to be Christ’s true disciples everywhere - in our families and neighborhood, in our places of work and in our parishes - "living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”

2) We are to remember that we have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, redemption and love. Although no longer visibly present in the world, he is present in his words in the Holy Bible and in the Holy Eucharist. Christianity was meant to be a faith in which Jesus’ followers would teach Christ’s ideas and ideals by loving, helping and caring for others with the assistance of the Holy Sprit.

3) Let the ascended Jesus be our source of strength and encouragement: When our pains and sufferings, trials and temptations are too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory to reward us with his own heavenly glory. Let us have our Christian conviction that the risen and ascended Jesus is present in us in the form of his Holy Spirit, participating in every moment of our lives. Thus he is the source of our strength and encouragement.
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)] 

17) 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)] 

19) Footprints: 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