Acts of the Apostles 1: 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1: 17-23 + Matthew 28: 16-20
May 21, 2023 at Saint William Church in Naples, Florida
There is danger with this Gospel. It is the danger of thinking that this is about something that happened in the past and something about the apostles. That is wrong, and getting it wrong has consequences for the Church and its apostolic members. This feast and the event we commemorate tells us that we, the Church, must be a community of mission. We have a mission in this life, all of us, and the mission is not to play cards, golf, travel, or sit in the sun. For that matter, the mission of the Church is not to build big lovely buildings unless those are tools for accomplishing the mission we have been given. We are to go, baptize, teach, and remember.
The first step of this mission is the going. Without that, nothing else happens. Yet, that “going” is in a state of denial in our western world. We do not seem to have the heart to seek converts with anything like the vigor of the past. Many do not want to hear what the Lord asks or the message of the Church anymore. Perhaps that is because the Church, at least in the west is too preoccupied with internal problems, often of its own making. The same thing can be said of us individually. Being preoccupied with our own problems keeps us from going. Until we go, there is no baptism, no one to teach, and nothing to remember.
In this country, we hardly notice that the Church is exploding by leaps and bounds in India, Africa, South American, and southeast Asia. Why do you think there are so many missionary priests coming here from those places? Because they have them to spare and they are willing to go. I did some research as I began to think about this after sitting with this Gospel. The greatest number of Jesuits in this world now live and work in India! Every community of religious women is growing by leaps and bounds all through Asia. Seminaries in Vietnam are full. They are so full that the Communist Government restricts the numbers, and many young men are willing to wait their turn.
It’s not that there is something wrong with the comforts we enjoy or some sophistication, but these do not satisfy the spiritual hunger of the human heart. Pleasure is everywhere, but joy is missing. Inner peace is absent, and without it there are wars and violence. The expectation of a joyful future beyond the grave is missing. And so, we drug ourselves on the NFL, health clubs, the TV or computer screen. Meanwhile, complacency sets in all around us with the attitude that someone should do something. Churches close and parishes are consolidated while our young people drift away looking for something to do, something to be, something to remember.
Those first apostles had to get out of their routine, their comfort zone, their own neighborhood. They had to go to people who did not think and talk like they did. They had to take the risk of being laughed at, called names, and even suffer physical harm. They taught about Jesus not just by words, but more convincingly by their actions, gentleness, charity, and joy. They remembered the promise that they would never be alone, so they never left anyone who was lonely.
This day we call “The Ascension” is really not about Jesus returning to the Father nearly as much as it is about the Spirit of Jesus entering into us and about what he asks us to do so that he may truly remain with us always. When we feed the hungry he is with us. When we visit the lonely he is with us. When we give someone thirsty a drink he is with us. When we forgive he is with us. When we welcome the stranger or a sinner, he is with us. When those things happen because we do them, all will know that the Kingdom of God is at hand.