The Ascension Of The Lord, Homily

Homily, May 16-17, 2015: Cycle B, The Ascension

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. It has been transferred from this past Thursday to this Seventh Sunday of Easter in many Diocese of the United States.

In our First Reading today from Acts of the Apostles, we are given a beautiful lead in to this event. Jesus is giving His Apostles their final instructions.

Further, He concludes by telling them to stay put in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father, where in a few days, they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knows that they will need the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out His Great Commission.  Their commission is our commission to be His witnesses announcing His Good News to the ends of the earth.

Having passed on to His Apostles His Mission, we are told that ‘He is lifted up & a cloud takes Him from their view.’

At this point, two things are happening at the same time. First, there is the conclusion of His time on earth. Second, there is the beginning of the Apostles’ role in spreading His mission.

Or, in today’s parlance, we would say, one door closed and another door opened. We are behind Door # 2 – we are to spread the Good News.

In our Gospel, we are given added details that Jesus gave His apostles about His mission that also applies to us.

Jesus says, “Whoever believes & is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Now, remember, He is saying those things will accompany those who believe and are Baptized. For years, I thought those things accompanied the Apostles and anyone who was spreading the Good News. Like they were designed to attract people to the Good News.

But, this says, “those who believe & are Baptized.” That’s us!

The problem is that list of things uses terminology that is foreign to us today. So, let’s take a minute and put that list into today’s terminology.

The first is probably the hardest. “In My name they will drive out demons.” While that term was widely used at the time of Jesus, it is not used that much today. Are there demons today existing as entities? For me the answer is yes. But, I think my interaction with them is more in the form of dealing with the evil they interject into my life rather than face to face as an entity.

Jesus is calling us to confront evil in all of its forms. That includes prejudice, selfishness, abuse, hatred, and a host of other expressions of the worst forms of evil. And, yes, if it gets too overwhelming we have to say, “Be gone in the Name of Jesus”.

The next item on the list is, “They will speak new languages.” After Pentecost some of the disciples literally spoke to people from foreign lands in their own languages as a miracle that allowed them to hear and understand the good news.”

Today some denominations use the term “speaking in tongues” which refers to making sounds that are unintelligible. That’s not totally alien to us Catholics because over the centuries we have had saints who used it as a “prayer language”.

The Charismatic Renewal in the late 60’s to 90’s brought back that practice as a prayer form.

Really, I think Jesus is telling His apostles and us that we should try very hard to communicate with others in any way we can to get the Good News out there. Any educator will tell you that people hear and learn differently. Some learn by listening. Others learn by pictures and others through creative endeavors. To connect with another person, we must be willing to use whatever works for him or her.

Next, on the list we hear Jesus telling us, “They will pick up serpents with their hands and if they drink any deadly thing it will not harm them.”

This very definitely brings to mind the picture of snake handlers that make the news from time to time, especially when they get bit and die. Their expressed motivation is to demonstrate their faith in these particular words of Jesus.

But, it really is not so much faith as it is presumption, trying to force Jesus to do what they think He meant; trying to force Him to perform to make them look spiritual. You will not see Msgr Kenneally or me doing any of that.

In reality, there are many things that poison ‘life together’ in community, and by community I mean all of its forms, families, organizations, church membership, or any grouping. Gossip, negativity, harshness, are all forms of poison that destroy the relationship between people.

Finally, we hear Jesus say, “They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” In fact, the Church has incorporated the fulfillment of these words into the sacrament of the sick. When we are faced with serious health problems, surgery, or procedures we are encouraged to approach our priest for that sacrament.

Wherever there is a clear & lively consciousness of God’s presence, there is also a special care given to the excluded & marginalized, especially the sick. What helps the cure is that the person feels accepted and loved.

If you remember, that is what one of the Sisters of Life told us this past March from this very pulpit. When people feel special, it engenders healing within them.

What was the message that Jesus was giving us when He spoke about the signs of those who believe? The message was that His people could fight & conquer evil in its worst forms.

We all have poisons that we have to fight off in our lives. We all have our own demons. Some are of our own making. Some are imposed upon us by others or by situations beyond our control.

The Good News on this Solemnity of the Ascension is that we can win the victories. We will win because He really has not left us alone. He is with us. His spirit, the Holy Spirit, in us strengthens us.

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