Tag Archives: Mystery of God

ASCENSION 2017

Our ancestors concocted wonderful and enduring stories about the mysteries of faith, taking them from what they saw around them. For example, they marveled at how a potter makes a beautiful vase out of a lump of clay, and they said “That’s how God made us!” The facts were wrong, but the message was right: that God is the creator of all that is, and that human beings were created to resemble that God in ways not possible for any other creature.

It is the meaning of what they thought and said and wrote that counts, not what facts it contains or doesn’t contain. They didn’t have access to those facts, as we do today. But fundamentalists even now insist that the Bible can make no error of any kind, and they calculate, therefore, that the universe is only 6,000 years old – while solid science tells us that the universe is some 15 billion years old!

What is written in the Bible about the feast we are celebrating today is a significant case in point. Consider that, of the four gospel authors and St. Paul, out of those five, Luke is the only one who has left us with a step-by-step account of the events of Jesus’ life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Nowhere else in the Bible will you find the purported “facts” that he offers. John bunches up the Resurrection of Jesus, his Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples into one brief day. Mark and Matthew make no mention of an Ascension; they tell only of Jesus’ Resurrection. And Paul, the first New Testament writer – before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — treats the two events, Resurrection and Ascension, as if they were one and the same.

So, we’re not going to get much in the way of factual reliability from those five! But who should care about a little contradiction here & there? Like a good spice, it makes the story tastier!

It is the meaning of what is passed on that is the important thing, not whether or not it is historically or scientifically accurate. The scriptures, let us say again & again, are not history books; they are not biographies; they are expressions of faith.

There’s a message for us in these Ascension accounts and references; namely, that we who have heard and accepted Jesus as the ultimate life-giver, the ultimate expression of the mystery that we call God, are called, not only to believe, but to imitate! We are to carry on what he began: a ministry of love, healing, forgiveness, and peacemaking. We are to do that, not depending on our limited human resources alone, but on the Divine Spirit whom God would share with us always. The story of his “Ascension,” even though it may not have been the lifting of his living body skyward, implies that he is with God in a total union of the most intense love and that we are here to be him to others by allowing the Spirit that worked through him to work through us.

He has left us — only to be with us always!

3RD SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015

Were you ever in a situation in which you said, or you heard, “Would someone please strike a match so that I can find the light switch?”  I was, when I took 3 of my very young nephews on a guided tour of an underground cavern in San Antonio, Texas.  When we got to the lowest point, a hundred feet below the surface, the lights that had illumined our way to that point all went out and we were engulfed in what had to be absolute darkness.

I grabbed the three boys, 6 or seven years old, and held them tight.  The tour guide said, “Does anyone have a match or a flashlight?”  Someone behind us did, and with the aid of it located a switch on the wall. Light never looked so good!

A real accident or a routine part of the tour I’ll never know; but either way it helps to make the point that a lesser light can lead to a greater light.  And that’s what John the Baptist was and what he did.  He said, “I am not the light.  There is one coming after me whose sandal straps I am not worthy to unfasten.”  And then, pointing to Jesus, he proclaimed, “There he is!  He is the true light of the world!”

I doubt that there are many Christians who have never had even a small doubt concerning their faith – who Jesus is, in particular.  I think that virtually all Christians, including the celebrated saints, have asked, “Is it all really true?  Is he the messiah?  Does he really live beyond death?  Is he actually present to us now, especially in sacrament?”

If you are not ashamed of or disturbed by your doubts (as, I assure you, I am not by mine), if you agree that doubts can honorably co-exist with genuine faith, then I remind you that John the Baptist’s role in the unfolding of Christianity was to strengthen and to support faith in persons like you and me.

Faith is tested and proven by doubt.  When it enters the picture, offering us an opposing option to what we have long believed, it forces us to make a choice and makes possible a deeper, stronger and more personal faith.

Just consider how powerful John’s testimony was.  He was young, dynamic, articulate and brilliant, clear in his message and his mission.  He was solidly connected with the past, the last and greatest of all the prophets who had for centuries been foretelling the coming of the messiah and urging the people to prepare.  A forceful, courageous man who never minced words, he was at the same time humble and unselfish, never drawing attention to himself but directing it immediately to Jesus.  He did not allow himself to be called a prophet; he was, he insisted, only a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord!”

He baptized, he said, only with water – nothing as compared with the Baptism with the Spirit that Jesus would give.  John would not accept even the title “servant” because he knew that Jesus would present himself as the servant of all.  He stood up against the corrupt powers of religion and government and dishonest wealth and accused them of playing God and denying God.  In the prime of his manhood, he went from a dank prison to death by beheading, decreasing, as he put it, so that Jesus might increase.

John helps us, despite inevitable and respectable doubt, to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the one who reveals to us most fully the mystery of the God who creates us, loves us, and eventually welcomes us into eternal life.  John is the light that saw itself as little and that leads us to recognize Jesus, God’s chosen Light of the World.