“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Today we celebrate the fortieth day after the resurrection, the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. As you just saw, the symbols of the resurrection, the statue of the resurrected Christ, the victorious cross of our High priest, and the Pascal Candle have been removed from the altar. This symbolizes what the apostles factually encountered, they could no longer see Jesus in human form.

Of course, we see Jesus, in the sacrament of the altar. We see Him in each other and in all people who are formed in God’s image. Jesus remains with us, body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine, and in His word, and in the forgiveness of sin.

Today, let us remember that Jesus’ leaving was actually a charging. He charged us with seven unique things. Let’s review those:

The first charge He left is: working His UNFINISHED TASK.

Jesus said in John 19:30, “…it is finished…” He was saying that the atonement for sin was finished. We might suspect from that that we can lay back. The job is done, nothing more to see, say, or do. But, it is not that simple, for Jesus is charging us with a to-do.

In Luke 19:10 we read “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” As long as there is one person who has not heard the message, the task is not finished. He left that task to be finished by us. All must hear, all must be given the opportunity to say yes. All must be given the chance to be satisfied, with nothing in their being crying out – “unfinished.” We are charged with making Him known.

The second charge He left is: have faith in a MESSAGE THAT CANNOT BE CHALLENGED.

In Acts 1:3 we read that Jesus showed himself alive … by many infallible proofs, being seen and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God”

Of course people have been challenging His message, His proofs, His witnesses since before His passion and death, much less after His resurrection and Ascension. Being challenged is not the problem. It is our willingness to let the challenge break our trust.

We cannot let challenges get to us. We are charged to believe by faith and by the testimony of His witnesses and to act on that.

The third charge He left us is: living in UNQUESTIONABLE LOVE.

No one can question the love exhibited by the Son of God. He gave His life that you and I might live forever, freed from the punishment due for our sins. He left His home in heaven and came to a world of sinners who rejected Him and nailed Him on a cross and then He even forgave those who killed Him. That is unquestionable love. 

In John 15:13 we read: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. St. Paul would go on to explain in Romans 5:7-8: For rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His charge is to live His example of love. His very way of loving is to be our way of loving.

The fourth charge Jesus left us is: reliance on His UNMISTAKABLE PLAN.

“…and you shall be witnesses…to the uttermost part of the earth.”

A witness is sworn to tell the truth of what they saw or experienced. Sometimes we get the plan wrong. It is an unmistakable plan. We are to be witnesses–not super salespeople, attempting to persuade the person with our ability. But by letting Christ in us work. Let us let Him use us with our neighbors, co-workers, friends, our city, state, nation and in the world. Let us follow the call within us. When we hear our conscience say – I should say something, let us do it. Trust His plan will work.

The fifth charge Jesus left us is: giving UNSHAKABLE TESTIMONY.

In Acts 1:10 we hear of the apostles looking “steadfastly toward heaven.”

We must do the same. To be steadfast means to be resolute, firm, and unwavering in our testimony. Will we get challenged at times, maybe be laughed at, thought of as silly? Certainly!. It really isn’t that bad if we remain humble enough to allow God to shine through those challenges. St. Peter says: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” God is in control, let us be steadfast in realizing that and give witness to our hope by our solid testimony.

The sixth charge Jesus left us is: reliance on the power of an UNSTOPPABLE FORCE.

In ten days we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the unstoppable Spirit. A Spirit of power, wisdom, strength, and understanding. If we believe, if we have been endued with that power, we, like the apostles and disciples must be bold in our proclamation. Nothing and no one should stop us from  “Going into all the world.” We are a family with unstoppable force. When we wake up and realize that we are an unstoppable force and we then engage willingly in going out on the limb a little farther, then we will begin to see that the power of His unstoppable force in us. We will produce the same fruit the apostles, disciples, and saints have produced.

The seventh charge He left us is: reliance on His UNFAILING PROMISE.

2,000 years ago Jesus stood on a mountain overlooking Jerusalem and said to His disciples: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

The angel told the apostles: Men of Galilee, why stand here gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall come in like manner.”

We know the battle gets tough, but do not be discouraged, one day soon that trumpet is going to blow. That is an unfailing promise. I am looking for Him to come now, today, Maranatha Lord Jesus, but I also know there is much more for us to do. Until He comes, we are those charged to do His work!

Getting us ready.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

Last week we studied Jesus’ dialog with his disciples. He was preparing them for the long and difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross. That dialog continues today. Jesus was setting expectations for what would occur. He would go to Jerusalem, be hailed, then persecuted and killed. He would rise. And then, what’s next?

What’s next is Jesus’ description of the next two weeks of celebration. He would Ascend. This Thursday (no, it is not on a Sunday), Jesus would ascend to the Father to take up His throne in heaven. Ten days later the great gift of the Holy Spirit would descend, the Church would be born, and Jesus’ salvation, Jesus the way, truth, and life would be preached to the ends of the earth.

We often think of the world as some random series of occurrences, a daily happenstance of events. Hey, maybe today my ship will come in?

Jesus shows us how untrue that is. He has a plan, a roadmap for us. As faithful Christians we know that the randomness of sin around us is not the way things are meant to be.

Jesus laid it out simply for the disciples even though they didn’t get it at the time. As Jesus says: “On that day you will realize.” Ten days after He ascended, after ten days of prayer, they did realize, and they stepped up and followed the plan. In following the plan, they submitted to the Father and overcame randomness. In following the plan, they brought many to know, love, and serve the Lord. In following the plan, the Holy Spirit’s promptings were brought to fruition in lives one with Jesus.

Our reading from Acts is just one small example of a faithful person following the roadmap. The Deacon Philip preaches to Samaria and people come to the Lord. Centuries before, David sings of the great things God does for His faithful. This is something we need to focus on and sing in our times: Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”

In saying “I will not leave you orphans” Jesus is guaranteeing that He will not leave us alone. There are two ways of looking at this, and both are great. Jesus’ ascension was not the end because He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us. In that He was saying too, I will be on you, pushing you to follow the roadmap. Be on board.

One way.

“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

Last week we studied Jesus, the gate-man. The one way to enter is through Him. We enter through and by Him so that we might have life eternal. Recall that entering through Him gives us abundant life. We call ourselves Christians and we live like we got heaven for indeed we do.

This theme carries through to today’s gospel. Jesus holds a dialog with his disciples. He was preparing them for the long and difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross. In doing so He means to give them assurance. Of course, the disciples being very literal missed the literal meaning of Who Jesus is. So, He explains it in even plainer language.

Those same questions plague our minds these days. I don’t know the way! I don’t know how to go! Jesus answers succinctly – “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He truly is our One way of going. His words and example are our truth. He holds the key to real life. We put ourselves into Him, take Him into us knowing real life is in Him.

Ok, but… we can hear ourselves saying. But what about my life now, here, today? What about my worries, fears, and stuff? If we were to lose it all, if we were to be left like Lot, sick, sitting on a dung hill, with people around us trying to figure out what’s wrong with us, we would still possess the greatest gift of all, the One way to the Father. See, neither our stuff, worries and cares, nor anyone else’s promises will get us to heaven. If we have Jesus, we have the Father and eternal life.

Today we honor great figures and witnesses of faith. There is a reason.

Our moms taught us about Jesus because they got it. They cared more about our everlasting life than daily worries or stuff. They wanted us to know Jesus, to know the way, truth, and life. Their gift was not just our existence, but rather the fullness of life in and through Jesus. They wanted us to see the Father, so they helped us know Jesus. Bp. Joseph Padewski knew this, from his mother and from his Holy Mother the Church. He laid down his life under torture, refusing to reject Jesus. No secret at all. He had it all. He hung on to Jesus, the way, truth, and life and came to everlasting life. Our moms, Bp. Padewski, lived knowing they had it all in Jesus. Let us as well.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”

I am hungry.

We previously considered so much to be a part of normal routine. Much of it now fades away, and rightly so. There are certainly things in normal routine that we have learned are not all that important. We have reprioritized our cares. For each of us, church may have been another ordinary routine. Now we cannot gather as we did. We, even the servers and musicians present with me, cannot receive at the table. The Fast of Lent has carried forward, for we are deprived of the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation. This is a hunger pain beyond comprehension. It hurts! Jesus pointed out that the hungry would be satisfied, that those of us who really get it and weep now (you know I am emotional, but now I tend to cry at the slightest thing), will laugh. The sacrifice carries on. The mystical union is not ended, it will not end. The bread is prepared. Feel the hunger and cry now in prayer knowing that we will be satisfied and laugh. He promised!

May is here. The world is different. Our newsletter contains helpful hints for remote participation in parish activities and words of hope and encouragement so needed. In May we honor the Blessed Virgin, our moms, continue our celebration of Easter, honor the members of our parish from the former Good Shepherd parish and receive a special gift from Holy Spirit parish. We look forward with hope and continue to be the faithful church both at home and together. Check out our plans for Memorial Day as well.

Read about all it in our May 2020 Newsletter.

One way.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep… Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

It is pretty easy to picture Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We have all seen many beautiful and heart moving images of the Good Shepherd, Jesus cradling us as the lamb in His arms. This Good Shepherd Sunday we are asked to consider Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold.

Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold seems a little odd to us. If we come at it from the perspective of modern farming and ranching, we might see Jesus as a wooden gate or a metal fence gate. That seems – well – weird. We have to take a step back to Jesus’ time to recognize what He was really talking about.

In Jesus’ time, the gate to the sheepfold was a man. There would be a big stone pen with a man who stayed at its entrance guarding the sheep. The shepherds would lead their flocks in, and one would ensure their safety. When the time came the shepherds would return, the gate-man would allow them entry. They would call their sheep by name and they would follow the shepherds out to pasture. The gate-man would fend off robbers and carnivorous animals, protecting the sheep.

There are many allusions to shepherds and some even like to focus on those who are bad or indifferent shepherds. Let’s not do that. Our only focus should be on the Good Shepherd. Jesus is called that for a reason.

The reason He is called the Good Shepherd is because He is indeed Good. His shepherding is awesome. His voice is trustworthy. His words are music to us. He draws us to Himself. He leads us. He protects us. He has saved us. He suffered for us, fending off the power of sin and death to rob from us and to destroy us. He took up our defense at the cost of His flesh and blood; at the cost of His life. Finally, as the gate-man to heaven, He opened the door to everlasting life in the joy of the Kingdom – the promise made to each of us His faithful.

The people Peter and the eleven were speaking to were cut to the heart by the truth of Who Jesus is. They asked: “What are we to do, my brothers?” The answer is not fancy or complex, it is simple. Be baptized, enter in through Jesus, the gate-man. Enter through His death and burial so to rise to new life, life to the full, and live like you got it. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Live like you got it.

Realization.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Let’s start again this week from music. Would we happen to know how many songs talk about ‘hearts on fire,’ ‘hearts aflame?’ There are at least twelve. Probably a lot more.

Songwriters like the image of hearts on fire because it evokes a passion and desire so necessary to them in drawing pictures of love and even loss. Bryan Adams ‘Hearts On Fire’ is from his album ‘Into The Fire.’ Those titles, cobbled together, speak to what the disciples on the road to Emmaus were experiencing. They went from hearts burning within them to hearts on fire for the gospel, for bringing people to the knowledge of Jesus. Their hearts would not let them stop as long as there were souls in need of salvation.

In their journey with Jesus the disciples felt their hearts being enkindled by the words of scripture, and in fact by Jesus’ very presence. They were experiencing God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus in their midst. They felt. within themselves, an urge for more.

Hearts on fire is a motivator to action and to living the gospel way. We, like those disciples, are called by the fire within us to go out into the fire, to bring Jesus word and way to souls in need of salvation. 

St. Paul traveled about, proclaiming the gospel message, often to people who wanted nothing to do with it. He could not, nor would he, stop. We might ask ourselves why he did it. After government officials, Jews in the diaspora, followers of empty stone rejected him over and over, after they tried to stone him, after numerous arrests and ninety-nine plus percent of people rejecting his message – why still try? Because the fire would not let him stop, not even rest. It needs to be the same for us.

In this time of crisis, we feel the fire deeply. If we long for normality, if we long for something in particular, how much greater our longing should be for, our fire be, for the salvation of souls.

The debate over faith of the heart or the brain has gone on for ages. Is faith felt or intellectualized? The reality is that Jesus speaks to each of us in the way that best ignites the fire, the passion, the drive to be His witnesses to all who are without hope, whose hearts and minds also cry out to be lit aflame by the Lord. Now is the time to self-listen, to recognize our hearts already aflame with the Lord, His gospel, and to help others realize their faith and hope are in God.

Doubt, anger, hunger.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

The Grand Ole Opry hosted a Bluegrass night last night. Dailey & Vincent sang By The Mark.

When I cross over
I will shout and sing
I will know my Savior
By the mark where the nails have been

By the mark where the nails have been
By the sign upon his precious skin
I will know my savior when I come to him
By the mark where the nails have been

A man of riches
May claim a crown of jewels
But the king of heaven
Can be told from the prince of fools

By the mark where the nails have been…

Indeed, we are, in these days very closely in touch with St. Thomas. Consider what he had been through. Everything he had heard and seen at the hands of Jesus followed by betrayal, suffering and death. He was filled, as we are in these days, with doubt, anger, and hunger.

Maybe Thomas hungered for how it was. I believe we do. We haven’t been separated from the way things were long enough to really evaluate the implications of our choices. In fact, recent protests focused on reopening and going back is a sinful desire for old ways. No lessons have been learned there. Thomas rather learned a very important lesson. He would not believe unless he could go back. Jesus charged him instead with going forward, to act on faith and to have confidence. Thomas, move forward.

Maybe Thomas was angry. His apple cart was upset, his cheese had been moved. He had to re-evaluate and adjust, but that can make us upset, uncomfortable, and sometimes even angry. If you read some social media messages the anger is palpable and deeply immature. Is that where Thomas stayed? No, of course, but he could have. He could have stayed angry, lived in the past. Instead, encountering Jesus in a new way he came to new life. He moved from angry and hungering disciple to Apostle, bearer of the Good News. Thomas, move forward.

Thomas doubted. How could it change, how could it get better? He learned it was not by going back or by being angry. Thomas learned, as we must, it is by the mark and living in the promise of Jesus, by living Jesus’ way, and by knowing our life is not here, but in Jesus’ holy name.

Seek! Encounter!

Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Early in the morning Mary’s heart would not let her sleep. Her heart broken in the experience of witnessing her beloved Lord and Master’s cruel death called out to her – Go, be with Him. Still dark, she ventured out. Wending her way through the city in the early morning, avoiding the Roman soldiers, Temple guards, and other ne’er-do-wells she headed out to the tomb. On her way there she would look up and see the hill on which He was crucified, the crosses still standing in the dawn’s rising sun. Arriving in the garden near the hill she found the stone removed. Shocked she runs off to tell the apostles. St. Matthew tells us that she saw the angel descend to roll away the stone. He told her to run to the apostles. On the way to the apostles, she encounters Jesus.

We have been called into our own monasteries, our convents, our Sketes. We have been, in a way, in this time of confinement and separation, been called apart from the world and are being asked to encounter Jesus. In the silence of this time, let us anew seek what is above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Let us think, ponder, reflect, and lift ourselves up with a focus on what is above. Lifting ourselves to Jesus, let us find hope and more than that – assurance in our encounter with Him.

In facing our current fears, we are closely aligned with how the apostles and Mary felt that morning. Their hearts were broken, and their bodies worn out from grief. And Jesus broke through! He said, I am going before you to Galilee where you will encounter me once again.

Early each morning let us too venture out, out of the things that confine our hope, that break our hearts, that keep our eyes pointed low and down. Let us go to be with our Lord and Master, to sit with Him in prayer. Let us look up to the hill where the cross stands and encounter in it the tree of salvation and freedom. Let us see the tomb empty, knowing that He has risen, knowing that we too are inheritors of that glorious resurrection.

St. Paul calls the people of Colossae and us to a key truth. If we have encountered Christ’s resurrection let us keep our eyes, hearts, thoughts, and spirits focused on Him. The joy of this day is ours forever and nothing can take it from us. It is ours!

Yet it was our infirmities that He bore,
our sufferings that He endured.

  • One of those moments.
  • The light goes on.
  • We see ourselves and the world in a new way.
  • Wow! Now I get it.

This day, this Good Friday, in the midst of pandemic and crisis, causes us to stop and absorb reality in a new way; to understand what life is really about. To focus on Jesus.

Brothers, sisters,

Jesus took on the world. He took on the sinful state of the world. Why?

When sin entered the world, along with it came all of sin’s consequences. Sickness, pain, poverty, abuse, injustice, war, disease, plague, destruction, pandemic – these and more. Man finds ever new ways to take the gifts of God and to corrupt them.

Along with all that came death. It was not death as we, in our Christian perspective and understanding, perceive it. It was death without hope, without a promise. It was a long, an eternal holding pattern.

The souls of the dead were warehoused.

Why did Jesus take on the sinful world? The why is answered in this: By Jesus’ love sacrifice for us He frees us of all hopelessness and reorients us. He reorients us. He offers us a powerful, beautiful, and hope-filled life pointed at the eternal. What life is about.

The Cross is not an occasion. Good Friday is not a day. It is profound change. Our future, our direction was changed this day. We gain today an understanding and appreciation for what life is about.

Remember those warehoused souls? It was Jesus’ first act – to free them from Sheol. He descended to hell, to the dead, and He freed them. From hopeless stasis to heavenly joy and glory, He freed them to what life is about.

Our current crisis brings this reality home. The light needs go on in our minds and hearts. What is life about? What have i been caught up in? Where have I been dwelling? What am I even praying for now? To go back to how it was? To get on with getting on?

  • One of those moments.
  • The light goes on.
  • We see ourselves and the world in a new way.
  • Wow! Now I get it.

We are each called to work out our salvation, as is said, in fear and trembling.

As we come to the Cross, let us pray – not for a going back, but for a going forward. Stop for this moment. Absorb the fact that Jesus took on fever, pain beyond measure, exhaustion, loneliness, dehydration, abandonment. He bore our infirmities to give us far more than the here and now. Let us focus our eyes, minds, and hearts on what we are truly living for and where out life will take us.

  • One of those moments.
  • The light goes on.
  • We see ourselves and the world in a new way.
  • Wow! Now I get it.

Through His suffering, My Servant shall justify many.

The door to heaven is now open. Let us live intent on making it through that door to life eternal. Let us appreciate what life is really about. That is the profound charge we have in the Cross. That is why.

How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.

Psalm 116:12-13

King David sat down to write a psalm, a hymn of thanksgiving. How appropriate that it be proclaimed this evening. 

On this very night, Jesus gifted us with means by which we remain in union with Him whether in good times or bad, whether celebrating or in danger. By this union with Jesus, we have the means and grace necessary to transcend all things. On this night Jesus took the bread and cup and left us His body and blood. On this night, Jesus left us the power to wipe away sin, to lose and to bind. On this night, Jesus gave to His Church a share in His ministerial priesthood so that His great grace, our source of strength and transcendence, might live on in a real and effective manner.

We receive His grace in a real and effective manner as we gather, in person or even remotely, before the altar. What is the altar? It is Jesus Himself. On this night Jesus gave us Himself as the altar, the sacrifice, and the priesthood that offers the sacrifice so that we might always remain part of, really full participants in His eternal transcendent reality.

It is interesting that on this night we read from John’s gospel. John focused completely on the nature of Jesus as transcendent. Transcendence is a rich word meaning “that which is divinely other and loftier, wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all known physical laws and rules.” John most aptly expresses the great truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is God. On this night Jesus provides us with Himself so that we might receive His grace and be pulled up into Him, to transcend with Him as sharers and partakers in His nature. To move beyond.

In repeating David’s hymn of thanksgiving, we acknowledge our deliverance in a lively, i.e., joy filled, expression of devotion, love, and gratitude. We must now, in this moment, lift our souls up to God. We are called to be a thankful people, thankful in the midst of every situation because we are not just in the here and now. In the midst of struggle, fear, and anxiety. In the here and now we are more than the here and now. We are transcendent beings whose eternity surpasses all.

David was once in great distress and danger, so much so that it almost drove him to despair. He seeks God and cries out to Him in that distress. David experiences God’s goodness and his prayers are answered. God heard him, pitied him, and delivered him. Note that David took care to acknowledge the goodness of God, even asking, ‘how could I possibly make a return to God for His goodness?’ He does it by taking up, as we are privileged to do at every Holy Mass, the cup of salvation. He vows to continue calling on the name of the LORD. God helped David to transcend his situational problems as a symbol of what God’s Son, a descendent of David, would do for us. Jesus’ gift to us is complete and eternal transcendence over problems, situations, sin, and death itself.

David certainly gave thanks, only understanding in shadows what we know fully. We know that God graciously delivers us from every trouble. His deliverance is beyond the here and now – and why the Eucharist is so important, for in our time before the altar we are pulled into God’s eternity. This is important! Our troubles are but for a time, but our assurance transcends. Jesus delivers us from the now to the forever. Draw strength from that brothers and sisters, all who partake at the Lord’s table and who share in Jesus’s transcendence. Amen!