Corpus Christi [A] - 26 JUNE 2011

Corpus Domini Nostri Iesu Christi  [A]
Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a  ─  1 Corinthians 10:16-17  ─  John 6:51-58
June 26, 2011                    

Johann is not a happy camper.  He found out this week that he doesn’t get to go on vacation with his master, and he’s been sulking ever since.  I told him that he gets to go on his own vacation, to spend part of his time on a farm, but he replied that he’s a “rectory dog”, not a “farm dog”.  I told him that he needs to expand his horizons.  You know, when he’s sitting out in the back yard in the evening, there will usually be about five to ten rabbits that hop right by within a half hour.  And he just sits there and watches them.  If he could, I think he’d wave at them as they hopped by.  He needs to get in touch with his “inner terrier”.

Eventually I think Johann will appreciate his vacation.  But when it comes to taking a journey, we humans often are not much better than Johann.  In our fallen human nature we tend to appreciate neither where we are, nor where we’re going.  I suppose I was about eight where our parents took my brother and sisters and me on vacation into the Rocky Mountains. 

One of the sites that our parents took us to was Pike’s Peak.  As our father drove us—round and round—up the mountainside, our mother scolded my brother and me for not appreciating the scenery.  Mind you, this was long before hand-held computer games:  the two of us were reading comic books.  We were probably reading about the inter-galactic adventures of Green Lantern, and missing the adventure that surrounded us, exploring the majesty of God’s creation.

In our fallen human nature we tend to appreciate neither where we are, nor where we’re going.  Last Sunday as we celebrated the feast of the Blessed Trinity, we meditated upon the very nature of God Himself.  But for all the many descriptions of God that have been offered through the centuries, Saint John the Evangelist put it best when he wrote simply, “God is love.”

Of course, many different people have disagreed with St. John, defining “love” in very different ways.  In the 21st century, you can change the channel on the remote or go to each movie in a multiplex movie theater, and find as many different definitions of love as there are channels and theater screens.  In the midst of this confusion, God wants to make known to us the truth about love:  that is to say, He wants to draw us into Himself.  He invites us to allow Him to draw into Himself through the Eucharist.

God the Son never had to become human.  God the Son could have remained divine for all eternity without ever descending to earth to take on our human nature.  Jesus Christ IS God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity whose life we celebrated last Sunday.  In the beginning, it was through Him [that] all things were made.  We owe the fact of the universe’s existence—and our own existence as individuals—to God the Son.  So He is the Alpha, the beginning of all things.
But Almighty God did not create us to be His puppets.  He did not create us to be His pets, whom He can watch, and laugh at.  The purpose for which God created us is Heaven:  a state of being in which we would share in the very life of God Himself, in which we would be completely “possessed” by God and enjoy union with Him forever.  So He is the Omega, the goal of all human life.

God intends, from the beginning of each human person’s life at his or her conception, to draw that human being to Himself over the course of that person’s life on this earth.  We for our part, though, have to co-operate with God’s plan.  Our sins are failures to do just that.  Indeed, left to ourselves, we are very weak people.  We want to rely on ourselves.  We want to do things our way.  But Jesus shows us a better Way.  He IS the Way:  He shows us how to spend our lives on this earth.  And when we receive Holy Communion, we are receiving a share in His Life, so that His Life would become our life.  He is not >>only<< the Alpha and the Omega.  He is not >>only<< the first and the last.  God wants Jesus Christ to be God with us at every moment of our lives.

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Jeremiah 20:10-13  +  Romans 5:12-15  +  Matthew 10:26-33

               During the first three centuries of the Church, being a Christian was no easy thing.  Christianity was illegal. The first thirty-three popes were all martyrs for the Faith.  For over three hundred years, to lead the Church meant to be killed.  It’s no wonder that there arose in the Church such a devotion to the Holy Father, such a reverence for the office of the pope.  In their earthly leader, they could plainly see the image of Jesus Christ, whose death opened the gates of heaven.
               Of course it was not only the popes who became martyrs:  thousands of Christians from every walk of life (carpenters, farmers, mothers and fathers, tradesmen, fishermen), were martyred constantly until Christianity was recognized by the Emperor in the fourth century.  The Church had no choice but to hold fast to each other for strength, receiving the grace they needed through the sacraments of the Church.
               In the year fourth century the Emperor Constantine became Catholic, and suddenly Christianity became not just legal, but the religion of the Roman Emperor.  Suddenly, Christian martyrs were a thing of the past.  For hundreds of years thereafter, the Catholic faith was wedded to the rule of countries throughout the world.  Church and state were one.
               Unfortunately, where Church and state worked together, martyrdom often simply took another form.  Often, it was not people who were sacrificed; it was THE TRUTH that was sacrificed.  It’s much easier to fight a fight when you know who your enemy is.  In the first few centuries, Christians knew whom to avoid, and whom to turn to for support.  In the centuries since, Christians have struggled to be faithful to God and faithful to the demands of the world at the same time.
               Today/Yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Thomas More, a man made famous in the movie, “A Man for All Seasons.”  St. Thomas was a loyal subject of King Henry VIII, and a devout Catholic, who for many years served the king as the Chancellor of England, and served the Lord through his prayer each day and his participation in daily Mass.
               In time, though, Thomas More was put to the test.  King Henry rebelled against the Catholic Church, and claimed that he ¾ not the pope ¾ was the supreme head of the Church in England.  All the nobles of England, all royal officials, and all the bishops of England were forced to sign a statement saying that Henry was the head of the Church.  The TRUTH had been martyred.
               There were only two people in all of England who would not sign this act:  Thomas More, and one bishop, John Fisher, the bishop of Rochester.  Suddenly, these two men WERE the enemy of England.  The Catholic faith, legal in England for 1200 years, was once again outlawed.
More and Fisher, unwilling to martyr the truth themselves, were willing to be martyred in place of the truth.  They were convicted of treason, and executed by the state.
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               Martyrdom.  It can take many forms, and can have many victims.  Often, the truth is martyred, but even more often throughout the history of the Church, there have been people willing to be martyred themselves, in the place of the truth.
               But people can be martyred in different ways.  The martyrdom of the first centuries of the Church was a clear one, a distinct and final sign of willingness to stand in the place of truth.  In a sense, this form of martyrdom is easy.
               In our day, God asks us to endure a different form of martyrdom.  He asks faithful Catholics, the members of His Church, to stand on guard constantly, not knowing when truth is going to be attacked.  How many of you have been surprised by something you suddenly come across in the newspaper, or see on television, obviously taking the truth and twisting it, torturing it?  Have any of you ever heard in conversation the topic of the Church brought up, only to be met with laughs or sneers?
In our day, the truth is silently attacked, by persons in hiding who strike suddenly and swiftly.  It is often not clear who the enemy is; sometimes there doesn’t seem to be an enemy at all.
Throughout the Gospel, you don’t hear Jesus talk much about THE enemy, the Devil.  Even when he was tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus did not go after Satan, he simply fought against the temptations that Satan placed before him.  When Satan was through trying to tempt him and fled the desert, Jesus did not give chase.  Jesus simply continued his fasting and prayer.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus says that what we receive HERE in church ¾ when we come on Sunday (or to daily Mass) ¾ what we receive here in private, among ourselves, we are to be willing to speak in public.  We aren’t to go searching for arguments, but when we hear someone putting down the Church, WE are being putting down.  The Church is the Body of Christ, and we are all members of that Sacred Body.  When the Body of Christ is persecuted, when her teachings are ridiculed, we must be willing to speak out against that persecution.
How do we go about doing that?  Sometimes, just speaking out, and saying that a remark is offensive, is enough to make someone understand what they’re doing.  Sometimes, we may be challenged by another to defend what the Church teaches, and that demands that we have an understanding of our faith.  There hasn’t been a saint in the history of the Church who has completely understood the Faith, but we must be willing to explain what we know, and we must be willing to learn more than what we know now, whether by reading about the faith, watching television shows that accurately teach about the Faith, or simply holding a conversation with other Catholics, and learning from one another.
Of course the greatest resource we have at our disposal is God the Holy Spirit.  Through Baptism we have received the Holy Spirit, and those of us who have been confirmed have received the fullness of the Spirit’s seven gifts.  Very simply, we might need to say, “Holy Spirit, guide me.”  We call upon the strength, the wisdom, and the courage He gives us.  But above all, we come before this altar, we ask to share in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  We come to participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and we seek to be strengthened by Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary.  When we, Christ’s Body, suffer in the world, it is THIS sacrifice of the Mass that we turn to.  We call on the strength we receive here, trusting that as we acknowledge Christ here on earth, Christ acknowledges us before the Father in Heaven.

The Most Holy Trinity [A] - 19 JUNE 2011

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity [A]
Exodus 34:4-6;8-9  ¾  2 Corinthians 13:11-13  ¾  John 3:16-18
June 19, 2011

Many people have commented now and again how they like it when a priest tells stories in a homily about his background or family.  When a priest reveals something about himself, it helps them relate the Gospel to their own lives.  It helps keep our Catholic Faith from being too abstract.

Stories have a power all their own.  Stories of faith help us uniquely to see how God works in people’s lives.  Is it any wonder, then, that when you read through the pages of the Bible, you find that─for the most part─you’re reading stories?

And what is considered by us Christians to be the most sacred part of the Bible?  The four gospel accounts.  And what do those four books of the Bible consist of?  They are not plain lists of spiritual maxims or regulations, or even poetry (though of course those have their places in the Scriptures).  Rather, the gospels are narratives:  they tell stories of faith.  They are stories (true stories, mind you) of ordinary people, like you and me, encountering Jesus in their lives.

On the two Sundays following the Easter season, we celebrate two more solemn feasts before resuming Ordinary Time.  Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity, and next Sunday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Through these solemnities, God tells us about Himself:  about His very nature.  He shows us who He really is, and how He can work in our lives.  He shows us His “true colors,” as it were, both through Scripture and, most perfectly, through the sacrifice of the Eucharist.
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As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we might wonder why we should celebrate something that seems so abstract.  What does it mean to say that God is a Blessed Trinity:  One God in Three Persons?  And what does this belief in the Trinity have to do with our everyday lives?  In the Scriptures of today’s Mass, we see that the Trinity—the life of relationships between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—is the best possible example for us to live our lives, as members of the Church. 

The Church lives her life in different settings, or three different “fields” of activity.  One is the missionary field:  this is the broadest outreach of the church in our world, to the entire human family.  The second is the parish:  it’s within the parish family that Catholics receive the sacraments and have many opportunities to practice the Stewardship Way of Life.  But the third, which is really the first in a person’s experience, is the family at home.

The family at home is called the “domestic church”.  In the home, the human family celebrates in a child’s life every experience that is celebrated sacramentally at their parish church.  Human parents are responsible for doing on the physical level what God our heavenly Father does on the spiritual level.  For example, in the Holy Eucharist God nourishes us spiritually, similar to how our parents provide and prepare meals at home for our physical nourishment.  To give another example:  in Baptism, God cleanses us from the stain of Original Sin, similar to how our parents at home bathe us and change our diapers.

But the human family also forms a child into a disciple of Jesus more directly, and not only symbolically.  For example, in every Christian home, forgiveness is needed.  That’s obvious to everyone.  A father has to forgive his child when the child sins, or the child will not know how to forgive other human beings.  On the one hand, this forgiveness is just as spiritually real as the forgiveness that God gives his adopted child through the Sacrament of Confession, even though one is human forgiveness, and the other divine forgiveness.

Nonetheless, the experience of a child who has sinned, and who knows that his father knows of his sin, moves the child in one of two directions.  The human father either prepares a child for, or hinders the child from, approaching God to ask divine forgiveness.  If a child is afraid to admit his faults to his human father, he’s not going to feel comfortable in the confessional asking his Heavenly Father to forgive his faults.

Yet the sublimity of the domestic church is seen in how the human family must—at times—turn upside down the spiritual lessons that a child learns from his parents.  What do I mean, “turn upside down”?  Let me give two examples, based on the Sacraments of the Eucharist, and Confession.

First, an example from the Holy Eucharist.  As I mentioned a few moments ago, human parents provide and prepare physical meals in order to nourish and strengthen their child.  In a similar way, God the Father provides and prepares the banquet of the Eucharist.  However, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, God the Father only gives the meal; He does not partake of it, because of course He has no need to do so.  But at the supper table at home, the human father not only provides and prepares:  he also partakes of the meal himself.  He does so, naturally, because he’s hungry.  He’s human, and has a stomach that growls, just like his son.  This is all rather obvious.

But the second example reveals to us more about God’s divine nature.  I mentioned a few moments ago how a child has to learn to ask his human father for forgiveness, or the child will be fearful to open his heart to his Heavenly Father in the confessional.  But turn this example upside down, and you can see another way in which a human parent prepares his child for the confessional.

Let me ask you three questions.  Does a human father ever make mistakes in raising his child?  Does a human father ever sin against his child; for example, through impatience or selfishness?  And does his child know that his human father has sinned against him?  If the answer to all three of these questions is “yes”, then one of the most important ways that a human father leads his child to God is by admitting that he—the human father—is not God, by asking his child for forgiveness.  It takes a strong father to forgive his child, but it takes an even stronger father to ask his child for forgiveness.  This illustrates the beautiful truth of the Prayer of St. Francis, that the strongest human strength is experienced through human weakness.
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It’s difficult to serve as an example for others.  It’s difficult to model the divine Love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In our prayer, we should pray to God the Father, and ask Him for the willingness to sacrifice what is most precious to us—even our own ego—in order to serve and save others, just as God the Father sacrificed His Only Son. 

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Exodus 19:2-6  +  Romans 5:6-11  +  Matthew 9:36-10:8

               Death calls every human person to task.  Death is the moment that our Catholic Faith prepares us for.  All the grace that we receive on this earth prepares us for the hour of our death.  Because at that moment, you will be judged, and your soul will go one of three places:  Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell.
               Preparing people for this moment is what the ministry of a priest is about.  No matter whether he is baptizing a person, witnessing that person’s marriage, or hearing that person’s confession, the priest is helping that person prepare for the moment of his or her death.  And in fact, a priest is often to minister at precisely that moment of death.  What a grace!  But what a revelation takes place at that moment!  How apparent it becomes who actually believes in the Catholic Faith that we all profess week after week.  At the moment of death, people realize how truly weak they if left to themselves, and great is their need for someone to rule over their lives.
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               In the first reading, we hear God promise the Israelites that if they listened to his word and kept their covenant with him, he would look upon them as special possession, dearer to [Him] than all other people, though all the earth is [His].  You shall be to [Him] a kingdom of priests.  This is as true of the Church as it was of the Israelites in their day.  The Church is “a kingdom of priests.”
               Though we recognize that ordained priests play an important (and, in fact, essential) role in the life of the Church, we also recognize that >>EVERY<< Christian, through his or her baptism, is a priest in a certain sense.  St. Paul in the second reading reminds us that Christ Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us on the Cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Christ is our High Priest.  He is not like the priests of the Old Testament who offered goats and bulls as sacrifices.  Christ offered >>HIMSELF<< as a sacrifice, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  And in imitation of our Lord, every baptized Christian offers spiritual sacrifices.  We are all together a kingdom of priests.
               We learn how to sacrifice through the example of those who guide us in our lives.  The Church looks to the example that Jesus Christ gave us on the Cross.  But in fact, the entire life of our Lord shows us—in example after example—the love He has for us.  In today’s gospel passage, we see that Jesus was not willing to let any need go untended.  Jesus couldn’t stand to see the unclean spirits, the sicknesses and diseases of every kind from which the crowds around him were suffering.  And so he gave the twelve apostles a share in his own authority, so that they would be able to cure all these afflictions.
In giving this healing power to the apostles, Jesus is showing the same sort of concern that he shows in offering to us the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  This sacrament is not only for those at the point of death, but in fact is for anyone who’s advanced in age or who’s suffering from a serious or chronic illness, or even someone who’s facing a serious operation.  The sacrament of anointing is a sacrament that each one of us should be willing to take advantage of when we need it.  Through this sacrament, God strengthens us whenever we are suffering physically, because at such times when we need physical healing, we have much greater need of spiritual healing, in order to realize that God is with us even in the midst of such suffering.
               In our turn, each one of us, like the apostles, cares for the needs of others.  We have been commanded to undertake the corporal works of mercy:  to go and feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, and to bury the dead.  By these sacrifices we imitate our Lord and all those who have taught us by good example.
               We have many opportunities to exercise the corporal works of mercy through our own parish:  Summer Harvest; volunteering at hospitals; Tobit’s ministry—all of them are sacrifices of our time and talent by which we can grow in faith, if we carry out them out mindful of the grace that God wants to give us.
               But of course we also realize that our lives, for good or bad, set an example for others, especially for our youth.  Not only did Christ give his apostles special powers by which to care for others.  He also commanded his disciples to pray that others down the road would join them in reaping the harvest of faith.  We can be sure that the words of Jesus are addressed to us in our day, as well:  The harvest is good but laborers are scarce.  Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest.  Obviously the “vocations crisis” at the end of the twentieth century is not something unique in Church history:  it was present in Jesus’ own day.
               We are blessed here in our diocese:  the Diocese of Wichita has more seminarians than the Dioceses of Dodge City, Salina, and Kansas City, KS COMBINED.  Why are we in this diocese so blessed?  While we have concern for other dioceses, it would be a disservice to the Church to deny that the strength in our diocese comes from the stewardship way of life lived out in our parishes, by which we actively care for the needs of others.  But even more importantly, vocations come from the dedication to prayer seen throughout the parishes of our diocese, most especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  The prayers that are offered in the Perpetual Adoration chapels throughout our diocese are the PRIMARY source of blessings which we receive in so many ways, in particular through the priestly vocations God is perpetually calling forth from the young men of our parishes.
               When we care for others, and when we pray to God, we recognize that we are small, that we exist and live in this world only to serve others, to prepare others and ourselves for the moment of death.  The gift that we have received, we are to give as a gift.

Pentecost - 12 JUN 2011

Genesis 11:1-9  —  Romans 8:22-27  —  John 7:37-39  [Vigil]
Acts 2:1-11  ¾  1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13  ¾  Sequence  ¾  John 20:19-23  [Sunday]
June 12, 2011

When the event of Pentecost occurred almost 2000 years ago, the apostles were transformed by their “encounter” with the Holy Spirit.  But in what way were they changed?  The Holy Spirit didn’t make them taller, or richer, or stronger.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t try to change us in these ways, because He isn’t interested in our bank accounts, or the vehicles we drive, or our looks… but only the state of our souls.

So how were the apostles’ souls changed?  What did the apostles “get out of” their encounter with the Holy Spirit?  The apostles didn’t receive the Holy Spirit in order to help them “feel good” about their relationship with God.  And we don’t receive Him for that reason, either.

Instead, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to apostles and prophets, clergy and lay people, in the first and twenty-first centuries, in order to build the Church on earth, so that the members of the Church might reach Heaven.  St. Paul describes the Mystical Body of Christ this way:  There are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one.  To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To each person, the Holy Spirit is given for the sake of service:  for the common good, in the words of St. Paul.

We—just like the first members of the Church 2000 years ago—receive the Holy Spirit in simple ways.  We receive the Holy Spirit through our reading of the Bible early in the morning, or late at night.  We receive the Holy Spirit by devoutly accepting the Lord through the sacraments.  We receive the Holy Spirit by carrying out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy on behalf of our neighbors.  But as we receive the Holy Spirit—as His Presence grows in our souls—every one of the gifts that blossoms from His Presence there is to be laid at the feet of others.

The Holy Spirit leads us in our spiritual life.  He leads us to making decisions that are good:  not only morally good, but also prudentially good.  What do I mean by carrying out works of mercy that are “prudentially good”?  There are countless opportunities to do good all around us every day of our lives.  But we cannot do them all.  If we have five opportunities before us to do good, and only the time and energy to carry out one, we ought to ask for the gift of prudence from the Holy Spirit, so that He might guide us to the good that will further God’s plan, not ours.

In a similar way, often we pray to God to help us accomplish something.  We ask Him to help us see how to get something done that we want to do.  This is when we need to realize, however, that the Holy Spirit is not going to show us how to do something that He has no interest in us doing in the first place.  If in our spiritual life, we do not feel that God is guiding us, it may be because that path would lead us in a direction that God does not want us to travel.
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Our lives on this earth are meant to be a journey to Heaven.  We get there by living a fruitful life on this earth.  We live a fruitful life by allowing God the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide as we travel in life, leading a life of discipleship.  And a life of discipleship, is a life led within the Church:  within the Body of Christ.

Consider, as you reflect again on that first Christian Pentecost, what that event really is, as part of God’s plan for mankind.  Pentecost is the “end” of Jesus’ story.  But Pentecost is the “end” of Jesus’ story in two different ways.  First, Pentecost is the event that concludes the mysteries of Jesus’ life.  Ten days after His Ascension into Heaven, Jesus and God the Father send the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts and minds of the apostles.

But in a second sense, Pentecost is the event that fulfills all that Jesus was about during His earthly life.  Jesus’ conception at the Annunciation... was a preparation for Pentecost.  Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem... was a preparation for Pentecost.  Jesus’ words and deeds during the three years of His public ministry... were a preparation for Pentecost.  Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection... were a preparation for Pentecost.  Jesus’ ascension into Heaven... was a preparation for Pentecost.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit forms individuals into one body of believers:  the Mystical Body of Christ.  There is no such thing as a solitary believer.  Everything that’s important about Christian belief, is believed within a body of believers.  But the Church lives her life in different settings and contexts.

This Sunday and the next two, you will hear about three key ways in which we as Christians believe:  three key places within which Christians live out their Christian Faith.  Next Sunday—Trinity Sunday—you will hear about the domestic Church:  that is, the Christian family.  The Sunday after that—Corpus Christi—you will hear about the parish church:  the parish family.

But this weekend, you will hear—after Holy Communion—about the missionary Church, and her outreach to our human family throughout the globe.  Sister Ursula, the director of our diocesan Mission Office, will speak after Holy Communion about our work—the work of our prayers and sacrifices—and how they stretch across the planet so that Christ can be present to those anywhere who are in need.

The Ascension of the Lord [A] - 5 JUNE 2011

The Ascension of the Lord [A]
Acts 1:1-11  ─  Ephesians 1:17-23  ─  Matthew 28:16-20
June 5, 2011

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

As I’m sure many of you did, when I was a child I had the experience of getting lost in a store.  I wandered for minutes that felt like days, searching frantically for my parents.  I can’t remember why I wandered off.  I can’t remember how long I wandered before realizing I was lost.  But I remember as if it were yesterday what it felt like to suddenly, in the pit of my stomach, realize both my need for someone, and that that someone was somewhere unknown.

It’s one thing to need someone, but be able to reach them.  This is the safety that a home with walls gives, or a back yard with a fence.  A child can play with peace of mind, even if at a distance, because he knows how to reach his parents, and knows that he can at any moment.

It’s another thing to need someone, and know where they are, but not be able to reach them.  This is what a child, as he grows older, experiences when he gets lost in a large store.  He knows that his parents aren’t going to leave the store without him, but all his searching leaves him bewildered.  He grows frustrated, but not panicked.

It’s yet another thing to need someone, and not know where they are, and not know how to reach them.  This is what a very young child feels when he gets lost.  Although his parents have no intention of leaving the child alone, the child in his imagination pictures himself without his parents, and feels both unknowing and unable to reach his parents.
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Abandonment, of course, is something altogether worse.  Abandonment means needing someone, and having that someone willfully remain at a distance in spite of your need.  It does not matter whether you know how to reach that person, or whether you are able to reach that person.  Abandonment implies that even were you to find that person, he would turn away.

The perception of abandonment is often portrayed in the Sacred Scriptures.  Perception is not the same thing as reality, of course.  But the most famous example in the Old Testament is the Book of Job.  This entire book tells about a man who lives uprightly.  He leads a holy life, as holiness would have been understood in his day.  And yet, tragic suffering strikes Job in practically every way possible.  Each of his beautiful children is killed.  He suffers an agonizingly painful disease.  His worldly possessions are wrenched from him.  And perhaps worst of all, his wife and three closest friends harangue him, bidding him to curse God and die!  Those persons dearest to him encourage him to abandon God, so clear seems the evidence that God has abandoned Job.

Another example of seeming abandonment is illustrated in the Book of Exodus.  The people of Israel are miraculously freed from their slavery to the pharaoh.  The Lord God feeds His people with manna from Heaven while they make pilgrimage to the land flowing with milk and honey which God has promised them.  And so, surrounded by miracles—in their recent past, their present, and their promised future—the Israelites grumble against God.  While Moses converses with God atop Sinai, they fashion an idol, so willing are they in their fickleness to believe that their God has abandoned them.

Yet the most famous example of seeming abandonment comes from the New Testament, in the Gospel passages we heard six weeks ago, on Passion Sunday and Good Friday.  Jesus, having been nailed to a cross, cries out in the words of the 22nd Psalm:  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Scholars have debated in what way Jesus meant these words.  As God, Jesus always knew the future:  we only have to think of the many times that Jesus predicted to His disciples His own passion, death and resurrection.  Had Jesus forgotten these predictions while hanging on the Cross?  Did Jesus Himself believe that His Father had abandoned Him?  Or did Jesus’ quoting the 22nd Psalm have another meaning?

Many saints who have meditated on this passage have suggested that in crying out the words of the 22nd Psalm, Jesus is summing up, gathering into Himself, all of mankind’s perceived abandonment by God throughout history.  This parallels what St. Paul said about Jesus in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:  that “[f]or our sake [God the Father] made him to be sin who did not know sin.  On the Cross, Jesus became abandonment who was one in essence with God the Father.  On the Cross, itself the symbol of seeming failure, Jesus in His humanity points to the emptiness of human power, and the need to rely absolutely on God.

These last two weeks of the Easter Season challenge us by pointing to the emptiness of human power apart from God’s divine life.  Today’s Gospel passage consists of the last five verses of Matthew’s account of the Gospel.  Two facts about this passage point our attention to the emptiness of human power apart from God’s divine life.

First is the doubt that the eleven apostles hold inside them.  You would think that the last five verses of the Gospel would portray the apostles at a high point.  These Eleven have largely evaded Jesus during His Passion and death.  For the past forty days, these Eleven have witnessed the Risen Lord.  Nonetheless, Matthew tells us that “when they saw [Jesus], they worshiped, but they doubted.”  

It’s also notable that Matthew doesn’t actually tell here of Jesus’ Ascension.  The Church proclaims these five verses on the Solemnity of the Ascension.  Yet the event of the Ascension is not narrated.  There’s something about both of these facts that leaves both Matthew’s entire gospel account, and our celebration of the Ascension, very open-ended, as if the story were not yet over...
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Jesus’ death is to His Resurrection, what His Ascension is to Pentecost.  In both cases, Jesus leaves His followers behind.  In both cases, His followers have doubts.  They may have felt abandoned.  In both cases, something far greater than is imagined possible is accomplished by Jesus.  Jesus never restores the status quo.

Who among Jesus’ disciples would have thought, following His crucifixion, that Jesus would not only survive the torture of those Sorrowful Mysteries—would not only return from the dead—would not only rise in a glorified body that could pass through walls—but would through His glorified Body give them a share in divine life, and promise them a share in the Resurrection?  Jesus never merely restores the status quo.

Who among Jesus’ disciples would have thought, following His Ascension to Heaven, what might lay ahead?  The disciples knew they needed Jesus.  They saw Him rise to Heaven:  they knew where He was.  But how could they reach Him?

The Ascension is not the end of the Gospel.  The answer─the key─to reaching Jesus occurs ten days after the Ascension.  We hear this today in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.  We hear the priest pray:

“Christ, the mediator between God and man,
judge of the world and Lord of all,
has passed beyond our sight,
not to abandon us but to be our hope.
Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church;
where He has gone, we hope to follow.”

Christ has ascended to Heaven, not for Himself, but for us:  to allow us to become Him.  Between now and Pentecost, open your heart, mind and soul to God the Holy Spirit.  Pray to God the Holy Spirit:  ask Him to strengthen you for whatever He may ask you to carry out, as a member of the Body of Christ.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)