I want to say thanks to Mummy Dearest, TSO, Amos, Andrea, best friend L and Father J for their pre-Mass readings and comments. The speech meant more to me for having input and I was able to incorporate a few suggestions into it, really making this a group effort.
I have put my final draft below.
Good morning. Let me first thank Father J for allowing me this opportunity and for L, for asking me and having faith in me even when I wasn't able to have faith in myself. Before I begin let me first say that as a Children's Librarian I serve more as a storyteller and a reader of children’s books, so please give me a wide berth when dealing with the Gospel.
This weekend we celebrate the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Saint Augustine wrote of Ascension Sunday that it: "is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished."
But what does that mean? What does ascension really mean for us? If we chose to look at it in its simplest terms we can say that Christ’s ascension is his movement into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God. But even the simplest terms of something so important leaves us as Christians with many questions. Christian writer, David Bennett observed that the Catholic Catechism can be summarized in three ways. 1. That the Ascension marked Christ’s entrance into God’s Heavenly domain until he comes again. 2. That Christ as a head of the church precedes us into Heaven so that we may one day live with him forever. And, 3. Jesus entered into Heaven where he intercedes for us as the mediator of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; God with us, as heard in last weekend’s reflection.
That said. How did Christ leave us to prepare to enter into this kingdom? This question that we ask today seems to be the same question that Jesus’ own disciples were asking him over two thousand years ago. (I suppose it is reassuring to know that some things never change.)
In the midst of this amazing transformation in their beloved Jesus, his own Apostles asked him, “Has the time come? Are you going to restore sovereignty to Israel?” Much like us, it seems that the Apostles were looking for an easy explanation in there search for guidance, and maybe even an easy fix. Two bits of advice that Jesus offers to his disciples are the keys to us understanding what we are called to do to take part in the renewed sense of hope that Ascension Sunday promises. This hope comes from Jesus’ advice about Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Before ascending into Heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “John baptized with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and also “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon you.” What this means for us is that God is inside us, one with us, and we don't need Jesus to be physically present on earth for him to be working through us and for us to carry out His will and work on earth.
Ascension Sunday offers us hope as it asks us to look to our Catholic roots of Baptism for our guidance and for a renewed self. And maybe that is why this is a fitting weekend for the Graduation Mass. As we have finished our degrees and head forward into what comes next, we, like the Apostles, look to Jesus for direction. What is important to focus on when thinking of the unsure Apostles; unprepared for what seemed to be a finality to Jesus’ presence in their lives; is the idea of Jesus as the teacher and the Apostles as his pupils.
Throughout Christ’s adult years he guided his followers in teachings that were sometimes against the social norms of their time. And really all this time Jesus was preparing them to continue carrying out God’s work after his Ascension. Maybe it would have been easier if Jesus had spelled it out more obviously. Maybe instead of his eloquent answer to the Apostle’s question, “Has the time come? Are you going to restore sovereignty to Israel?” Jesus could have answered “There is work to do. And that’s your job.” Maybe he could have also used an expression that is attributed to St. Francis, who allegedly said, “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.”
So, again I ask, what does the Ascension mean for us?
We are called to be living examples of our Baptism; our renewed selves. Like the Apostles it is up to us to bring this new Israel about. To carry out the mission for this world that Jesus himself, ever the teacher, modeled for us; And to live each day filled with the hope that the Ascension, and Christ’s promise for eternal life has given us. Each of us should look into ourselves and see what we can do to carry out Christ’s work, with the help of God. Remember that Jesus promised to send his Spirit to accompany us in the Journey. Next weekend we celebrate this coming of the Spirit once again renewed in our hearts and minds as we rejoice in Pentecost!
When I find it difficult to keep this hope that the Ascension promises, I re-read this reflection by Author Noah BenShae, from his book Jacob the Baker: Gentle Wisdom for a Complicated World.
...It was Mr. Gold who counted time and eventually spoke first.“Jacob, where do you find the strength to carry on in life?”
“Life is often heavy only because we attempt to carry it,” said Jacob.“But, I do find a strength in the ashes.”“In the ashes?” asked Mr. Gold.
“Yes,” said Jacob, with a confirmation that seemed to have traveled a great distance.
“You see, Mr. Gold, each of us is alone. Each of us is in the great darkness of our ignorance. And each of us is on a journey. In the process of our journey, we must bend to build a fire for light, and warmth, and food. But when our fingers tear at the ground, hoping to find the coals of another's fire, what we often find are the ashes. And, in these ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony. Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night, somebody else has bent to build a fire, and somebody else has carried on. And that can be enough, sometimes.”