28 May 20177 Easter

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
7 Easter
Seventh Sunday of Easter - A Cycle - John 17:1-11

Abraham Lincoln won over more people to his cause by his death than he would have had there been no assassination. Begin with Edwin Stanton, his Secretary of War. Early in his administration, Stanton had sneeringly referred to him as "that giraffe." But immediately after the president's murder, Stanton blubbered tearfully, "There lies the greatest ruler...the world has ever seen." Your personal radar should be warning you that today you are walking into awesome country. For this is the only Gospel where the Teacher names Himself "Jesus Christ." Jesus has eaten sparingly. Still He reluctantly pushes away from the table in that famous Upper Room that Thursday eve. You would be reluctant too if you knew what the next day was offering. The Last Supper is history. Surrounded by His well-fed guests, He walks out into the air. The clever John sets the scene by telling us the Master raises His eyes to the heavens. Then, under the starry, starry night, He begins what has come to be known in history as the priestly prayer.

As you listen to Him speak to His Father, you fear that you are listening to a conversation that was meant to be private. In the first five verses, He prays for Himself. And, in the balance of today's Gospel, He prays for His colleagues. They are shuffling restlessly about Him and thinking only of an after-dinner cognac, a Havana cigar, and a good night's sleep. At this point, Jesus is the King who must die. Yet, He says, "Father...glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you." What is this all about? How could He be so upbeat? It is one of the strange paradoxes of history that death is often the entrance into glory. (William Barclay) As it was with Lincoln, so too it is with Christ. Matthew 27:54 tells us that the Centurion on Calvary was overwhelmed by the majesty of the death he had just witnessed. And there burst out of him that eternal one-liner, "Clearly this was the Son of God!" And, as it was for the nameless Centurion, so it remains for you and me almost 2000 years after the fact. "In hoc signo, vinces." Erase Good Friday and you would have to put the glory of Easter Sunday in the back of the file cabinet. Yet some in each century insist on removing the cross from Christianity.

But what do they end up with? A la carte choosings from the message of Jesus: a sample of this and a sample of that. Many Christians are not able to see the redemptive value in suffering. In time of difficulties, they are deprived of a model to emulate. God is neglected and a false god embraced for one's own fulfillment and kicks. Stripping Christianity of the cross prompts the question, "Where's the beef?" "I have...finished the work that you gave me to do." Once Christ had finished that celebrated supper, He could have rolled up His sleeping bag and retreated north on a long fishing holiday to the Sea of Galilee. Not even the Father would have gotten in His way to ask, "Quo vadis?" Yet, had He listened to His fears and exited the programmed crucifixion, you and I would never have known just how much God was willing to expend for us. The Son freely walked into a horrendous murder. Cannot even the dullest among us guess at the love God has for everyone of us?

And, as the Christ stayed the course, so also must we. "Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God." To know the only true God means much, much more than knowing Him with one's brainpan. It is to know Him with heart and the spirit. Sigmund Freud wrote, "In small matters trust the mind but in the large ones the heart." Thanks to Christ, we know that God is not playing the recluse on us. Quite the contrary! He is very definitely within our reach and touch. Is it possible that the Teacher could have been more graphic and blunt in His language? I think not. I attended a grammar school concert. The man next to me told me his son was singing in the choir. "Wait till you hear him." The concert began. The choir was made up of eighty boys and girls. The father asked, "Doesn't he sing beautifully?" I of course could not hear the boy, but I was certain his father could. God is the same with ourselves. Though we are all part of a huge chorus that makes up the six billion plus people in the world, He is able to hear each of us as though we were singing solo.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
7 Easter
Solemnity of the Ascension: Tell the World that Jesus Lives

The disciples climbed the hill in Galilee and saw the Lord being taken up into heaven. But first he gave them a mandate and a promise. The mandate was to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. The promise was that they would not do this alone: Know that I am with you always, until the end of the age. The angels in today's gospel are saying this to us, "Men of Galilee, men of the New Israel, men of the Church why are you looking up? Women of Galilee, women of the New Israel, women of the Church, don't look at the sky. And, all of you, stop contemplating your navels. No, get to work. Others need to know about the heights and depths of God's working in our lives.” And so we are told to tell the world that Jesus lives. "Know that I am with you always.” The Solemnity of the Ascension is a call for us to tell the world that Jesus is still with us. How do we do this?

Simply by utilizing the gifts the Lord has given us. Do you make friends easily? Then, befriend those who are alone in the world. Perhaps that loner in school, that elderly man in his apartment, that cousin no one talks to, perhaps they and many others need to know that they are not alone. Your friendship can help them understand their value before the Lord. Do you multitask well? Are you one of those people who can do three things at once, while texting in the background. Then use your talent to do things for others. How can you say you are too busy? You have the ability to be busy doing the Lord's work while you are still doing your normal projects. Some people can't even go from one thing to another. But you can. Fill your day in giving witness to Jesus. Be loving and caring. Tell the world that Jesus lives. Do you have a particular expertise that can help others? Are you a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse, a paramedic, or one of the many other service professionals? Well, stop seeing people as paying customers and start seeing them as people sent to you so you can use your expertise to help them find God.

Perhaps a teacher can tutor a sick child, or the member of a medical profession can volunteer in a clinic, or a lawyer can give advise to the impoverished, all making it very clear that they are treasured by God. That's how you can tell them that Jesus lives. Are you really good with your hands? Does carpentry come easy to you? Well, you have skill. Have you ever considered volunteering for an organization like Habitat for humanity? How about fixing things? Are you good at that? Do you have any idea how much you are needed by elderly widows trying their best to stay in the homes and not knowing what to do when something breaks. Check in on them. Fix it for free and let them know that Jesus lives. Do you like traveling? Does the thought of going off to exotic lands excite you? Then consider volunteering to help the poor in Haiti, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa or Asia, or, perhaps, traveling here to the poor in Appalachia.

Let others know that you are happy to undertake a long journey to them if it helps them take a step closer to God. That's how you can tell the world that Jesus lives. Does your heart go out for the poor? This is a gift. Have you ever thought of volunteering at a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter like Pinellas Hope? Let these people know that you are with them because Jesus Christ cares for them. Perhaps you are convinced that you need to do something that is not all that comfortable for you. Maybe you feel that you are called to jail or prison ministry even though jails and prisons frighten you. But, you think, there are people there who have the time to look closely at their lives and conform their lives not just to society, but to God. Or maybe you have considered spending time with people in the last days of their lives. But the thought of being with a dying person upsets you. Still, you know you can do it, and you have to do it. Remember, the Lord came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He often calls us out of our comfort zone. So, go out and do it! Tell the world that Jesus lives. People are led to the Lord by other people, people who give witness to the living presence of Jesus Christ by their actions. People are led to the Lord by people like us who stop gazing up into the sky and go out to proclaim to the world that Jesus lives.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
7 Easter

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
7 Easter
Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension marks the completion of Christ's work of salvation. Having accomplished his mission on earth Jesus returns to his rightful place at the side of the Father. Even though he no longer lives with us the work of God continues in the world with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles which we celebrate in a week's time. You might think that there is something a bit peculiar about the Ascension, something a bit strange about the image of Christ rising vertically to the heavens. The words used in the Acts of the Apostles are that ‘he was lifted up while they looked on until a cloud took him from their sight.' Even though during his life on earth we know that Jesus could perform miracles and seemingly, after the resurrection, could even appear and disappear at will, the idea of him rising vertically up into the sky is hard to credit. I was once amused at hearing a friend of my father describe the Ascension as, ‘The Feast of the Vertical Take-Off.' I've actually seen rustic sculptures in Bavaria amusingly showing a pair of feet poking out of a cloud in an effort to depict the Ascension. However it is portrayed, the Ascension of Jesus is a historical fact.

Whether Jesus actually made a sort of vertical take-off or whether he disappeared in some other way, he had to return to his rightful place with the Father in heaven. Once his work was accomplished and this included a few post-resurrection appearances, so that there was no mistake that he had actually risen, and some last-minute farewell words, Jesus had to return to the Father. He wasn't going to die again and so there had to be a mechanism which would permit him to return to heaven; and rising through the clouds is as good a way as any. The important thing for us is that Jesus has accomplished the work of salvation and it is now our role to get on with making that salvation a reality for everyone in the world. If we think of the Nativity as marking the beginning of Jesus' work then the Ascension marks its completion and according to me these two feasts ought to be celebrated with an equal amount of joy and feasting. Sadly, in the liturgy, the Feast of the Ascension ends up being treated as a minor event. Some years ago, when it was a Holyday of Obligation, the Ascension was generally one of the worst attended of them all.

Today in England and Wales the feast has been transferred to the nearest Sunday so at least it is marked by more people who listen to the account of the Ascension in the scripture readings and have its meaning and purpose explained to them by the priest. Nevertheless, the Ascension doesn't seem to be regarded with the same importance as Pentecost or Corpus Christi which generally occur around the same time. In our liturgy today we try to celebrate the Ascension with a certain solemnity and we sing appropriate hymns which draw our attention to the importance of the feast. It is vital to realise that this was a bodily return to heaven. Jesus is not like us who leave a cadaver behind while our souls fly up to God. The significance of the feast is that Jesus returns to the Father with his body intact. We should note that this body is his risen body and although it bears the marks of the Crucifixion in his hands, feet and side it is not exactly the same as our bodies since we know that in this body Jesus was able to appear and disappear at will. The important point here is that Jesus retains his humanity.

As we know Jesus is both fully human and fully divine and the biblical account of the Ascension affirms that Jesus holds on to his humanity, it is not something that he adopts at his birth and leaves off at his death. The fact that Jesus returns to the Father with his humanity intact tells us that our own humanity is fit for the Kingdom of God. We realise that heaven is our true destiny and that on that final day of days we too will be reunited with our bodies. At that point, we speak of them as glorified bodies because we will be then living in a new and non-physical spiritual realm, nevertheless we understand that they will be recognisably human, identifiably ourselves. The disciples were told by the angels who appeared immediately after the Ascension, ‘This same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.' By this we understand that on the Last Day Jesus will return and sit in judgement as a recognisable human person. We will all gather before him on that great day of days in order to face the final and general judgement. What this means is that the Ascension is the ultimate affirmation of the importance of our bodily existence.

Christ adopts our human form, he lives with us, he dies and rises from the dead and with this body he returns to the Father. Jesus remains both human and divine ever afterwards. We in our turn, are on the Last Day reunited with our bodies in a glorified form and are enabled to live with God forever in heaven. So, you can see that this lovely Feast of the Ascension is celebrating some important things. What it means has great significance for each one of us. The events of the first Ascension Day mean that our humanity is fully recognised and sanctified by God. Despite all that has happened, despite the fall of man, regardless of all the sinfulness, we are now redeemed and the way to eternal life is opened up for us. And this eternal life is not just for a spiritual part of ourselves but it is for the whole of us, for our bodies and for our souls. It is also instructive to look at the actions of the disciples as Jesus was withdrawn from them. It says in the text that they were still staring into the sky when the angels came to give them an explanation. I have often heard it said that this is how we should live our lives in the post-Ascension world, with our eyes fixed on heaven. Well, maybe not both our eyes on heaven, as we need one eye to see the things on earth, the things that are in front of us. What we need perhaps is one metaphorical eye still gazing up at heaven while we live out our lives here in this world. We need to keep one eye on our final destination to make sure that we do not lose sight of it. We ought always to make sure that we keep an eye on our final goal. Where Jesus has gone we will surely follow and it is vital for us to keep the desire to attain that goal, to be with him for all eternity, as well as throughout the entirety of our lives here on earth.

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