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Contents: Volume 2 - The 7th Sunday of EASTER & Ascension (A) - May 24, 2020


 

 Seventh

 Sunday of

 Easter

  Ascension

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

5. --(Your reflection can be here!)

 

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The Ascension of the Lord 2020

Our three readings this day, the Ascension of the Lord, are guideposts for our days ahead. The first reading from Acts is a summary of post-Resurrection events. The second selection from the letter to the Ephesians contains a prayer of hope and encouragement. The Gospel according to Matthew includes what we are now to do about these events and our role in the future. These readings are indeed fitting to help us stay the course while we are still dealing with the effects of the current pandemic but oh, so ready, to move forward in a positive way.

The first reading looks at the events in Jesus's ministry in hindsight or better yet, through the perspective of God. God initiated the events, graced them with a positive outcome, and provided "the promise of the Father". We, too, need to focus on the "promise of the Father", the Holy Spirit, Who is to come upon us again shortly.

The second reading helps us think about what we need to keep us going in the right direction. Could we all not use a bit more of wisdom, enlightenment, and hope these days? We do indeed need to be reminded of our inheritance and the riches of God's glory so we won't give up.

Right now would be a wonderful time, don'tcha think?, for God to exercise great might and the surpassing greatness of his power to end this pandemic! Well, I know, in God's time, not mine! In the meantime, we are offered a GREAT and truly uplifting promise in the Gospel passage. Jesus said that he will be with us always until the end of the age.

That promise is the foundation of how we are to respond to the directive to "go and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Wow, I am having just a bit more difficulty doing what I am supposed to be doing these days within myself and within my family. All nations? What a tough job assignment..., but then there is our confident and empowering BOSS.

Our "boss" is not only a Jewish carpenter, but really our Triune God. We have Someone who gives us all the tools and encouragement we need to "do greater things" than Jesus, the Jewish Carpenter and Son of God. All we need is to "be still" and listen to how, even in this absurd and maddening time of confusion.

We all, unwillingly, have had to stop, or at least slow down, to take inventory of our times and our lives. May we allow God to transform that time for us into a productive way to "recalculate" what is truly important in life. May that information guide us to live the call which we each have been given. Come, Holy Spirit!

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Ascension and Seventh Sunday of Easter Reflection

Ascension Thursday May 20 2020 (Celebrated in U.S. on the Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Acts 1:1-11; Responsorial Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Gospel Acclamation Matthew 28:19A & 20B; Matthew 28:16-20

The gospels tell us that Jesus walked with his disciples for forty days following his Resurrection. This was more than a visit. Jesus spoke with them, explained his ministry, the Father’s plan for creation, and the necessity of his death and the Resurrection. Jesus did not choose to appear to the multitudes. Such an appearance would have created a great following. But those multitudes of Jews would have armed themselves and prepared for a revolt against the occupying Romans. The Kingdom of God would have be misunderstood as a kingdom of power that was based on a violent overthrow. It would have been a kingdom the Jews defined, not the Kingdom of God intended by the Father. Bit by bit Jesus explained the Kingdom God had in mind. It required a radical change in their belief. Had Jesus preached to the crowds what would have been their response? Would they not have focused on the miracle of his Resurrection as a sign of infinite power? Would they force him to take a crown and reestablish the glory and power of David’s kingdom? It was apparent he overcame a horrific death everyone saw, participated in, or at least heard about. If he could overcome death at the hands of the iron fist of Rome, betrayed as he was by the worldly, power-hunger, wealth-pursuing religious leaders, surely, he was capable of bringing together all the Hebrew Tribes from the far-off lands! The hordes would return from exiles and business arrangements to their ancestral home. Certainly, this nation whose ancestors had been released from slavery in Egypt possessed the wealth, the manpower, and the will to fight for a revitalization of their nation! What a great army this would be to overthrow the Romans! Surely, Jesus could revitalize the Law of Moses in the culture and rituals of this chosen people.

The first reading indicates the topic of discussion during these forty days following that first day of the week, the beginning of the Resurrected Christ. Jesus explained his ministry, his passion and death, and his Resurrection as the establishment of the Kingdom of God. However, even after forty days as the disciples gathered, they asked if now was the time that the Kingdom of Israel would be restored. The reading does not say it was this one or that one who asked that question. It seems all of them had not yet gotten it into their heads about the nature and purpose of the Kingdom Jesus had established.

If ever we think that we would be different if we walked with Jesus during his ministry, their question is a sign to us that we also would have failed to understand. These disciples observed, walked with, and heard Jesus’ teachings. This was no classroom teacher with formulas or methods. Jesus demonstrated repeatedly over those years by healing, teaching, preaching, and private instruction. In the final hours of Jesus before his death, all the healings, teachings, and preaching were summed up in is death. These disciples knew of his scourging, of his rejection by the crowds, his journey to calvary and his blood spilt on the ground. Even they failed to understand the message of those events. New hope for a powerful kingdom rose in their hearts when they experienced him raised up. It was marvelous, it was wonderful, it was miraculous! Surely this was the one promised through centuries of struggle by the kingdom of Israel.

If these disciples after forty days of review of Jesus’ three years of words, works, suffering through death, and ultimately in resurrection failed to understand, how can we think we would have understood? Even now, do we understand the Kingdom of God? Do we choose to live in that Kingdom or do we remain in the kingdom occupied by Romans and religious leaders whose work is administration, ritual, and selfishness? It is clear that we would not have been different because even now we often fail to understand the Kingdom of God.

This celebration of the Ascension of Jesus, the return to the Father with his mission accomplished, is the beginning of a beginning. Jesus established the Kingdom of God by his ministry and his passion and death. What is left for us is to discern and understand God’s definition of his Kingdom. The Hebrew tribes – not merely those of the tribe of Judah – all considered themselves the Chosen People. They were descendants of Father Abraham and by his commitment to the One God inherited the promise given Abraham. Abraham was the "father of a great people," the meaning of the name given him by God. He had been Abram before he said yes to God.

The tribes had an exceedingly difficult history. In that little slice of land along the Mediterranean, they were on a highway prized by the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and every other nation seeking control of trade, of wealth, and of domination. Their land knew the tramp of conquering armies. This high traffic slice of land exposed to pagans of every nation who traveled or conquered there, the faith of the Chosen People in One God.

The Kingdom of God is the prize. Sharing in that Kingdom requires faith and an understanding born of the heart and not the mind. Listen to the disciples on the day of his Ascension home to the Father: "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" After three years and forty days of intense preparation, the disciples still do not get the message. Jesus tells them that is up to the Father to determine when the Kingdom is completed. It is a laughable thing that even despite Jesus’ statement, many preachers throughout history have searched the Scriptures, use mathematical formulas to determine the dates of the Second Coming. They base their preaching and careers on specific dates or promises of being raised up into clouds as observers of the slaughter of Armageddon. Jesus tells it the time for the end of the world is in the Father’s hands not ours. Our role, our efforts are to bring to apply the principles of the Kingdom in the moments of our living. That Kingdom is not about power, it is not about domination, and it is not about winners and losers.

Some time ago, in a small Michigan parish that had fallen onto hard times, a new pastor sought the help of the laity in renewing the parish. The parish had been led by a priest whose health had deteriorated and who suffered from Alzheimer. A group of three couples met for pot luck, conversation, and prayer each Friday evening for six weeks. The conversations found direction in the writings of the Second Vatican Council and its principles of collegiality, solidarity, and subsidiarity. It seemed those principles were how the Kingdom of God could work in parish communities. Attendance at Mass had dwindled. Sacramental instruction had fallen into a fundamentalist piety dependent on compliance. Rituals lacked energy and participation. At first the group wondered what "church" should mean. They wanted to understand why the disciples needed Pentecost’s Spirit to understand. The group recruited twelve additional couples and then expanded to seventy-two. A retreat at the diocesan retreat center was arranged. The goal was to develop structures for the parish to engage the energies and understandings of the community. At the heart of the effort was the urgency of finding ways of engaging all parishioners in parish life. So much of what existed had been little isolated groups in competition for prestige and authority. At one of the sessions, the three first couples presented a skit emulating the first council of the Church, the council of Jerusalem. It was that council which opened the Kingdom to the Gentiles; that meeting of the apostles changed the trajectory of the faith of the Jews to be inclusive of all nations. The characters put on robes over their clothes, as a way of representing those ancient times. The skit portrayed the council as a dialogue, of give and take, of seeking answers to the question of who can belong to the Kingdom of God. When a collective decision was arrived at, the actors removed the symbols of ancient days, returning to contemporary street dress. This was to be the council of St. Mary’s in the late twentieth century. As discussions milled about, one of first participants began to insist that what was needed was a clear organizational chart built from the top down. To this one other of the first three couples leapt to his feet and in an angry voice shouted, "Damn it, Dick, this is not about power!" The outburst silenced the group. Finally, one wise participant requested a break. We came back together – working hard to avoid setting up power structures. Instead structures for an inclusive community were developed. In this little story, we see just how difficult it is to shed the methods of the world in our church. The Kingdom of God initiated by the Christ is energized and held together not by power, or wealth, or even prestige. The Kingdom of God is about loving one another and the God of us all. That is the lesson of the Cross – unconditional love. That is the source and energy of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom of power. Through the centuries of Christianity, there has always been a push toward power. At times, the Popes donned armor and used the sword to establish a worldly kingdom. At times clergy has used the fear of hell to control and dominate. At times church leadership has cozied up to secular power to gain a foothold at the table of control. None of these are helpful in establishing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not about power, it is not about wealth, it is not about influence.

Jesus is clear in this first reading. "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." The power of the Holy Spirit is not about armies, it is not about domination. It is about witnessing. The Kingdom of God is based not on wealth, power, or influence. It is based on the message we learn from the ministry of Jesus, from his trials, from his suffering, from his death, and most assuredly from his Resurrection. His entire public life is about love. That is how we witness to him: that is how we contribute to the Kingdom of God and cause it to grow.

In this difficult and frightening time when the entire world suffers from a virus, we are lifted up by the love of first responders, of nurses and doctors, of cleaning personnel, of police and firemen. We are lifted up by teachers and parents who continue the work of educating the young. We are lifted up by the thousands of people contributing to food pantries and by those who volunteer there. We are lifted up by the prayers of millions of persons whose physical conditions prevent them from helping. We are encouraged by those with means of production who forsake personal enrichment that takes advantage of disease. All are witnesses to the Kingdom of God established by Jesus who is the Christ, the Anointed One. That is the Kingdom! The Spirit sent to empower us, is the third person of the Trinity. The Trinity is a community of three, bound into one by love. The Kingdom of God is not about dominating a community, controlling that community, or enriching oneself at the expense of that community.

I always chuckle at the question of the two men dressed in white garments. The image that comes to mind is a bunch of grown men looking to the clouds with their mouths agape. "Why are you looking up at the sky? There’s work to be done. You have been commissioned. Have at it!" That is the message this Ascension Thursday. There’s work to be done. There is witnessing to give by the expressions of love for others and for the world in which we live. Let us have at it!

The message of Ascension is that Jesus has returned to the Father. He leaves us here to be his presence among humanity. That is a really big and important role we must play.


Seventh Sunday of Easter May 24, 2020

Acts 1:12-14; Responsorial Psalm 27; 1st Peter 4:13-16; Gospel Acclamation John 14:18; John 17:1-11

This seventh Sunday of Easter is often dropped in favor of a Sunday celebration of the Ascension. Yet the readings this Sunday are a continuation of the readings of Ascension. While Jesus has been taken up and removed physically from our presence, the message is that he remains – he remains within us. His work, his message, his Kingdom lives on. Jesus is no mere spot in history – he was born, he grew up, he took on a career, he gave up his career to preach and heal, he was convicted on trumped up charges, he suffered from the cruelty of men, he died an agonizing death, he was buried, but on the third day he was raised from the tomb and appeared to his disciples for forty days. But that is not all there is.

In the first reading the disciples return to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet. There is a conflict between this writing of Luke in the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Matthew. This reading from Acts indicates that the disciples were told to stay in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Spirit. Luke places Jesus’ ascension on the mount of Olivet. By tradition, that mount is where people thought Jesus would return at the second coming. In the gospel of Matthew, the disciples return to Galilee, the place where Jesus began his public ministry. There are two different purposes written and we should not become concerned about the place of Jesus Ascension, only what the writers sought to convey by the location. Matthew is interested in showing that Jesus had completed the work of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, he has Jesus return to the Father from the place where he began his work for the Kingdom. Luke is interested in connecting the completion of Jesus personal appearance with the place where tradition believed Jesus would return in his Second Coming. That Second Coming would signal the completion of the Kingdom of God.

In the first reading for this Seventh Sunday, the apostles set about the task of replacing Judas who had despaired because of his betrayal of Jesus. In contrast, Peter who also denied Jesus three times, accepts Jesus’ forgiveness – "Peace be with you!"—when Jesus came into the upper room after the Resurrection. The first mission of the Apostles was to preach the good news to the twelve tribes. So a twelfth person was needed to be assigned preaching to one of the twelve tribes.

In the second reading, Peter tells us we share in the sufferings of the Christ. When all is completed, the glory, the magnificence that Jesus lives in the presence of the Father, that magnificence will also be ours --- forever! Peter warns us, however, that this sharing is not merely that we suffer. If we suffer because of a choice to be a thief, an evildoer, a murderer, or an intriguer then our suffering is not a sharing in the suffering of Jesus. If we are made to suffer because we are Christians, then we should not be ashamed of the state such suffering brings us. Christians are those who live according to the Kingdom established by Jesus.

The challenge of the message for this Seventh Sunday’s liturgy of the Word comes to us from John’s gospel. This is the prayer of Jesus at John’s presentation of the instruction and prayers of Jesus at the Last Supper. What is interesting is that Jesus prays for those who continue to live in the world. The words of Jesus are clear and worth thinking about. "I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."

For a long period of time, the church acted as though only those in monasteries, in convents, or in the clerical state were called to holiness. The hope for those not in those states of life came from serving persons in those states of life. With the work of the Second Vatican Council, two great teachings were applied to the laity. The first is that every person is called to holiness and has access to that holiness within the Kingdom of God. And the second great teaching is that the married state founded in love through its intimacy, through its sacrifice, is a path to holiness and practical witness to the God’s love for his people. Marriage is significantly more than a cure for concupiscence or solely for the procreation of children.

We should remember how this Sunday’s gospel begins. Jesus speaks to his Father. "Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him." How strange for Jesus to thank the Father for the witness of his death. That witness was a witness to any and all who would understand with clear eyes and an open heart that Jesus’ death is a witness to the love God has for his creation.

It is in death that heroes are recognized for the work and the intentions of their hearts. Often when a hero dies, we reflect on the life of that person and come to recognize what that person became in his/her life. So it is with us as well. Throughout our living we are constantly becoming -- growing or decaying. There is no other choice other than growth or decay. Death becomes the point at which all we have become in the years of our living becomes clear. We see this in the death of heroes. Their living often culminates in a sacrifice of themselves for others. That death is a witness to the inner workings of their hearts. The nurses and doctors, the first responders, even politicians who struggle mightily to work for the people they represent with honesty and integrity – all of these whose lives are handed over for the good of all, all of these and all of us who live and work for others are heroes. They witness to the presence of God’s love amply demonstrated in the death of Jesus. These people are people of the Kingdom of God.

It is said that Jesus dying in agony on the cross is what men think of Jesus and his way. It is said of the Father that the Resurrection is what God thinks of Jesus. Which of these two visions fits our thinking, our commitment in life? Jesus suffers and dies for us. This death, this willing sacrifice of self is the glory of Jesus as his sacrifice is a willing sacrifice that is taken on because of the Trinity’s love for us.

To the point of this Seventh Sunday of Easter: this comes after the Ascension of Jesus to the Father. In his prayer in John’s statement of the Last Supper, Jesus insists that his followers are in the world. He insists they are not of the world. But they remain in the world. They are the ones who continue to manifest the glory of God by their works, their efforts – all of which are permeated and motivated by care and concern for others. This care and concern come not from some rationalization of the purposes and ways of the world. These cares and concerns are direct descendants of the love of Jesus for the lives of those who follow in his ways. But not even only these: Jesus’ love with not tolerate any hatred, any violence, any dishonesty. Jesus’ love invites all to share in the cross so that all may experience the exhilaration and delight in the Resurrection.

We have got work to do. That work is within ourselves first. As that work bears fruit, it spreads without fanfare, without recognition, without reward to all who live. The Kingdom of God is the Will of God. That Kingdom does not seek power so as to dominate, does not consider accumulation of wealth as its goal, does not consider fame and adulation a permanent achievement. The Kingdom of God runs contrary to the kingdom of man. God’s Kingdom runs on love, not wealth, not power, not notoriety.

We have got work to do. Next weekend we celebrate the energy and inspiration that will lead us, if we allow it, to our personal crosses as transitions to eternal Resurrection. May it be so!

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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Ascension Day 2020

HOORAY FOR JESUS! ASCENSION DAY (A)

In our Creed today we will be saying of Jesus: 'He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.' What picture comes to mind when we think of Jesus ascending to heaven? Do we picture him going up into the stratosphere like a space ship at Cape Canaveral? If we do, we show that we don't realize that the words of scripture about this are not to be taken literally. They are a pictorial and poetic way of saying that Jesus is no longer on earth in a physical and material way. In his risen transformed body he has gone to God and lives with God in light and glory. They mean that God who raised him from the dead has honoured and exalted him.

His going to God is the climax of his life on earth. He now enjoys full face-to-face encounter with God. That’s what we call ‘being in heaven’. But being with God in heaven he became, in the words of our Psalm today, ‘great king over all the earth’, in close contact with our world and its inhabitants.

For forty days he kept appearing from God to different groups of his followers to strengthen their faith, trust and love. Since Easter Sunday we too have had forty days for thinking about all the different ways in which we still experience Jesus meeting and guiding us. Vatican II has emphasised this: ‘Christ is always present in the church [community], and especially in her liturgical celebrations’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #7). For the last forty days, then, we have in fact been giving particular attention to his presence in the liturgy and especially the Eucharist. There in special ways his love keeps radiating out to us.

We experience his presence and love in our being with one another, our fellow-followers of Jesus. We experience his presence and love in listening to and taking to heart the message of the Readings, in which he keeps speaking to us words from God. We experience his presence and love when we come to his table. There he gives us his body broken for us and his blood and life poured out for us. We experience his presence and love also in our priest leading us in prayer, and in our readers, ministers of communion, musicians, singers and altar servers, all servants of Christ in our shared celebrations. Finally, we experience his presence and love as we go back into the world from which we came - strengthened, refreshed, and more determined than ever to make our world a better place, by our loving outreach to all sorts of needy people.

As we keep on being ‘good news’ people, people who live what we hear and believe, Jesus our Risen Lord stays with us. In the words of the Gospel today, he stays with us ‘always ... to the end of time’. The forty days of his continuing presence to his first disciples are, in fact, a powerful symbol of the Christian journey of our lives as well. It’s a journey in which he walks and talks with us every step of the way, just as he walked and talked with those two friends travelling with him from Jerusalem to Emmaus that first Easter Sunday afternoon.

Today, however, we might rather forget about us and just look at him, and express our joy that at the end of his life’s journey, God raised Jesus to life and took him to himself in the eternal embrace of love that is ‘heaven’. Just like us, Jesus spent his life dreaming of this day. His whole being longed to see God face-to-face, and to enjoy without distraction the communion of love for which we are all created and for which at least deep down we are all yearning. So today we say ‘Hooray for Jesus!’ that he has reached his destination. His time of waiting and his time of suffering are over. Nothing now can ever come between the longings of his heart and the joy of their fulfillment in God.

So, in short, we rejoice that he remains forever in communion with God the Father and with you and me, his body on earth. Nothing, nothing at all, can stop the love of God that keeps beating in the great heart of Jesus.

Lastly, our celebration of his ascension reminds us to let ourselves experience the absence of Jesus as well as his presence. Like his first followers we are sad at his no longer being here with us in the flesh, where we might see him, hear him and touch him. But missing his physical presence reminds us that we are not meant to find our final home in this world. Our journey continues, a journey of both joy and suffering, as was his. Meanwhile, let him encourage us with his Last Supper words: ‘I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may also be’ (John 14:3)!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Year A: Ascension & 7th Sunday of Easter

Year A: Ascension

"Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you."

When I was growing up, there was a very great leader of the Catholic church in my country who seemed for me, as a small boy, to embody the entire personality of the Church. I won’t tell you his name but he was the then Cardinal Archbishop. In every way, he was a big man - 68 when I knew him. 6 foot 4 inches tall, broad and strong.

But the biggest thing about him was an enormous booming voice which filled every room he ever entered. And with this enormous voice, he pronounced absolute certainty on any issue you cared to mention. He knew exactly the right way forward for the Church, for the Country, for Society at large and indeed for anyone else he happened to be talking to at the time. To put it mildly, he did not immediately give the impression of a man who was much troubled by self-doubt. So, I was rather surprised when, a long time after his death, I came across his autobiography in which he said that there was once a time when he was not happy as a priest. He had come from a very wealthy background and he was sent to serve in a very poor parish. There he struggled as he discovered that he was in fact a little too accustomed to the comfortable things in life and a little too used to the company of his own upper class. To put it more simply, he saw in himself a soft-living snob and he didn’t like himself very much.

But one day he was sent to see a little old lady who had severe rheumatoid arthritis and was dying of cancer. She lived with her daughter in circumstances of great poverty. This was in the days before the NHS and adult social services. When he arrived, he found the place so smelly and dirty that he could not even bring himself to sit down. He said that even today the clearest memory was of the terrible smell of her leg ulcers that he couldn’t get rid of for months.

But there he met a truly holy woman. She was 92, had been bedridden for four years, was dying in obvious pain and distress and in fact she died that very night. He did not remember a word of what passed between them. All he remembered was that every motion, every gesture, every word that she uttered was filled with grace and serenity. He realised that he was in the presence of a Saint – someone who was close to God in every way.

And the only actual words he remembered from that encounter were not hers, but his own. As he left her room, he made himself a promise - that he would not give up on what he believed to be his vocation unless and until he could honestly say that he had suffered more for Christ than she had.

He has remembered that brief encounter throughout his life because it is a memory of how God can use us, wherever we are in life, to bring His love and healing into the lives of one another.

There is never a moment in the life of any true Catholic Christian when she or he is not obeying this final command of the Lord – to be a missionary of the Faith. That does not mean shouting what we believe at other people. Nor does it mean knocking on their doors uninvited and trying to force our beliefs upon them. It is those things that get Christian missionaries a bad name. What it means is showing in our lives what Christ has done for us. And offering to everyone who comes to us the peace and love of Christ, not just in our words, but in every gesture and every action. And let us hear for ourselves Jesus’ last words on earth:

"Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you."

And now let us stand and profess our Faith in the presence of God in our world.


Year A: 7th Sunday in Easter

"I am not in the world any longer,

but they are in the world,

and I am coming to you."

Jesus has gone and left us alone.

That is the message of the readings the Church gives us today. On Thursday we celebrated the feast of his Ascension. Today, we hear in the Acts of the Apostles how his followers leave the mount of Olives and go back into Jerusalem to hide themselves away in an upper room, huddled together for support and praying constantly, more in fear than in hope. They don’t know what is going to happen next. All they know is that Jesus has gone and - apparently – has left them abandoned and alone. We know that Pentecost is coming when the Holy Spirit will come upon them and fill them with the grace to go out and preach the Good News to all the world. But they don’t seem to know that. For them, Jesus - the light - has gone out of their lives. They feel entirely alone and helpless - threatened by an uncomprehending, uncaring and hostile world. Have you ever felt like that? I know I have.

As some of you may know, I only get to work as a priest at weekends; my superior still thinks I shouldn’t give up my day job as a doctor. And one of the occupational hazards of being a doctor is that from time to time, you are called upon in an emergency.

The worst time this ever happened to me was about twenty-five years ago. I was standing on a platform in the Heathrow airport underground station waiting for a train. I had just come back from America and I was horribly jet-lagged; I’d been up all night; it was 7am in London; my body thought it was two in the morning in New York and, more than anything else in the world, I just wanted desperately to go home, go to bed and go to sleep.

Just then, as I was waiting, a young, rather well-dressed man in front of me suddenly dropped –collapsed to the ground. So I went to look at him. He was unconscious; blue, not breathing, no pulse. It was obvious that he had a cardiac arrest - his heart had stopped. So I began to try to resuscitate him. You know, just like you’ve seen on "Casualty", with mouth to mouth breathing and chest compressions. Now, resuscitating someone is an awful lot easier if there are two of you doing it. So I looked around to see if anybody was going to give me a hand. I reckon there must have been two-to-three hundred people on that platform. And every single one of them had taken a sudden interest in the advertisements displayed on the other side of the tracks. Nobody wanted to know. Nobody wanted to help. So I carried on doing my best on my own. It is the most lonely I have ever felt.

Now, the golden rule of this sort of resuscitation is that no matter what - come hell or high water - you just have to keep on trying for at least twenty minutes before you give up. Within that twenty minutes the person has a chance. So you can’t give up on his chance. And in that twenty minutes, several trains came and went. And, because it was the rush hour, the trains were packed. So, hundreds, maybe thousands of people were walking up and down the platform. Not one of them stopped. Nobody that I saw even looked to see what was going on. Quite a lot of people stepped over him. One woman - I remember - even stepped on him.

After twenty minutes, he was still unconscious, he was still blue, he had no pulse; he was still not breathing; he was dead. There was nothing more I could do except wait for the ambulance and the Police to come and take him away.

And when the Police did come, they kept me for three hours and they gave me a really hard time. They asked me a lot of very detailed questions about what exactly had happened; where I had come from; what was I doing there; what I had seen; what I had done; had I given any medicine? Had anybody been with him? Had anybody been near him? Was there any possibility of foul play? Did I know who he was? Had I known him before? They seemed to know who he was but they didn’t want to tell me. And I explained as best I could. And eventually, they made me sign a statement, let me go and I went home and went to bed and went to sleep.

I got up just in time for the early evening news. And he was the first item on the news. And I found out who he was. I won’t tell you his name, but he was a well-known politician, a member of parliament and a member of the then shadow cabinet. If he was still alive, he would almost certainly now be a cabinet minister. Well, to be exact, he would have been a minister not in this government, but in the last. He was a rich and powerful man and he died lying down on the road with people walking over him.

Ever since then, I have often wondered what exactly must have gone through the minds of all those people who just walked past or walked over him. They can’t all have been bad people – if such a thing exists. I’ve worked in prisons and I’ve met plenty of people who have done bad things, but I’ve never met someone who I thought was a bad person. And I do not believe that anyone would consciously and deliberately refuse to help a dying man. The only explanation that I’ve ever been able to think of is that they just didn’t see him. When they noticed him, as they all must have done - he was right out in the middle of the platform; they couldn’t miss him. But when they noticed him, they didn’t see him; they only saw a problem, somebody else’s problem and a problem they didn’t want to get involved with.

For years after that, I was angry. I really didn’t want to be part of a society that treats people like that. And ever since it has been my image of what a truly secular society is – one that has completely lost respect both for God and for humanity.

And I think that is John the Baptist’s message to us. There are many ways in which our world is not worthy of the Presence of Christ. There are many ways that the world we have made falls short of God’s intention for our lives. And often we only see them by accident, when we are jolted out of the comfort zone – what Douglas Adams in ‘The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ calls the ‘Somebody Else’s Problem’ zone.

  • The reason that we are here today is that we think there’s something wrong with that.
  • We think human beings can be better than that.
  • We ourselves want somehow to be better than that.
  • We believe that, with the Spirit of Christ among us, we can be better than that.
  • We want to make our own the prayer of St Teresa which she is supposed to have written on the Feast of the Ascension:
  • Christ has no body now but ours.
  • No hands, no feet on earth but ours.
  • Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world.
  • Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
  • Christ has no body now on earth but ours.
  • As Jesus says to His Father,
  • "I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you."

Let us stand and profess our Faith in God, and in His presence in the world and in ourselves.

Paul O’Reilly, SJ <fatbaldnproud@opalityone.net>

 

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5.

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