Ascension 2017


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From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection of Stories: 

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 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. 
2: "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!   

3: 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 all the energy we need to live our lives to the full (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

4. "Go and see for yourselves."
 
A remote tribe sent one of their men to explore the mysterious world beyond their tiny village. Upon his return, the native could barely put into words the wonders he had seen: the exotic flowers, the mystical sounds of the forest at night, the strange wild beasts, and the thrill of paddling his canoe over the treacherous rapids of the Great River. "Go and see for yourselves," he said. "You've got to see the wonders of life beyond the Great River." To guide them, he drew a map. The tribe was grateful. They framed the map and hung it in the center of the village. They made many copies and studied it till they were experts on the Great River. They knew every bend and turn, where the rapids were and the waterfalls, where the wild animals were and the exotic flowers. But not one of those experts ever went to the Great River. Not one ever saw its rapids and waterfalls and flowers. Not one! Not ever!

Jesus has given us a map to help us find our way home to God. With varying degrees of interest, we've all studied Jesus' map and most of us can sketch it with reasonable accuracy. But having the map and being able to talk about it doesn't get us home to our Father. We have to follow the map: Walk the walk, not just talk the talk. "Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." (Monsignor Dennis Clark)

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

The image we have of the Ascension is that of departing, going away, disappearing; but our belief as Christians is that it represents the silent presence of Christ everywhere in the universe. He is no longer limited by earthly conditions — to be in one place at one time in his presence to his followers — but now dwells in the heavens with the Father: present in every gathering of his people — so he is present among us now, present whenever his people are in need, present in hearts calling us to be disciples and to be his hands, and feet, and voice in our lives. To celebrate this feast today is not to recall a past event — that day long ago ‘when he went up to heaven’ — but to rejoice that Jesus is our living Lord, with us now, leading and guiding us, because he is not tied down to a moment in earthly history. 

Michel de Verteuil
General comments

When we think of the Ascension of Jesus, the account given us in chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles naturally comes to our minds. In fact, some may find that this passage from St Matthew’s gospel is not an ascension story at all. This moment in the life of Jesus was significant from several points of view, however, and each account stresses some aspects over others.

We can identify three main aspects:
- At the end of his earthly life, and especially of his passion, Jesus makes his triumphant entry into heaven, to sit forever at the right hand of the Father.
- The time for forming his little community has come to an end, and Jesus sends his disciples out into the world.
- From now on Jesus and his followers must relate with each other differently.

 All these aspects are present in the text. But do not look for them; just enter deeply into the story and you will discover for yourself how it presents the mystery of the Ascension.
In verses 16 the disciples (depleted since they were supposed to be twelve) make their way back to Galilee, the place where the whole adventure began.
Let verse 17 speak to you deeply; the scene is very touching. Ask yourself why some hesitated.
 The commission of Jesus in verses 18 and 19 is in three waves:
           – a statement of his own authority;
           – a three-fold command,
           – and a promise.
Each section is worth meditating on by itself. 

Prayer Reflection

       “Mr Minister, I must remind you that you are not God, you are just a man. One day your name shall be merely a  faint scribble on the pages of history, while the name of Jesus Christ  shall live forever.”   Archbishop Tutu to a government minister who had threatened the Church
       Lord, when we have committed ourselves to a noble cause
       we experience something of what the eleven felt
       when they were reunited with Jesus on the mountain in Galilee.
       We may have been defeated,
       let one another down as they had let down Jesus,
       our group depleted, as theirs without Judas.
       But we are here together on this mountain
       and we know that no power in heaven or on earth
       will conquer what we stand for.
       We can go into the world
       teaching all nations to respect the values we believe in;
       whatever happens to us, now or in the future,our cause will live for ever.

       Lord, we pray for those who at one time were touched by your grace:
       – they turned away from drugs, alcohol, or a wrong relationship;
       – forgave a deep hurt;
       – began to pray again.
       Now they have strayed again , and they feel helpless,
       without the energy to make a new start.
       Teach them to do as the apostles did when, reduced to eleven,
       they set out for Galilee.
       Tell them that there is a mountain somewhere
       where you have arranged to meet them again,
       because once you have entered our lives you will be with us always,
       yes, even to the end of our lives.

       Lord, we pray for those of us who are in positions of authority –
       parents, teachers, leaders in the Church or the State.
       Don’t let us become possessive of those in our charge.
       Help us rather to be like Jesus, to let them go, when the time comes,
       to whatever part of the world you call them to,
       and to do so without regrets,
       trusting that whatever true or good they have learned from us
       they will teach others to observe,
       and wherever they are, we will always be with them.

       “But when Carnival come and pass
       People does go back to race and class.”     Earl Lovelace, The New Hardware Store
       Lord, for us here in Trinidad and Tobago,
       Carnival is a special time of togetherness.
       Other nations have similar times.
       We pray that we may not live these moments in isolation,
       as if on some mountain far away from the rest of life.
       Tell us, as Jesus told his disciples, that we have seen possibilities for ourselves,
       that we must go out and teach all nations to observe
       what we have learned about humanity during these days,
       – something that will be with us always.

       Lord, we sometimes have regrets for the Church of the past.
       We feel like the eleven setting out for Galilee.
       From time to time we meet that Church again and feel very happy,
       as they did when they were reunited with Jesus on the mountain.
       But part of us quite rightly hesitates:
       we know well that we cannot bring back the past,
       that we must go in new directions,
       discovering new disciples among the nations.
       We need not be afraid:
       Jesus promised that he will be with us always,
       even when we come to the end of a time.

       Lord, forgive us that as a Church we limit our horizons.
       Let Jesus speak to us again of the many nations who could be his disciples,
       people ready to be baptized and to observe all the commands he gave us.

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Thomas O’Loughlin
General Comments

Often referred to as the ‘Great Commission,’ this imposing image which concludes Matthew is functionally akin to the ascension stories in Lk 24:45-53 and Acts 1:1-11. The work of Jesus in making the Father known must be carried on by the church which is uniquely constituted with his authority (a point made more explicitly here than in Luke-Acts). The mission is presented as focused on baptism and an early liturgical formula is incorpor­ated into the text. It is significant for our understanding of Christian origins that while for centuries, after the New Testament canon became fixed, people looked back to this text as the basis of the baptismal formula and trinitarian structure of the creeds, in fact Matthew is derived from the actual liturgical life of the author’s community. 

Homily Notes

1. Luke’s images are so powerful, full of colour, and the sense of ending and going away are so strong that they dazzle us and we fail to see through them to the mystery they present. Our response to this image must not be that of asking ‘how did it happen?’ but ‘what does it tell us today about the Christian life?’ The key question is this: ‘if Jesus is not present as he was before the crucifixion, then how is he leading us, teaching us, and being present to us?’

2. We live in the’ Age of the Church’: the Lord is not present as once in Palestine, nor as he will be after this world; rather he is to be seen through the works and words of those who are united to him through baptism: the church. The church is not an organisation to promote his cause or ideology, but the people who see themselves as acting as a group, in union with the Christ they cannot see, to bring about the kingdom. Many people each doing their bit, seeking to be honest and loving in their actions with others, and doing so as they know that these are not just random actions but made into a united endeavour by Christ towards making the Father’s kingdom come about.

3. To celebrate the ascension is to be aware that here and now one must act as a part of the church: this is how Christ is pre­sent in the world. Likewise, it is to acknowledge a moral responsibility: if one bears the name ‘Christian’ and people are scandalised by our failures – and the more someone publicly identifies him/herself with Christ as in the case of clergy and religious, the greater the offence – then this is people taking us at our word that we are Christ’s body on earth. To say one will represent Christ (i.e. make him present here and now) is an awesome mission. Older textbooks used to point to a distinction of individual failures versus collective holiness (still found in the liturgy: ‘look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church’), but this, while answering a theological problem, must not distract us from the existential predicament of the Christian: to be a disciple is to be aware of the dignity one is given in making Christ present. Moreover, examining our actions in the light of that fact is part of the cross of discipleship.

4. We are not just people who rejoice that God loves us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Christ as the glory of the Father; we have to build a world of justice, truth, and peace. If we believe that Christ has ascended, then challenging corruption, untruth, intolerance, and all that enslaves should be characteristic symptoms of the presence of Christians in a society. The ascension is not a cosy feast: it should make us feel uncomfortable. Have we just been standing idle looking into heaven?
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
 


We are familiar with the frequently used saying ‘to come full circle’, which means that people or things, having set out on a journey or task, have returned to where they started. They have successfully completed the cycle and are back at the beginning. This applies particularly to our thoughts about Jesus on the Feast of the Ascension.

In one sense, the Ascension celebrates that Jesus has come full circle because, having come from the Father to accomplish a specific mission, he returns to the Father having achieved what he was sent to do. And he was sent to save us from spiritual death and alienation from God that is due to our sins.

But in another sense, the Ascension marks the passing on of the baton by Jesus to his apostles. At the beginning of his public ministry, he had preached that the kingdom of heaven was close and he had challenged people to repent of their sins and believe in the Good News, which involves putting the teachings of Christ into practice in their lives. Now the responsibility for that ministry was being passed on to the apostles and disciples. They were mandated to continue his saving work, drawing all nations to the truth of the Gospel.

Jesus’ departure from the earth and his return to heaven did not mean that his apostles and disciples would remain alone in their mission. Although he would no longer be physically present, he told them: ‘And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’ (Mt 28:20). So there was no need for them to worry or to be lacking in confidence because he would be spiritually present, especially in the sacramental life of the Church.

He also promised to send the Holy Spirit who would guide them in their various activities. In fact, the Church will never be alone and it will never be abandoned by the risen Lord Jesus. We celebrate that reality today as we mark the close of the postresurrection appearances of Jesus — apart from his appearance during the conversion of Saul (see Acts 9:3-7).
The message of the Ascension is clear. The saving work of Christ is now being handed over to the Church. The baton is being passed on to us. Just as in a relay race, it is imperative that we do not drop the baton. In other words, the responsibility for passing on the faith rests with us. Let us carry the faith with courage and conviction and let us pass it on to those we meet.

We remember too the words of Jesus: ‘You received without charge, give without charge’ (Mt 10:8). So we transmit by word and example to others what has been given to us, while accepting that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.

The gift of faith, according to Jesus, has been freely given to us. Yet, in a sense, it comes with a price attached. Jesus’ suffering and death was the price of our salvation and, consequently, when we were baptised we assumed the duty of spreading the faith. His last words on earth, immediately before his ascension to heaven, were a missionary statement instructing his followers to go into the whole world to lead converts to the Church.

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1.     From the Connections: 

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1: 1-11

“Go and make disciples of all nations . . . and know that I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 16-20

 
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 invoke 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 promised Spirit.

Matthew’s Gospel begins with the promise of Emmanuel – “God is with us.”  It concludes on the Mount of the Ascension, with Emmanuel’s promise, “I am with you always.” 

HOMILY POINTS:

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.

The Ascension of the Lord is not the observance of a departure but the celebration of a presence.  Matthew’s Gospel begins with the promise of Emmanuel – “God is with us”; it concludes with the promise of the Risen Christ, “I am with you always, even to the end of time.”  While Jesus returns to the Father from whom he comes, he remains present to us in the Spirit of his love, his hope, his compassion. 

The master chair maker

There is an African parable about two villages separated by a river.  In each village, there lived a woodworker who knew how to make chairs.  Both knew the secret of making strong, durable and beautiful chairs.

But the chair maker in the first village was afraid to teach others because he thought they would not make the chairs correctly — and worse, if they did, they could cut into his business.  So he jealously guarded his work.  He became suspicious of anyone with wood, worried that they may have discovered his secret.  He would ridicule them and warn them not to try and make a chair themselves.  So he made all the chairs in the village, but no one wanted to go near him.  The young men of the village interested in woodworking left the village rather than ask to learn from him.  The chair maker eventually died alone — and his secret with him.

But the chair maker in the second village did not keep his knowledge to himself.  He helped anyone who asked what wood to use, how to plane and cut the pieces, how to mix the glue to assemble the pieces.  Over the years, many of the young men of the village served as his apprentices.  Sometimes one of them would discover a way to improve the chair.  The master chair maker would encourage the apprentice to show what he discovered to others.  As a result, the chairs in the village kept getting better and better.  People from other villages would come and buy their excellent chairs — and soon tables and benches he and his apprentices began to make. 

When people praised the master chair maker’s work, he would laugh and say, “I did not build these chairs alone.  These young men have improved my chairs.  I am getting old, but these young men will continue building better and better chairs.  I have given my skills and knowledge to them and they have given their love and friendship to me.  Together we have done far more than if I had worked alone.” (Adapted from Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, compiled by Joseph G. Healey.)

 This old African story of the generous chair maker mirrors the meaning of today’s celebration of the Lord’s Ascension.  Today, Jesus the master “chair maker,” who has taught his disciples the “secrets” of “making” God’s kingdom of reconciliation and peace, now turns the work over to us.  On this day, Jesus calls us to continue his work — work that has been vindicated and perfected in the Father’s raising him from the dead.  We who have seen and heard the story of Jesus are now called to bring that hope into the lives of others and into the life we share as families, as the Church, as the human community.  In every kindness we offer, in every word of encouragement and comfort we utter, in every moment we spend listening and supporting, we proclaim the Gospel of the Risen Jesus; every good work — however small or hidden — is a sign of Christ in our midst.  

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.      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 all the energy we need to live our lives to the full. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

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!   

4.     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). 

5.     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’) 

6.     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)]
 
7.     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.” 

8.     "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. 

9.     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. 

10.  “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. 

11.  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! 

12.  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." 

13.   “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.”  

14.  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. 

15.  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. 

16.  "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. 

17.   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? 

18.   “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. 

19.  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)] 

20.  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)] 

21.   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)]

22.  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)]  

23.  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

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!
***
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today’s first reading from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles establishes a link between Jesus’ going and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and it also establishes the connection between Jesus and the founding of the Church. The emphasis is not so much on Jesus’ departure but on his new presence in the world through the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Ascension is the point of transition. The disciples were not ready to cope with the transition, they wanted to know more definitely when things would take place. “Lord has the time come?” Jesus responds by telling them that what is of prime importance is to believe and let the Spirit take possession of us and guide our every step. Yes, Jesus will not be with them but He will be in them. “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus will remain the same and yet he will be differently present to us after his ascension to Father
 
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 rowed 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’
 
The gospel of Matthew links the end of the ministry of Jesus to the beginning of the new ministry of the Spirit in the Church. Matthew is deliberately silent and does not mention the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Perhaps he does so to make a point. Jesus is not departing, He is not leaving us for good. He is with us always. Rather, Matthew prefers to discuss the mission of the disciples. “Go, start moving. You, not me. I’m going to be in you; 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. The disciples had to wait till the Lord had ascended into heaven; they had to wait for the Spirit to descend on them, they had to wait to be filled with his power. For this to happen they waited in prayer, they waited together, and they waited in hope. Their waiting was rewarded by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in whose name they went forth to the ends of the earth. We are empowered in our mission only when we discover that God is with us in our innermost being. “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”
 
Going ….to come!
Friendship is one of life’s greatest blessings. It is both simple and mysterious. In a myriad of ways, it can begin so casually between neighbours, between work and sporting colleagues, as well as between people committed to similar ideas. The link of shared values and common interests is the seed that sometimes develops into a bond of mutual friendship. It is a mystery why some connections blossom into precious personal relationships and others do not. All friendship is enriched by mutual concern, care and celebration. But the refining fire that fashions friendship into ongoing and life-giving relationship is crisis and difficulty, shared and survived. The friend who stands by one in the darkest moments of troubles is the true friend for whom we all long and treasure always. Before Jesus left his disciples to return to the Father, he promised them such enduring friendship. He was sending them to baptise all peoples, so founding his church worldwide. To sustain them and their successors in their daunting task, he gave them an unconditional guarantee that he would be with them no matter what crisis hit his church. In our time, it is a reassuring promise. It is the promise of this Ascension Day.
Tom Clancy in ‘Living The Word’
 
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 first president of a free and democratic Poland. It was a great honour for Walesa. His fellow workers were delighted. They too felt honoured 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’
 
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’
 
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’
 
Passing the batonPractically, 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 degree, one from Georgetown and the other from Marquette, they entered a seminary. We can do what Albert Schweitzer did. At the age of 30 he abandoned his music career in Europe to study medicine and become a missionary doctor in Africa. We can do what the basketball coach of Spring Hill College, Alabama, did a few years back. At the age of 45 he resigned his position and began studies for the priesthood. We can do what Mother Angelica did. In her 50s she began a religious television channel. We can imagine the courage it took for these five people to do what they did.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
 
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 travelled 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 fulfilment of the promise of Christ.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’