Homilies for May 2014

For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for May 2014

Feast of the Ascension

3rd Sunday of Easter—May 4, 2014

Stay with Us.

Purpose: The Road to Emmaus is one of the most popular post-Resurrection stories and it offers    today’s world a hopeful image that even in our confusion and disillusionment, the Lord will appear when he knows we are ready to receive him fully.  Still basking in the beauty of the paschal light, this might be the right Sunday to ask how we deal with the long  journey of life when we feel the Lord is not accompanying us.  This Sunday’s homily could very well then explain (1) the gift of time in being recollected and given the ability  to see anew, (2) the Road to Emmaus as the place where many contemporary Catholics     find themselves—desirous of truth but wondering how to make sense of all that the Church proclaims, and (3) the gift of seeing Christ in places we never imagined,  especially “in the breaking of the bread.”

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33 ● 1 Pt 1:17-21 ● Lk 24:13-35

What a difference the gift of time can make in the lives of us creatures.  Last week Jesus’ followers locked themselves behind protective doors “for fear of the Jews”, but now that they have witnessed the resurrected Christ at work in the world, they are out in public asking a fellow pilgrim if he is “the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place”?  It seems from this account that there are times it is right that God keeps us from seeing fully and understanding completely.  Back in the 3rd century, Origen contended that Scripture is full of enigmatic statements and hidden truths because it is God’s way of inviting us to go deeper, to wrestle and finally to own something for ourselves.  How many of our parishioners can relate to a God whom they wish were louder, more directive, easier to understand?

Pope Francis used the story of Emmaus while in Brazil to address those many lapsed Catholics who have given up on the power of the Church to bring us Jesus.  To the Bishops of Brazil, our Holy Father stated:

They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day (Lk 24: 17-21). Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment. Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.  It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.

While this won’t be the group hearing our homily this Sunday, Francis’ words teach us that we must reach out to those who have been alienated from Christ’s Church.  For he is the only road that will lead to wholeness and salvation and we must therefore reclaim his Body’s message for the world.  To preach the truth in love and in a sincere, authentic way of life is the beginning of reclaiming souls for Jesus.

It seems that the Church is losing so many key battles in the world. Maybe the Lord will allow the government, special interest groups and factions hateful of the Gospel, to win for a while.  But while the light shines, should we not get more assiduously to work?  Should we not evaluate how our parishes are doing in not only providing for the intellectual and spiritual needs of our regular communicants, but how we are doing in reaching out to those who walk and drive by our doors without even a moment’s notice?  Do we supply our parishioners with the apologetics courses they need, with the hours of Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation that will strengthen their souls and equip their minds to answer the homosexual couple who ridicule the Church of their youth, the divorced and remarried who think the Church is judging them as unfit parishioners?

Today’s readings could be used to talk about our “walk” with Jesus, our walk between the supposed end of Calvary and the new beginnings inaugurated by Easter morning.  Both events are real but only one is eternal.  Both places exist in our heart but only one should have hold.  Are we and our people able to narrate the basic points of Christ’s life as the two on the Road to Emmaus do today?  Are we and our people solicitous and charitable enough to invite the stranger to “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening”?  Are we and our people holy enough to see Jesus in the “breaking of the bread”?  We are all looking for answers to life’s questions and today on the Road to Emmaus, the living Answer encounters and calls us.  He may not always be readily recognizable but if we remain, insist, and open ourselves up to how he wants to feed us, we will all be able to “recount what had taken place” and thus convert souls and change society.
Suggested Readings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: §517, 602, 1329, 1347


4th Sunday of Easter—May 11, 204

The Good Shepherd

Purpose: The Good Shepherd is a savior to whom most of us would not be initially attracted: they were sweaty and stinky men who spent most of their lives with sub-human animals. Yet they were men who literally laid their life down not just for the sheep entrusted to their care, but even for the society who depended on this way of life for their general well-being.  Today’s readings depict Christ loving us this way—yet, not only loving those naturally below him but even becoming one of them in his divine condescension.  his must then be the only power and the pattern of our own service and sacrifice. Today I would focus on (1) the image and meaning of the Good Shepherd, (2) stress the unity between Shepherd and sheep, and (3) introduce or re-introduce the good work of the     Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in our parishes.

Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 ● 1 Pt 2:20b-25 ● Jn 10:1-10

The image of the Good Shepherd is among the earliest in Christian art and iconography.  The first examples are patterned upon the much older Greek pagan kriophoros which depicts a concerned shepherd boy with a lamb draped carefully over his shoulders. In this image, the very image Christ uses to show us his care for us, we are invited to see how some have abandoned all pretense to superiority in order to become one with those (even animals) entrusted to their care.

Every society has a class of worker who is more than willing to take on the jobs others don’t want due to their own pride, out of fear of being marginalized, or eve simply because they are holding out for a more just wage.  These humble(d) folk surround our everyday existence and we can often pass by them without noticing or some special acknowledgement—the teen who just waited on us, the person who just cleared up after us, and so on.   Shepherds were part of the ignored working class of antiquity: outcasts who lived in the mountains, and so were always dirty and smelly, but who more importantly provided a service for all the people around them.  While David raised the profile of the shepherd boy for a time, the pasturing of sheep and goats was outlawed in the confines of Jerusalem—shepherds were thus forced to stick to the desert plains—and some Mishnah (Judaism’s oral tradition) refer to shepherds as bungling and not worthy of being drawn from a pit if they have fallen.

In using this image of the outcast, we see in the image of the shepherd the constant and incessant way our heavenly Father chooses to labor in the world.  He chooses the weak to make them strong (cf. 1 Cor 1:27).  Wasn’t it to shepherds the Good News of the world’s salvation was first announced?  The poor are ready to receive, unashamed to admit they cannot save themselves or be the source of their own felicity.  This is how the Kingdom of God appears in this world: always creating a new order in complete contrast to the world’s understanding of might and success.  This is why we are so slow to understand what God can be doing when we would approach a situation vastly different than he; this is why he is working out a true victory and not just a temporary solution.  Death will be overcome forever through Love, and this is why the Good Shepherd must lay down his life.  True love demands suffering, the taking on of the beloved’s condition, love demands total union—so the Shepherd becomes a sheep: Behold the Lamb of God!

This transformative movement of love is exactly what Pope Francis famously captured at last year’s Chrism Mass.  He reminded us clerics that we must mirror the Church’s life and never turn within, but always seek to be one with our people:

The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests – in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odor of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odor of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130328_messa-crismale.html). 

As Francis would put it, the Good Shepherd is never “self-referential”, but comes as one who longs to be wholly one with the sheep.  Jesus Christ is therefore both the kenotic God who takes on the opprobrium of being a lowly sheep herder (fully man), while also being the only shepherd who is able to defeat the powers that seek to destroy the flock (fully God).  How he does this, through patient suffering and supposed defeat, we in the world might not understand, but today we are to think about we are healed only through his wounds (cf. 1 Pt 2:24).

Finally, if your parish has the wonderful benefit of having the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, this would be an opportune time to make this beautiful way of teaching God’s little ones known.  The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (http://www.cgsusa.org/) was founded in Rome in the mid-1950s by the scripture scholar Sofia Cavalletti and her Montessori collaborator, Gianna Gobbi.  Approached by an insistent mother to educate her child in the Faith, Sofia initially demurred but eventually agreed to teach this 7 year old the story of salvation.  Sofia and Gianna developed an atrium wherein children would hear the bible story and then be offered the opportunity to appropriate and manifest the story through their own experience and through the atrium materials.  An atrium is truly a holy place, where the great Schoolmaster teaches his children through the careful tenderness of touch and word. One of the more popular presentations with the little ones is story of the Good Shepherd.  Upon the catechist’s proclaiming today’s Gospel, I have seen boys and girls run to get the Shepherd and set him up with careful devotion.  They then love to place him between his sheep and the menacing thieves whom they have placed just inches away; they then explained how these marauders are too scared of the Good Shepherd to come close to his little lambs.  It is so wonderful to see how the children instinctively intuit the importance of safety: how they see themselves in the innocent lambs, and how they see in Christ the source of their security.  If only our faith were so simple, so trusting.
Suggested Readings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: §715, 896, 1226; if the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is new to you, see Sofia Cavalleti’s The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy with Young Children



5th Sunday of Easter—May 18, 2014

Do Not Be Troubled

Readings: Acts 6:1-7 ● 1 Pt 2:4-9 ● Jn 14:1-12

The Church is not a building or a place; it is God’s people gathered together in perfect harmony.  The Church is the ecclesia—those people called (kaleo) out (ex) the world into God’s eternal family.  In the world, an edifice is built when men offer the best plans and   material they can furbish; in heaven the Church is, in one sense, paradoxically made up not of the best of things but the weakest of persons. Today, speak of (1) the meaning of the Church as God’s people, (2) as well as the great irony of God’s building even greater things with what has been rejected by the world.

When Vatican II insisted on understanding the Church as “The People of God” (Lumen Gentium, esp., ch. 2, §9-17), some took that as a dangerously “low ecclesiology” challenging the Church’s hierarchy and as an inevitable affront to the splendor of liturgy and any claims to transcendence. That fear was understandable (and unfortunately justified in many places).  I think of Avery Cardinal Dulles’ story about preaching in a New York parish and seeing a big banner in the back of Church proclaiming, “God is other people”—to which Cardinal Dulles wisely quipped, “Does anyone here have a felt comma?  God is other, people!”.  Yet in truth the Church is nothing other than the elect called out of the world into God’s own sanctity; in the end it won’t have to do with proper form and

Caryll Houselander, the English spiritual writer and mystic, defines the Church very simply as “Christ dwelling in men.”  Today’s readings depict the Church as being built not by brick and mortar but by the “living stones”, the saints whose cornerstone is Christ.  The “other-worldliness” of the Church’s nature strikes us from the beginning, as the first one mentioned is not a powerful CEO or an efficient task manager, but a martyr.  Stephen is held up as the first to understand wholly the ultimate demands of love and the shedding of blood.  As our world grows more hostile to the Church’s message and activity, more Stephens are needed and will be called out of the world.

Maybe today we could use this opening image to address Holy Orders and the priesthood (“the Twelve’) and the diaconate (“seven reputable men…appoint[ed] to the task”). At Franciscan University of Steubenville, the “Living Stones” is a discernment community of young men seeking God’s call (http://www.franciscan.edu/Households/LivingStones/) for their lives.  Yet lest we mistakenly keep our understanding of “vocation” narrowly relegated to just Holy Orders, we need to address all the baptized.  All of God’s people are called to see themselves as needed stones in God’s way of being present on earth.  We preachers have the distinct duty of getting all God’s people to see how he longs to live his life in and through them and how he has chosen to need them to say yes before he can redeem the world as he wills.

So, while not many can imitate Jesus in his greatness, we are all called to follow him in his littleness.  Peter therefore highlights how Christ was rejected by the world as a comfort to those of us who realize this world is not our true home, cannot provide ultimate meaning.  At baptism we too were rejected, as Christians there are now some activities and words and thoughts and images to which we should be “dead”.  Our scars and our disappointments, our wounds and perhaps even our sins thus become the interstices with which the pierced Christ builds up his Mystical Body on earth.  As he was rejected, we too should seek that rejection by the world—we do so when people at work know we are Catholics, we do so when we decline a particular plan of action because it is clearly immoral, we do that when we refuse to lash out in anger or malign another with whom we disagree.  In rejecting the world in this way, we offer ourselves up as those stones who compose Christ’s body.  His “other selves” who reflect his life and embody his love for the world.

Is this building up of a saintly people perhaps the “greater ones than these” we hear at the end of today’s Gospel?  Christ concludes the reading with a rather enigmatic statement: as perfect as his works have been, w will see even greater ones because he is going to the Father.  While on earth, how many people would Christ had able to see and talk with in the course of one day? If still on earth, how many people would realistically be able to meet Jesus and experience firsthand his love for them?  By ascending to the Father, Christ sends the Holy Spirit which unites Christians not only to their Father but to one another.  This is the Mystical Body and now there are billions of Christs, thousands upon thousands of languages are spoken, a myriad of people are cared for, fed, housed, and loved.  Here “greater” things occur than if Christ would have clung to remaining in Israel.  In Augustine’s turn of phrase, this is the totus Christus, the “whole Christ” where the Head refuses to be identified without his Body.  Herewith is our greatest dignity, to know that as cells make up a body, we are the stones that make up the “building” of Christ’s body.

Thomas Aquinas takes this approach in his rich (and woefully unread) Commentary on John when he writes:

What is remarkable is that he adds, and greater works than these will he do. We could say that in a certain sense our Lord does more things and greater things through his apostles than by himself. Among the miracles of Christ the greatest was when a sick person was healed by touching the fringe of his garment (Mt 9:20). But the sick were healed by the shadow of Peter, as we read in Acts (5:15). And it is greater to heal by one’s shadow than by the fringe of one’s garment. In another way, we could say that Christ did more by the words of his disciples than by his own. As Augustine says, our Lord is speaking here of works accomplished by words, when the fruit of these words was faith. We see in Matthew that a young man was not persuaded by Christ to sell his possessions and follow him, for when Christ said to the youth, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor,” we read that “he went away sorrowful” (Mt 19:21). Yet we read that at the preaching of Peter and the other apostles, people sold their possessions and all that they owned and brought the money and laid it at the feet of the apostles (Acts 4:34).

What tremendous dignity we have been given in being made collaborators in the world’s salvation.  Christ is not just our future destination, he is right now our way (Jn 14:6) and united with him we come to know, along with Philip, that we are made for the same Father.

We are adopted children through grace, other sons and daughters alongside the only-begotten Son.  Point out to your people today that we pray at Mass to the Father, and we do so because we gather “in the unity of the Holy Spirit” as the Son of God. This alone should be enough to wean us from our sins and enable us to allow God to love us and make us his own.  Here our lives should be so transformed that we really begin to believe that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of {God’s} own”.  This new life is so awesome and far-reaching, the Church gives us 50 days to make ever deeper sense of what it means to be a divinely-adopted child over whom death has no more claim and in who God himself dwells so as to accomplish great things on earth.
Suggested Readings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: §459, 470, 1330, 2842.



6th Sunday of Easter—May 25. 2014

We Are Never Alone

Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 ● 1 Pt 3:15-18 ● Jn 14:15-21

Purpose: One of the great secrets of Christianity is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We are the     new temples of God’s chosen people (1 Cor 3:16), we are the ones in whom God now literally dwells.  Because of this urgent need to tell contemporary society God is still with them and given the readings today, I will preach on (1) the communicative indwelling of   the Holy Spirit, (2) examples of Christian community over and against secular loneliness, and (3)the Eucharist as the actual place to get up and go to when feeling a greater need for personal intimacy.

In his now famed interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., Pope Francis responded on why he originally became a Jesuit in terms of community.  From his youth he always knew he was the kind of person that drew life from being around other people and he was not going to live his pontificate in seclusion away from others.  He therefore has chosen to live in an apartment in the Casa Santa Marta instead of the customary papal apartment in Vatican City’s Apostolic Palace:

And then a thing that is really important for me: community. I was always looking for a community. I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta… because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others.

Today’s readings provide the scriptural warrant for such a move.  The baptized are never alone and if we would just foster the kind of interiority the Church’s saints show us, we too would be more at ease with the Holy Spirit’s promptings within us.  I like this anecdote from Francis’ first day on the job because it shows that the Pope does in fact commune with God and is a man who is so in touch with the divine, he can abandon himself to the movements of the Holy Spirit within him.  All of us are offered the same intimate grace, the same new life in the Spirit.

Commenting on the Lord’s Prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that:

When we pray to the Father, we are in communion with him and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we know and recognize him with an ever new sense of wonder. The first phrase of the Our Father is a blessing of adoration before it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize him as “Father,” the true God. We give him thanks for having revealed his name to us, for the gift of believing in it, and for the indwelling of his Presence in us (CCC §2781).

This indwelling effects sanctifying grace within the souls of God’s sons and daughters.  This is the beginning of the beatified life and a foretaste of eternity.  We need not wait to get to heaven to commune personally and effectively with God (again, as we stressed last week, Christ is not only our home but our way as well). Or as the great Jesuit catechist, Fr. John Hardon, expressed this:

The immediate effect of the divine indwelling is sanctifying grace, which is the created result of the uncreated grace of God’s presence. Its effect on the person is an experience that spiritual writers compare to a foretaste of the beatific vision; the mind is able to understand something of the mystery of God and the will is enamored of his goodness beyond anything possible by the light of reason or the natural affective powers of humans (Fr. John Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary).

That is why Acts today stresses the concord and unity of the Christian life and why the Gospel emphasizes how God dwells and in fact remains in us if we only stay open to his presence.  This is a key theme on which to preach, the communal nature of Christianity.  Today so many people fight loneliness and the temptation to doubt whether they matter in the eyes of another or not. While loneliness is a perennial threat to every child of Adam, it seems that today’s fast-paced and very mobile societies have heightened each person’s sense of alienation and wondering where he or she belongs.  Reflecting on Mary’s pilgrimage in her loving Father’s plan, Caryll Houselander once wrote:

Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days, not the purposeful emptiness of the virginal heart and mind but a void, meaningless, unhappy condition.  Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears; and these sometimes further overlaid with exhausting pleasures which are an attempt, and always a futile attempt, to forget how pointless such people’s lives are.  Those who complain in these circumstances of the emptiness of their lives are usually afraid to allow space or silence or pause in their lives…  They have no sense of being related to any abiding beauty, to any indestructible life: they are afraid to be alone with their unrelated hearts (Reed of God).

Pope Francis refused to surround himself with diversion and any appearance of aloofness, so he sought out community and the riskiness of relationship.

Similarly, in her highly-recommended collection of writings, In the Footprints of Loneliness, the Servant of God Catherine DeHueck Doherty (d. 1985) saw this and wrote how:

Loneliness is a terrible thing, and we must do something about it.  It is here that tenderness, gentleness, and understanding helps us to live…  Gentleness and tenderness assuage loneliness and make it possible to disappear…Tenderness is the ability to be present, extending the warmth of my heart to your heart.

We will never be released from so much of our self-imposed alienation if we do not foster a spirit of presence and tenderness toward the other.  To do that we must turn off our cell phones and computers and foster intentional silence and tender attentiveness toward one another.

To show us that we would never be left orphans, on the night before he died God himself transferred his divine presence into otherwise normal appearing bread and wine.  The God made flesh knew he had to keep his flesh with us in order to be personally and visibly present to those who would come in the flesh after him.  For this Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist and this is primarily the way he keeps his promise never to abandon us.  The world might not understand this but we who are given the gift of faith see, hear and receive Christ here.  What a greater way to hear the Spirit of God than before the Son of God in the silence of a chapel or in the beauty of Eucharistic Adoration?  Foster these practices in your preaching this day, of making a visit and making time for weekly or monthly adoration.
Suggested Readings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: §687, 787-89, 2466.


Ascension of the Lord—May 29, 2014 {unless this Solemnity is transferred to Sunday}

Looking Backwards, So as to Live Above

Purpose: If Christ has truly ascended into heaven, so have Christians. We are no longer meant      only for this world but on this day have also been made heavenly beings, the children of God.  Today we can stress how the restless heart will never be content resting in creatures and that the discomforts of living in this world are not signs of failure but of   grace, reminders that we are made for heaven.

Readings: Acts 1:1-11 ● Eph 1:17-23 ● Mt 28:16-20

Some in the Church will today celebrate the Ascension today; others will celebrate on the coming Sunday. Either way, we begin with St. Luke’s opening of the Acts of the Apostles.  Addressed to Theophilus, a name meaning “Lover of God”, this work is thus given to all who constitute Christ’s body, intended as a record for all those who love the Lord.  At the onset, Luke begins by reporting how Christ ascended to the Father after a relatively lengthy discourse on reading the “signs of the times” and on our need to receive the Holy Spirit if we are going to be able to carry out our vocation to evangelize.  What is intriguing here is how the “power” of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, does not give us extra-human telepathic powers to know the future but something even better, the grace to become his witnesses throughout the whole of the earth.

Here, perhaps, we could get those at Mass to see how the spiritual life is one primarily of retrospection.  As C.S. Lewis suggests, “The doors of the spiritual life open only backwards”.  That is, we grow in holiness as we come to embrace more truly all that God has done for us.  We grow in our trust of God by seeing how God has never really abandoned us and to see how the Lord has been present in one way or another in every scene of our life up to this point.  The future is not something the Lord ever offers us: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  How do we examine our conscience in gratitude at the end of each day?  How do we see God’s blessings throughout our lives?  Do we take the time for daily reflection, perhaps for an annual retreat?  Could we ourselves use part of today’s homily to show our people how to examine their consciences? 

If so, perhaps we could take them through the 5 main points of the Examen as Ignatius of Loyola conceived of it.

  1. Settle into a comfortable place and recall how you are right now in the presence of a loving and providential God.
  2. Review the past 24 hours, giving thanks to God our Lord for all the many benefits received.
  3. Now ask for the Holy Spirit to descend into you, allowing you to see the actions that stand out to you from this day as the Holy Spirit sees them.  Ask for the grace to know your intentions and what it was you were trying to accomplish in those events that come back to you
  4. Review one or two of those scenes from the day.  Take the time to “walk around” what prevailing emotion or experience emerges that day.  Why am I feeling stressed?  Why did I act that way with that person with whom I am normally quite happy to see?  Why do I have this unexplained sense of joy or peace today?  And so on.
  5. End by simply talking to Jesus about what just happened and what you are facing the next day.  Offer him your stress or joy, your co-workers or families, whatever it was you spent time walking around just minutes before.  Ask him to bless and to consecrate these very real and very concrete circumstances of your everyday life.  Now simply pray for light come tomorrow.  Some like to pray over the next day’s calendar and meetings.  Ignatius then suggests one ends with an Our Father or Hail Mary.

In praying so, we come to foster the attitude of the Ascension, of realizing that this world is not our home.  When that occurs within our souls, we begin to see today’s celebration not as a doleful goodbye of our friend Jesus, but as a joy-filled acceptance of our Head’s taking us his Body up into heavenly realities even now.  Perhaps we could repeat the Collect during today’s homily:

…for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation
And, where the Head has gone before in glory,
 the Body is called to follow in hope.

We are thus bidden to pray in hope, in the hope that we are in fact now saints, the elect of God who will look back as we leave this earth one day realizing it was here we first and only lived in heaven.  From here we could expound accordingly on the virtue of hope as Paul expresses in his Epistle to the Ephesians as the virtue of the traveler forced to live day to day in a world of temporal uncertainty.  Hope affords those of us on pilgrimage the serene assurance that the destination has already been provided and now one must simply allow oneself to be led by the Spirit.

As we gaze upon our Head ascend, we realize how in Christ we are no longer merely terrestrial beings.  We constitute a body whose head is now in heaven and, therefore, we are no longer to think like mere mortals, to act like self-centered horrors, and to seek satisfaction in things that are ultimately dust.  Do we take the care needed to foster such a sense of heaven in our lives?  Do we insist on prayerful contemplation each day?  Do we carve out room for intentional silence each day so as to hear better the call of Christ from heaven?  Do we think of heavenly or earthly things, watch “heavenly” or “earthly” shows, visit internet sites worthy of eternity or not?  There is a real opportunity this day to get people to understand the trials and woes of this world not as places where they are failing necessarily, but as places where God is indeed calling them higher, calling them out of thinking they are to live for only 70 or 80 years, calling them out of self-loathing and internal division, out of their despair, loneliness and the temptation to think that this world is all there is.

Finally, the Gospel in Year A does not provide the definitive scene of Christ’s being “taken up to heaven”, but instead gives “The Great Commission” (as opposed to “The Limited Commission” only to the Israelites as in Matthew 10 and 15) to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…”  At the heart of Christianity are two very “un-PC” truths: first, there is only one name by whom we are saved, the Lord Jesus Christ, and, second, he has commanded us all to go out and convert all the nations unto him.  We Christians are hated precisely because of these two realities: we are exclusivizing in how we understand salvation and we are ordered to tell others.  Let this Great Commission begin in each of our hearts, in each of our parishes—to preach the truth in love and in the honor we owe every human person, whether we agree with him or her or not.  Every human heart has been created for Christ and some will come to him in ways planned and some will scurry into heaven at the last second in the most unexpected of ways.  While we are on earth, however, it is our primary task to live out the Christian vocation of sanctity and mission, to live lives that proclaim to all the beauty and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Suggested Readings from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: §572, 601, 652, 2177, 2625, 2763.


David Vincent Meconi, SJ About David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.


  1. Avatar Killian Ndonui says:

    I am so happy to follow these, edifying, nourishing and soul searching homilies Fr. I am a major Seminarian , currently in the second year of theology. i will like to contact you for more details or homiletics. Thanks Killian