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Posted by on May 11, 2024

Transitions: Waiting, Praying, Growing

Transitions: Waiting, Praying, Growing

What can be done with a broken plate, or cup, or bowl? A beautiful keepsake crashes to the floor and is, as the saying goes, smashed to smithereens! An everyday cup slips out of a child’s hands and meets the same fate. Things break, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes they can be mended. Sometimes they can’t. And sometimes they can be reused rather than being sent to the trash heap.

In our own lives, we also experience times of transition. Something exciting and wonderful comes to an end and we mourn its passing. Something difficult begins to improve and we rejoice, hoping the improvement will continue. Sometimes it’s a bit of both and the something new is born slowly and quietly. Sometimes there’s a sudden change and that also requires time for adjustment.

In these times of transition, when broken pieces wait for realignment and transformation into something beautiful again, we don’t always know what to do. These are times for waiting, praying, and growing into newer, deeper, more human persons.

After the Resurrection, the disciples were visited many times by the Risen Lord. They came to believe that he had indeed risen from the dead. Many still thought he might now lead armies in battle to “restore the kingdom to Israel.”

The last time Jesus met with his friends, he instructed them to remain in Jerusalem and wait “for the promise of the Father” of which both he and his cousin John had spoken, the baptism with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1-11)

Baptism is a word that means to plunge into something. Baptism with water involves having water poured over the person being baptized or their being submerged into water. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a physical thing. In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop anoints the person with chrism and lays hands on the person’s head, while together we pray with him for the Holy Spirit to enter into their hearts in a new and deeper, transformative way. Not everyone experiences a sense of something being different in their lives after Confirmation, but there is a difference and some do notice it. Sometimes, the difference is dramatic. In the early Church and at various times in the following centuries, the coming of the Spirit has been seen in the community with signs and wonders – speaking in tongues, prophesy, healings, and other wonderful things.

At any rate, whether with dramatic signs or simply with a quiet sense of peace, Jesus promised the disciples would be baptized, plunged into, the life of the Holy Spirit. How that would happen or what it would mean was not explained before he was taken up and away from their sight. Two men, dressed in white, reminded them that they were to return to Jerusalem to wait and pray for the fulfillment of the promise. And so they did. The men also promised that Jesus would return one day. How or when this would happen was for the Father alone to know, he assured them.

St. Mark also spoke of Jesus’ final words before being taken up into heaven. He told them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel, the good news, to every creature.” Signs and wonders would accompany their preaching. We can get very literal in understanding the words in the Gospel, but I suggest it’s important to seek understanding in terms of what we have learned in two thousand years about humans and our interactions with each other. People would be healed, new words and ways of speaking would be used, dangerous things would not hurt them. All would see the goodness of God in their lives and actions. (Mk 16:15-20)

St. Paul instructed the community at Ephesus regarding the gift of living their lives as Christians, followers of the Lord. The eyes of their hearts will be opened to see and understand the great hope and power of the inheritance they have received through the Holy Spirit’s anointing. They are to live with humility, gentleness, patience, preserving the unity of the community with peace. They are one body and share in the one Spirit, received through their baptism. Some are to go out publicly and teach and preach. Others will live more quietly in their communities, doing the regular things expected of those with their calling – parents, homemakers, tradesmen, teachers, healers, software engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, astronauts, poets, musicians, and so many, many more vocations that have opened through the centuries. (Two reading options – Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13)

We are all called to be preachers of the Good News. We are not all called to do it on the street corners or pulpits of our communities. We do it in the everyday way we live our lives. Forgiving when we have been hurt. Helping those to heal who have been wounded, whether physically or emotionally. Finding ways to make living as Christians fun for our families, and preparing each member to be able to hold on to the hope and joy of the Good News while dealing with the opposition they will meet outside the community.

As a community, we are like a great big mosaic that is being created by our Father. He takes each of the broken pieces of our lives, places each in a very specific place in the design he envisions, and creates something beautiful and unexpected. Meanwhile, we wait, pray, and grow, becoming the pieces he needs for the mosaic.

As we wait and pray this week for the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives once again at Pentecost, may we have the courage to request the grace of being open to the ways the Father will shape and mold us into the pieces he needs for his mosaic. It may take a bit of sanding, nipping off a corner here or there, or being turned around or upside down several times, but eventually, we will fit into the picture just the way we need to fit.

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle B


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Posted by on May 21, 2023

Transition Times – Ascension

Transition Times – Ascension

A consistent rule in life and time is the reality that things change. Transitions invariably occur. People are born. People grow up. People die. Even mountains, valleys, continents, planets, and solar systems change over time.

As humans, we typically use words to describe the variety of stages in which each part of creation is found at any given moment. The development of awareness of self and other is a huge part of growth for infants. When the first smiles come, when the first smile at the baby in the mirror appears, when awareness of strangers pops up, when the first “Mama” or “Dada” is voiced – all are moments of joy for parents and family to witness. Each milestone is a transition on the way to full sharing in the human experience. Each of us has passed through these transitions and more. We rejoice in witnessing and celebrating them.

For Jesus and the disciples, transitions were also characteristic events in life. Jesus went a step farther in the transitions of his life. He rose from death to new life. And he came back to bring the news to his friends… Death is not the end of life. Death is a transition. The Son has returned to the Father. His sisters and brothers will share in this transition too, returning to the Father.

But did the story end there? The Savior has come, died, risen, and appears among us once in a while and that is the end of the story? No, not by a long shot. God had other plans.

Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection were just the beginning. Now it was time to share this Good News of reconciliation between humanity and Creator. Time to let even more people know how loved they are and how gifted they are to share in God’s life (a.k.a. grace). God had not yet finished the project. And God needed/wanted more folks to share in it.

This is what we celebrate with the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus has come, shared the Good News with his friends, died, and risen. He has met with them again and explained more of what has happened. They are beginning to get a sense of the wonder and reality of it. But they are still afraid to say much about it. Who would ever believe it? They know what happens to prophets.

Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus met his friends again on a mountain top – the traditional place of encounter with God. He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Spirit who would come from the Father. They would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (To be baptized means to be plunged into something and emerge transformed.) Through this baptism, they would receive power to become witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then branching out to Judea and Samaria and ultimately “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:1-11)

A transition. No longer silent, fearful witnesses. Now they are to become bold witnesses, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation who know God personally. The eyes of their hearts will be enlightened and hope based on being part of those called to new life will fill their lives. They will share what they have seen. (Eph 1:17-23)

But on this day, Jesus had been taken from their sight. Two men dressed in white appeared and reassured them that he would return in the same way one day. That’s all they knew.

They returned to Jerusalem as instructed, to wait for his return. Down through the centuries even to our days, Jesus has not yet returned in glory on the clouds in judgement over all the earth. (God’s time is very different than human time.)  Nevertheless, in Jerusalem those many years ago, something very important was about to happen. The Holy Spirit was coming. It was time to wait and pray. Whenever the Spirit comes upon humans, amazing things happen. But the disciples didn’t know that yet.

This week we wait with them. We pray for the coming of the Spirit in our lives and times as well.

Sometimes folks have been told that the Spirit doesn’t come upon people today in the same way. “Don’t expect anything special to happen in your life with God today.” But that is not actually true. The Spirit is still active. The Spirit still guides the Church, the People of God. The Spirit still is teaching us better ways to love and serve each other as faithful children of God, sisters and brothers of the Lord. Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. Transition times are here once more. Wondrous things are afoot!

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle A

Image is from the Rabbula Gospels, a Syriac manuscript completed in 586 at Monastery of St. John of Zagba.

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Posted by on May 29, 2022

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, another milestone event occurred – he ascended to his Father, to heaven. We celebrate this event today – the Solemnity of the Ascension.

Historically, the Ascension occurred on the 40th day after the Resurrection. That would have been a Thursday. Until recently, it was celebrated on a Thursday, Ascension Thursday! It was a holy day of obligation (when everybody was supposed to attend Mass) and we had a school holiday to celebrate it. However, our modern way of life and secular society model in the United States didn’t recognize this religious feast as a reason to cancel ordinary activities, so relatively few people were easily able to gather for Mass. The decision was made to move the feast to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the one just before Pentecost. This is where we have arrived this weekend.

Two of our readings this day tell the story of the Ascension. We begin with the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, written in around 75 A.D. “In the first book, Theophilus …” St. Luke addressed both of his account of the life of Jesus and that of the early church to Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “God’s friend.” It is equally important to remember that as we are God’s friends, it is also addressed to us.

A time period of 40 days, weeks, months, or years is also important in the Bible. Many things happened in 40 days or years, including the great flood during Noah’s time, the 40 years of traveling in the desert between Egypt and Palestine after the Exodus, the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting in the desert between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. This is a time of preparation for something that will be different, something better and long promised or awaited. Something new.

Jesus appeared many times to his friends during the 40 days following the Resurrection. He simply appeared in their midst. He didn’t come and go, knocking on doors and waiting for someone to let him in. The door was locked, but he was suddenly there among them. Then, just as suddenly, he was gone. They met him in the garden. They met him on the road to Emmaus. He joined them in the locked upper room where he had eaten that last supper with them. They met him at the seashore in Galilee.

The last time they met, he told them to remain together in Jerusalem and wait for the “promise of the Father” when they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (The word baptize means to be plunged into something.) Clueless as ever, the disciples asked Jesus when he planned to restore the kingdom to Israel. When would Israel again become an independent and mighty world power?

Jesus sidestepped the question of restoration of an earthly kingdom and spoke of the more important kingdom, that of the Father. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons…” The promise for which they are to wait is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them to become Jesus’ witnesses in all the land, even to “the ends of the earth.”

Once again, Jesus is taken from their sight after these words. This time, he is lifted up and a cloud “took him from their sight.” Many images show him standing on a cloud as if on an elevator arising into the sky. The text doesn’t tell us how it happened. Just that it happened. Two men dressed in white clothing appeared among them and promised that Jesus would one day return in the same way they had seen him leave. These words have been the basis for other images of the Second Coming which depict a victorious Jesus returning to Earth for a final judgement. They also led the early Christian communities to expect a relatively rapid return of Jesus and the end of days. After all, he had been coming and going a lot during the preceding 40 days!

St. Luke’s Gospel (24:46-53) tells of the same event, in a more compact manner. Luke tells us that after Jesus had blessed his friends and been taken up to heaven, they “did him homage” and then returned rejoicing to Jerusalem. There they spent their days in the temple praising God.

Two options are offered for the second reading on the Feast of the Ascension. Each is lovely in and of itself. Parishes have a choice which to include in the day’s liturgy. Here a few thoughts about each.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:17-23) is a lovely prayer of blessing that comes at the beginning of a letter which very well might have been written for sharing with several of the early Christian communities founded by Paul. According to tradition, it was written while he was a prisoner in Rome.

Paul asks that God give the many gifts of the Spirit to Christians who receive these greetings he is sending. “A Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” He asks that our eyes be enlightened to see and hope in the great riches of glory offered and promised to those who believe.

This is a beautiful statement of the wonders of God’s identity and promise of blessing in and through our lives of faith. All is possible because of the great might he worked in Christ, raising him from death and placing him as head over all of creation. Christ is the head and his body is the church – all of us in the community of Christians.

What an amazing vision and blessing for all of us!

The second possible reading is from the letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28, 10:19-23). In this reading the focus is on Jesus’ role as the high priest who offered the sacrifice that could bring final reconciliation and healing of the rift between God and all humanity. This sacrifice does not ever have to be re-done. It was a one-and-done event, unlike the annual sacrifice offered by the high priest once each year at the temple in Jerusalem.

No matter how badly we mess up, no one has to be sacrificed again to reconcile us with God. All we need to do is turn back to God in confidence that his love and forgiveness are unchanging. God’s promise is trustworthy.

Also an amazing blessing.

We know that the Second Coming didn’t happen right away. But the coming of the Holy Spirit did. Ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with a sound like a mighty wind and tongues as of fire. Their hearts and minds were fired with the experience of the Spirit of God, the Holy Breath of God. And a new act in salvation history began. The public witness and sharing of the Good News of Salvation burst onto the world scene, beginning in Jerusalem

Today, however, we celebrate the promise. We anticipate the mystery to come. We recognize the puzzlement of the disciples, who really had no clue what was happening or why. We rejoice in the promise and blessing of the Holy Spirit living among us and of the great honor and gift of being part of Christ’s body.

So, how to celebrate? This is an important feast. Important enough for it to be moved from its usual spot to a Sunday, so we can take time to enjoy it.

Food traditions can be fun. Some ideas I’ve come across are in our Theologika website here:

I like to make orange meringue pie. Just use a regular lemon meringue pie recipe, but substitute orange juice. It doesn’t need quite as much sugar as a lemon one does and has a lovely flavor. I might just do that this year!

What will you do?

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to celebrate this day. Pray today and during the coming week for the Holy Spirit to come into your life in a special way as well. This is a time to open our hearts ever more deeply to receive Love. And next week, set aside time for Pentecost… Amazing things can happen!

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