Fr. David’s homily May 8, 2016 – The Ascension of the Lord.
Witnesses to the Ends of the Earth
May 8, 2016
As you know, the Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke the Evangelist, is an account of the beginning of the church. It’s a record of what happened when the first believers in Jesus’ resurrection shared their faith. Their enthusiasm brought them into conversation, and sometimes confrontation, with their fellow Jews, then Greeks, then Romans. Today we read the first chapter from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the beginning of that record. It’s a marvelous account. Recall the incident again.
The disciples were filled with new life as a result of their faith that Jesus was not dead but that he was alive, raised to new life by the Father. But they still did not realize what that faith called them to do. They continued to think that his resurrection meant that they’re all going to get back together again and build some kind of theocracy, or a new political situation. And so they ask, again: “Lord are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?” His answer? “I’m not going to do anything anymore. It’s you who are to be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.” In other words: “I’m out of the picture; I’m gone; the task is yours.” But they’re still incredulous. Finally, the writer makes the point as clearly as possible. Two angels reinforce the message: “People of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up at the sky.” In other words: get on with life. It’s a new chapter.
One of the great Catholic writers of this century was convinced that our task as believers in this century leads us into the heart of life here and now. He writes at one point: “If as a baptized Christian I am conscious of my dignity, I should live for the world to the full extent of my power. I wish to become conscious of all that the world loves, pursues and suffers. I want to be the first to seek, to sympathize, and to share the pain of my sisters and brothers; I want to open myself out… to become more widely human and more nobly of the earth. ”
Several years ago, Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York, was asked to join two other panelists in New York City, discussing the question: “Why am I a believer?” He quoted the passage I just quoted, stating that at one point in his life he seriously questioned his Catholic faith. But he came to believe and was convinced that there was a relationship between being a believer and a citizen. Said Cuomo: “If I am convinced that Jesus Christ was right, then what he asks of me is belief and trust in the same world he believed in and trusted. He calls me to throw myself into this world of work, of society, of family and friends, of chaos and pain, this world of joy and goodness. I make mistakes. I sin. But I am not for that reason exempt from trying to make this world more human. That’s what faith compels me to do.”
There, my fellow Christians, is the meaning of the Ascension. By reason of our baptism, we are messengers of hope to the world. Jesus’ task is our task: to renew the face of the earth.
Let me give you one example, close to home, where that concretely happens. Twenty-five years ago a ministry was started by our church, St. Francis to address the needs of the homeless. We joined with Lincoln Park Holiness Church on Poole Road, a small African American congregation. We came together to help break the cycle of poverty for people in that neighborhood by connecting families to resources and opportunities. We called it Passage Home. Here’s how Jeanne Tedrow, the inspiration for and the heart and soul of Passage Home describes it. “We began in 1991 helping 2 families a year in our housing program and grew from there. Now, we help at least 360 families a year. On simple averages we have helped a couple thousand families, not only to find homes, but to be self empowered with jobs and careers. Starting with one refurbished house on Poole Road.” Today Passage Home has an annual budget of $3.5M, and a staff of 28. Check out its website: www.Passagehome.com. See how you can help.
This month is a particularly needy month for them.
“Why,” someone asked, “is this the church’s business? Isn’t it the city’s problem, Raleigh’s public housing’s responsibility?” Good question. The answer is simple. To be a follower of Jesus Christ does not mean that we either hide our heads in the sand or lift up our heads gazing heaven ward. We are believers and citizens. The Lord has left us. He’s gone. In this world his task is ours. That’s our vocation as his followers. Nothing human is alien to the Christian. And where pain and sorrow, the inhuman, touches one of us, all of us are called to respond. Of course we are not on our own. His Spirit guides us.
We gather each week here to be strengthened for the task. The Eucharist empowers us to continue the witness by the Eucharist he left us. We are filled with gratitude. The Spirit of Jesus compels us. But we know it doesn’t end here. We leave here, return to our work, our city, our homes, filled with joy, eager to be his disciples as we do our part in bringing a measure of hope to the world.
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.
Reading 1 ACTS 1:1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But 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.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Gospel Luke 24:46-53
Jesus said to his disciples: “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.