I understand that one of the many casualties of the Coronavirus is that our beloved graduates don’t get a graduation ceremony. They are deprived of some VIP and the valedictorian give commencement addresses. In their place I offer them Our Lord and Savior. Today’s gospel account was our Lord’s commencement address to the Apostles who were the first graduates of the messianic school of divinity. His words are quite simple and to the point. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Traditionally, the feast of the Ascension reminds us of the humanity that Jesus brings to heaven, kind of like Neil Armstrong on the moon, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But there is more to this feast than the Apostles marveling about what Jesus did. It isn’t about the followers of Christ waiting around till we have our chance to join Him in heaven. The point of this commencement address is about their mission and how He will be with them. Simply put, they and their followers, us, are to share the faith. Our faith teaches that God Almighty in His Omniscience has placed us, with our particular gifts and talents for this time, space and people. He has freely chosen us for this task to do the right thing, that which is in accord with truth, justice & charity. In so doing we become a sign of hope for the world.
No doubt that we often feel inadequate, unfamiliar or even afraid. Next Sunday we celebrate how the Holy Spirit ignited the conflagration of Christianity in the world. We particularly celebrate how that same Divine Force bestowed the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Counsel. Through our Baptism and Confirmation we have our own personal Pentecost. We too receive these gifts for the divine mission.
After the Ascension of Our Lord the Apostles head to Jerusalem to pray and wait as Jesus instructed. But after Pentecost, they don’t remain there. After our full initiation into the faith by Confirmation & Holy Communion, we mustn’t stagnate. It’s contradictory to the Christian life. At the end of each and every Mass we are reminded of this mission, Ite misa est. Not merely, “Go forth the Mass is ended”, or “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or even, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” It is rather ‘Go y’all, it is sent.’ That is, the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus and His Father is at the lead. We merely follow His prompting.
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism…. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in …” (Pope Francis, Evangelium Gaudium, #85)
We are assured of victory. Jesus gives us the end of the story. Meanwhile before that triumphant moment, we are called and equipped to do our part for Our King Who wishes to expand His Kingdom on earth in the hearts and minds of mankind. Sister Janet Erskine Stuart says, “If you look to Sacred History, Church History, and even to your own experience … you will see that God’s work is never done in the ideal conditions, never as we should have imagined or chosen.” (Legion of Mary Handbook, #24, p. 301) I.e. Our human estimate of poor conditions or lack of talent is not an obstacle for God. In fact we hear Our Lord tell St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9) No excuses! Our limitations are not obstacles. Rather they are required for success. It is how God works. He takes great pleasure in adding His Divine Grace to our human nature. So we have to do our part to cooperate.
How many today succumb to fear, complacency or false ideas about all religions being equal? Do we not believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life? We broadcast this loudly when our lives conform to the truth of His teachings. When we put our lives on His path of the moral way of life, we teach better than any talented or cleaver defense of the faith. This also gives us the courage to teach boldly. I wonder whether the popular compromise of our convictions has more do with the compromise of our life-style.
You know the lines of the ostensibly Catholic politician, ‘I’m personally opposed to abortion, but in a pluralistic society we don’t have the right to impose our beliefs on anybody. So, whatever the people want is what we have to accept.’ We wouldn’t accept a leader say that regarding racism, hunger, ignorance or injustice. The personally opposed argument is faithless and cowardly. This is blasphemy for one who has the Holy Spirit’s gifts of Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord.
Before time began, God chose to place us here in this time and space, with these people and with these problems. We may not feel expert or up to the task, but that’s okay, neither did Moses. He told God that he didn’t know how to speak publically, or Jeremiah. He told the Lord that he was too young, or Peter. He told Jesus to leave him for he was a sinner, or even the Blessed Virgin Mary. She said to the archangel that she was a mere virgin.
The Lord’s Ascension challenges us to assent to our Lord’s command to share the faith and trust in His promise that He is with us until the end of the age. As we go forth each day and take on the task at hand in our lives with fidelity and love, we become a sign of hope in a desperate world.