Tag Archives: paul

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!

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SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2017

The followers of Jesus had come to realize his irreplaceable uniqueness; upon his death they cried out with that immortal lament, “To whom shall we turn now, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.” Even though they were somehow convinced that he was alive and living among them, they must have felt his physical absence terribly.

His presence had brought them courage, inspiration, wisdom, hope and the joy of life. But with his death they were on their own — or so they thought — like persons who had briefly lived in a dream world and had now awakened to find themselves as weak and frightened and human as ever before.

Without him around to turn to, there were some serious difficulties. We can picture them saying, “What did he mean when he said so & so?” ‘“Does anyone remember what his response was when we asked him…?” Among the apostles — the bishops of the infant church — there were disagreements. The head of them all, Peter, had, for example, not quite understood that the old law of their beloved Jewish religion had been supplanted by a new law and that many of its age-old requirements could no longer be in force.

There was a baptism now and the whole law was summed up in the person of Jesus. Paul emphasized that the followers of Jesus are children of the promise, not of the law, and the promise is fulfilled, it is personified, in the Risen Jesus. Paul had some misconceptions of his own too and, like the others, he wasn’t always ready to give in to the majority opinion.

But Jesus wasn’t there to be consulted. So the leaders of this unprecedented religious venture had next to learn that it was henceforth in Eucharist that they would find strength and wisdom and truth that would make them and keep them one. Admission to that fellowship had one basic requirement: care for one’s fellow human beings. The invitation to belong was extended to men and women, not to angels. One accepted the invitation with one’s own sinfulness and weaknesses — and entered the faith community in an atmosphere of intellectual honesty and, most important of all, a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

At the parting meal he shared with them, that Last Supper, he gave a new meaning to bread and wine. The bread, he said, was himself, who loved them beyond their comprehension; the wine, he said, was himself poured out in the fullest gesture of friendship and love. From now on, he said, you do this in memory of me. And know that when you do I am with you, just as I am now, to renew with you the eternal covenant sealed in my blood.

In many respects, things haven’t changed much over the past 20 centuries. The same Jesus who loved his first followers just as they were loves us just as we are. He demands of us no more or less than he did of them. We don’t have the comfort of his abiding physical presence anymore than they did. We don’t always respond to others with generous concern, and neither did they. Often we find each other’s points of view threatening and disturbing and just like our ancestors in the faith we too fail to distinguish between the mind and the heart of our sisters and brothers.

To the likes of us is given the Eucharist, the celebration and the assurance of the presence of Jesus among us. What that means is simply that in the person of Jesus we are embraced by the unconditional love that is God. The Eucharist, the Mass, commands only what it presupposes: that we care for one another without exception.