Saturday, May 27, 2017

2017/05/28 - Feast of Ascension: Marching Orders

Before Mass:
We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension today.  For a lot of people, myself included, it doesn’t feel like a reason to celebrate – I mean – Jesus is leaving us, right?  Sounds more like a reason to grieve rather than to celebrate.  This just seems unimportant.

All three readings today would tell us that this IS important – although I admit it’s not immediately obvious.  Listen for answers to these questions:  Where did Jesus go?  Why did he go there?  And can that possibly have anything to do with us?

Today as we also look forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit next week for Pentecost, let’s pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the world, and upon our parish in particular.  If you know this prayer, pray along with me – you may remember this is the prayer John Leonetti prayed before each night of the mission when he was here.
Come Holy Spirit, enkindle in us the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Did the readings clear it up at all what this feast of Ascension is about?  For many, it simply means Jesus was taken up into heaven.   Yeah, it means that, but I don’t think that’s the message we’re supposed to take away today.

There’s another way to look at it – there is a purpose for why Jesus is ascending.  Paul gives us a good clue in the second reading…listen...  He says God seated Jesus at His right hand in heaven – and He put all things under his feet.  These words may not mean much to us, because they are “kingdom” words…and we don’t live in a kingdom. 

The person sitting at the right hand of the King was the Prime Minister… the person who directed the affairs of the kingdom….both internal and external.  In other words, Jesus has ascended or “moved-up” to the highest position in the Kingdom….kinda like a prince or princess ASCENDS to the throne when their parents die:  they take their rightful seat upon the throne.  Because Jesus ascended to his throne of power, He is in charge of EVERYTHING.  That’s great news for us, because we know He is fair and just.  He is in charge of the treasury – from where he dispenses Grace upon Grace.  He is in charge of the Justice system, where He dispenses Mercy.  He is in charge of all military endeavors – you might say, he is commander-in-chief.   Jesus gave the apostles their marching orders in the Gospel – “go out and make disciples of all nations”.  You could say that Jesus is sending out his armies to colonize the whole world… just like kings in Europe sent armies to the new world 5-600 years ago to start colonies…. Jesus wants to bring every land and person into the kingdom of God.

Has the mission been accomplished yet?  While much of the world does know ABOUT Jesus, but too much of the world doesn’t KNOW Jesus.  Even in our own area, probably everybody has heard about Jesus, but few are actual Disciples of Jesus… so the mission has not yet been accomplished.  What’s missing?  Why haven’t the armies of the Kingdom of God been successful?  I propose that it goes back to what Jesus told them in the first reading:
“…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, …and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus was sending out the apostles to evangelize the whole world – and those marching orders belong to us as well.  “…YOU will be my witnesses...”  Pope Paul VI said:  “the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.”  Lots of big words there so let’s pick it apart just a bit – what does it mean that evangelization is essential to the Church?  Think of a glass of chocolate milk – what are the Essential ingredients of chocolate milk?  Chocolate and Milk.  Can you make chocolate milk without chocolate?  Can you make it without milk?  No!  Both ingredients are essential – required.  So the Pope is saying that if we’re not Evangelizing, we are not being the Church.  The reason the Church EXISTS is to “make disciples of all nations”.  I’ve often speculated that the decline of the Church in recent years is due in large part to the fact that we have taken our focus off of our central mission… we’ve disengaged from the battle … we’ve concentrated on all sorts of other stuff and forgot that the reason we’re here is to introduce the world to Jesus.

At a parish level, we reworked our Mission statement a year ago… it’s probably not perfect, but it SHOULD show how WE as a parish are fulfilling this very mission that Jesus gave to the Church.  Let’s read it together – pick up your bulletins and read with me on the front page. This is the only time I want to see anybody looking at the bulletin during the homily!  

    We, the parish of St. Isidore,
    witness to the world the love of Christ

          we have received in  the Sacraments,
    and we invite others to personally experience

          the Grace of  God through Prayer,
          Acts of Service, and Spiritual Formation.

Does this connect with Jesus’ command?  Yeah!  Jesus said we would be His witnesses to the ends of the earth –and our Mission statement says we will witness to the world the love of Christ… wow… that’s amazingly similar.  We invite others – we show them the love of Christ, we pray, we do acts of service, and we form ourselves spiritually. 

All in all, I think our Mission statement is pretty solid – it is a roadmap for what we are all about – why St. Isidore exists.  If we do anything that does NOT fit into that Mission statement, we are going off course…we are disobeying orders from our commander-in-chief.   We have to continually re-visit our marching orders.

Now – here’s the thing.  It’s all fine and good as a Church and as a Parish to have this mission statement, but what does it mean to you and me?  I mean – is this mission just for Father and the Deacon and our religious ed teachers?  Hopefully we all recognize this mission is for each one of us. 

Pope Paul VI had some strong words to say about this:
“it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it”
In other words – if we really become a Christian and count ourselves among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, there is no way we could NOT tell the world about it.  I guess the reverse would also be true:  if I’m not witnessing to the world about my Faith, maybe I’m not really Christian.??

If you feel compelled to join the battle – to witness to the world about Jesus, and to fulfill our mission to make disciples, there is a boot-camp you can go to which TEACHES how to do that.  If that interests you, contact me and I’ll answer any questions and hook you up.

Also, I feel compelled to kick-start our Evangelization team – it sort-of faded a bit over the summer a couple of years ago – so I’m planning to re-start this September.  Let me know if you’re interested.

When you and I follow the marching orders that Jesus gave us – we WILL change the world… And since Jesus is directing the battle from his throne of power, we can be assured of victory.  Christ is counting on you and me.

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