Sunday, June 05, 2011

Homily Ascension Year A

    I am so happy to be with here with all of you today. I was ordained a priest just last weekend and I still can't believe it; it hasn't fully sunk in yet. Last summer I was assigned here to St. Gabriel as a deacon and I cannot say enough how grateful I am to Fr. John, Fr. Jim, and all of you for that experience. Even as a deacon Fr. John and Fr. Jim treated me as a brother in ministry which helped me to begin to experience the life of a priest. My first times preaching during Mass were here at St. Gabriel, and I appreciate your patience as I continue to develop the art and science of preaching. My first Baptisms were here too, a set of five boys that Deacon Bowling helped me to keep organized. During my last year of seminary, I studied the theology of the Eucharist, Ecumenism, and pastoral leadership; and I learned how to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. But the ministry of Holy Orders began here and I am so thankful to all of you for your continued support and for allowing me to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving with you.

     Reflecting on the Solemnity we celebrate today, the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, I remembered one of the most significant developments in my spiritual life since I entered seminary in 2005: that is, when I finally transitioned from appreciating what is said in the Bible as if it was a museum piece to appreciating it for what it is saying to me and to the Church. For too long, I was accepting the Scriptures as something good but outside of myself. Seminary, thank God, helped me to interiorize what the Scriptures mean for me personally. I am convinced now that I would be a lousy priest if I had not made that transition. In fact I would be a lousy Christian! Until we accept from God his Holy Word into our hearts and minds, we can never really be transformed by It. If I had not been receptive to God in this way, I would have been no different than a secular historian who appreciates an ancient text of human history.

     The texts that describe Jesus' Ascension into heaven are some of the most challenging – and consoling – texts for us personally. After Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many of his disciples as proof of his resurrection, his apostles still had troubling believing Him. They did not believe Mary Magdalene when she described how Jesus appeared to her in the garden outside of the tomb. They did not believe the two disciples with whom Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus. All told, the New Testament records 11 separate appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection. Despite all of this, today's Gospel says, when the apostles saw him, "they worshipped, but they doubted." Even so, Jesus did not give up on them. He knew their hearts and knew what they would be capable of once they received the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. So he gave them the Great Commission: "Go… 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."

     If we receive this scenario for ourselves, we can see that we too have been sent and are being sent on this great commission, in our own lives and in our own ways. But we have had our own doubts too, haven't we? I, for one, when times were hard at the seminary, sometimes doubted if I had what it takes, if I could cut it as a priest. Perhaps you have had doubts about God too: when a loved one died, or when there was a divorce in your family, or when a child stopped going to Church, or when there were lay-offs at work, or when you failed in some way at school. Due to this fallen world and our fallen nature, hardships inevitably have come and will come to all of us.

     But the point is, at this Mass, we are his apostles, standing shoulder to shoulder with all of the hardships and doubts we have endured, together looking up to heaven trying to understand what God is telling us. Before the Eucharistic Prayer, I will say "Lift up your hearts" and the response will be "We lift them up to the Lord." Our hearts will be wide open for God to see. Yet I still, at the very end of the Mass will say, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." We will then each have to ask ourselves: "How will I love and serve the Lord? How will I make disciples and teach others to observe all that Christ has commanded me?" By that point though, we will have what the apostles didn't have when they asked themselves these same questions: the power of the Holy Spirit renewed in us by the Eucharist. True, they too received the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but they had not yet received, like we have, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the gift we will celebrate next Sunday.

     Today's celebration, the Ascension, is one of the reasons I am a firm believer in spending some brief time in quiet prayer before or after Mass or after Communion, giving thanks to God for the gifts he has given us and asking Him and ourselves "How will I love and serve the Lord? How will I make disciples and teach others to observe all that He has commanded me?" The instructions for the Mass, when describing the necessity of silence, say that the people should spend some time after Communion praising and praying to God in their hearts. "Even before the celebration itself," the instruction continues, "it is commendable that silence be observed… so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner" (GIRM 45). And Canon Law, the law of the Church, says that the priest too "is not to neglect to prepare himself properly through prayer for the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and to offer thanks to God at its completion" (can 909). If these readings are meant for us, how can we receive them if we don't spend the time to ask God "How" and "Why" and listen to His answer?

     Our youth who prepare for Confirmation and our parishioners who celebrated the Easter Vigil are especially primed and ready for this. They have been discerning in an intentional way how they have been chosen by God and what his great mission is for their lives. But just because most of us were baptized as babies doesn't mean that we can't have this same enthusiasm and zeal too. Each one of us, at our Baptism, died with Christ when we were lowered into the water and when we were lifted up out of the water, rose again with Him. The whole rest of our lives then is our experience of the Ascension that follows. For us, evangelizing all nations means more than just encouraging someone new to convert to Catholicism, it means helping to bring about the conversion of the entire culture, making every area of our lives more Christian. Being Baptized is only the first step in the process of growing in holiness and making our world holy.

     One of the treasures of the teaching of St. Josemaria Escriva, and the spirituality of Opus Dei that he founded, is that oneness with God is not only limited to our time spent at Mass or in the parish. It can be experienced and even cultivated in the midst of our day-to-day lives. At Mass we receive, in a special way in the Eucharist, the grace to go and live out God's Great Commission. And in our silent prayer we can discover how we are to convert our culture, how we are to love and serve the Lord, make disciples, and teach others to observe all that He has commanded us.

     When he ascended to the right hand of the Father, he never really left us. In the Eucharist, in the Gospel, in the person of the priest, and in all of us praying together and doing good works, he still lives and ministers to our fallen world. How will each one of us bring Him to our families, our friendships, our work, our school, our recreation, our parish?

     This will be different for each one of us, but it could take the form of saying grace before meals, even in a restaurant, if you aren't in the habit of doing this… or saying a decade of the rosary privately or together with family before going to bed. In our friendships this could mean not participating in gossip or working hard to be a good influence on each other. At work you could attend daily Mass during your lunch break or before the work day begins. The Cathedral downtown is within walking distance of many of the major business centers. And our late Archbishop Floerish made sure that there was a parish in almost every neighborhood. At our school we can be sure to continue to give religious education the highest priority. In our athletics and recreation we can avoid participating in things that only bring about anger or bitterness. And in our parish we can try to become more active Catholics, caring deeply about each other, even those we don't know, and praying together more often. We can do all of these things. We have already been given all that we need. We can continue to make St. Gabriel not a parish of the status quo, but of the Ascension – a parish of people who take their faith seriously and are not afraid to be counter-cultural, to convert our world, and to let God convert our hearts.


Robby Osting said...

That's fantastic, Fr. Hardesty! Thanks for sharing. We're sorry we missed out on today's celebration. Where/when will you be saying mass in the next couple weeks before you Jews south?

Robby Osting said...

That's supposed to read "head south"... my phone guessed wrong....

Matt1618 said...

Thank you Robby. I will be at Bl. Teresa at their 5pm Mass on Sat June 11 and at St. Athanasius at their 11:30am Mass on Sun June 12.