May 29, 2022: Homily – Ascension of the Lord

One shortcoming that I’m still battling with is waiting. As a child, I couldn’t stand to wait and I’m still not good at it .  I hated waiting for Christmas to arrive.  Why is Advent SO long?  I hated waiting for the Easter to come.  Why is Lent SO long?  I hated waiting for any feast or anniversary that I loved to celebrate, my birthday, my priestly anniversary and what have you.  Waiting always drove me crazy.

Today, as we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, we enter into a kind of waiting period.  At least that’s what it appears it was like for the disciples of Jesus.  Jesus knowing of his imminent departure back to his Father in heaven chooses to tell his followers a few final things – give them a last-minute pep talk, so-to-speak.  He tells them that he now expects them to be his witnesses, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all the nations.  And in case they are wondering HOW this is to happen, he says,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, . . .”

I often wonder why Jesus needed to tell them this, why he couldn’t have simply told them to preach the Good News and leave it at that.  Why did they have to KNOW that the Spirit was coming?  Was it simply to calm their fears?  After all – Jesus was “leaving”, and he knew that the disciples would have to have courage to carry out what he was asking of them.  So is that it?  Was it just to help them not be afraid?

I guess we’ll never know with certainty.  Anything we say about the mind of God is nothing more than an educated guess.  But if I had to venture one, I’d guess that he told them the Spirit was coming so that they would be ready to receive the Spirit, so that they would be open to the Spirit, so that they would be transformed by the Spirit.

In other words, anticipating the arrival of the Spirit would actually help the Spirit become more fully alive within each of their hearts.  Without this knowledge they may have felt that they had to do everything on their own, through their own efforts, without God’s direct help.

Sometimes theologians disagree as to whether or not we can resist God’s grace, that is, his very life that he wishes to share with us.  And that might be a conversation that is WAY too deep for a Sunday homily.  Yet, one thing seems clear, whether or not God CAN or CAN’T get us to say “yes” to him – he seems to never want to force himself upon us.  The choice always seems to be ours.  Whether our hearts are open or closed, willing or unwilling, tender or hardened, open to change or rigid as can be, is something  each of us gets to decide.  Each of us has a role to play, we have a job to do.

And so, many of the best things from God, many of the blessings and gifts and graces, can be in a sense diminished because of our own stubbornness or self-centeredness or spiritual laziness or simple put, lack of faith.  And this is not because God’s power is weak, but because we are at times, caught up in our own needs and desires, deaf to and disinterested in a God who only wants the best for us and for the world.

And so by telling his disciples that the Spirit is coming, Jesus is making sure that they are ready – ready to be filled with the very life of God, filled with God’s Spirit who will give them every good thing they need to continue his sacred work.  They just need to wait.  They just need to be ready.  They just need to be open.  They just need to be willing to be changed from within.  And then, there is no stopping the love they will be able to display and pour out upon every person in every corner of the world.

And so my dear friends in Christ, what exactly are we waiting for?  Are we waiting for God to change things around us?  Are we waiting for God to get others to “get their act together”?  Are we waiting for God to get us a better a job, or more friends, or get our children to be more obedient or considerate?  Are we waiting for God to get our parents to stop nagging us, or our spouses to appreciate us, or our bosses to quit criticizing us?  Are we waiting for God to provide us with a better house, or neighborhood, or lifestyle, or better gun laws, to bring an end to this massacre.

In other words, are we ultimately waiting for God to do something FOR us, or are we waiting for God to do something IN us and THROUGH us?

I believe it makes a difference.  A big difference.  You see, if we allow God to change us on the inside, these other external things – things we spend so much effort on – won’t matter quite as much.  Not that we shouldn’t try to improve things in our life that need some improving.

We should.  But when God is alive and well and at work WITHIN us, these other things will not get the best of us, won’t determine whether our life is good or bad, meaningful or pointless, joyful or complete drudgery and despair.  Our struggles and disappointments will not win.

My dear friends, what are we waiting for?  (Or worse yet, are we even waiting for anything or anyone?)  Do we believe that we can still be the beautiful, loving people God created us to be – full of hope and peace and kindness and joy and mercy – no matter what paths our lives have taken?

God wanted to do some wonderful things in the hearts and minds of his disciples.  The Spirit would make it possible.  They  just had to be willing to wait, be ready, and be open.  Thank God they were.  And he wants the same for us.  Will we choose the same?

Father Boat

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