Fr. Paul's Homily
Happy Mother’s Day to each mother here today. You deserve this day! Maybe you can relate to one Mom who wrote to Reader’s Digest. She says it had been a rotten morning. Her three kids were wired and driving her crazy. Counting to 10 wasn’t cutting it, so to release the pent-up frustration, she walked into her bedroom closet, shut the door and SCREEAAMMED at the top of her voice!
It worked. She felt much better. Ready to face the rest of the day, she opened the door and was greeted by three terrified faces.
“Mom,” said her five-year-old. “I told you there was a monster in that closet!” (2)
I’ll bet those three youngsters stayed away from that closet for a long, long time.
On this Mother’s Day, it is easy to reflect upon my own mother, Catherine, who died four years ago. My Mom raised nine children (some of you raised even more), and although she never went to a closet and screamed, she certainly knew the feeling. . Over the years my seven married siblings, all of whom had 2-4 children, would ask Mom, “How did you do it? How did you raise nine kids?”
My siblings, with their spouses, were overwhelmed raising their kids and they could not imagine handling nine kids. My Mom’s response was always kind of non-committal (“I just did it.” Or “I don’t know. You kids helped raise each other.”) At each stage of parenting, my mother would have said she got the help she needed, at the time.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. For Jesus, his public ministry is over and he is returning to the right hand of the heavenly Father. They have been given an overwhelming task for Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Raising nine kids seemed pretty overwhelming; being Jesus’ witness to the “ends of the earth” seemed even more overwhelming! Let’s talk about the Easter Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost feast days.
First, let us recall where we are in the journey: On Good Friday, Jesus died; Easter Sunday, Jesus rose; 40 days later Ascension, Jesus returned to heaven; Pentecost, 10 days after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the apostles. So we are sitting today, after the Ascension and before the sending of the Holy Spirit. What does that mean?
Jesus had been with the apostles for three years of ministry, and following the resurrection, they have experienced Jesus physically on numerous occasions. They have seen his wounds, even touching them. They have eaten meals with him and have heard him preach. He has given them a special commission to go and preach to all the nations! And just when he gives these heavy responsibilities, he leaves! He just leaves!! Scripture says that they witnessed him being taken up into heaven! The physical presence of Jesus has left them and all the security that goes with it. Now they are being called to be the presence of Christ in the world. His apostles are now being asked to BE his BODY on earth.
We love to have the physical presence of those whom we love. I remember one of the last times our family was together with our mother before she died. It was a family gathering in Kentucky and it was a last minute decision to take Mom with us. Although she communicated little during the three days together, she loved just having her family around her. She took delight in hearing our laughter and our stories, which often included her!! And we loved having her with us. Even though we no longer depended upon Mom for advice or to rescue us in our troubles, her presence was a source of great strength. And we always knew she was praying for us. We loved her physical presence.
It is not difficult to see why the Ascension would have been very hard for the Apostles. They had lost Jesus in the crucifixion, but this time it was different. Now, they knew that Jesus’ Ascension was not a tragedy but a positive for him and he had prepared them to go forth with a commission to spread his message to all they meet. But he was still leaving them and he his physical absence must have cut deep for the apostles.
With the Ascension, it was time for the Apostles to grow up! No longer, could they look to the physical Jesus to do the healing, the preaching, the confronting. No longer would the physical Jesus be there to protect and guide. Now they had to pick up the task. With the Ascension, the Apostles could no longer sit in the background, but had to step forward and allow Jesus to work through them. They had to grow up!
At what point in your life did you step out of the shadow of your parents, an older brother, a friend? When did you grow up? Perhaps it was when a parent passed away, or maybe when you got married. Maybe it was when your first child was born or maybe when you were challenged to definite what you believe.
With our faith, the Sacrament of Confirmation is when we symbolically and sacramentally grow up. For those who have been confirmed in the last 20 years, you probably remember the archbishop standing before you and asking questions of faith. They were the same questions that were asked of your parents and godparents when you were baptized as a child. But now at your Confirmation you were answering the questions: Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? “I do.” Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered, died and was buried, rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father? “I do.” Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting? “I do.”
For those who are my age or older, we were also given a small slap on the cheek by the Archbishop. Why? Because it symbolized our willingness to suffer for Christ and to be his soldier. Remember? We were being asked to givers and not simply receivers of faith. To grow up!
In a sense, the Ascension of Jesus was the call to adulthood for the apostles…to be soldiers for Christ.
The Ascension needs to be seen in connection with Pentecost when Jesus will send his Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Remember, Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost and the receiving of the Holy Spirit will transform the apostles, from timid and fearful followers to courageous proclaimers of Jesus death and resurrection. It will be the Holy Spirit who will enable them to fulfill their mission to preach the message of Jesus to all nations.
Have you ever thought, “I can’t do this?” But then you did it? Where did that strength come from? Did you ever think that maybe the Spirit of God enabled you?
Which brings us back to my mother raising nine kids. My mother was baptized as a baby and confirmed as a young girl. She received the sacrament of marriage at age 22 and had her first child 11 months later. During her years of marriage and parenthood, she carried the Holy Spirit within her! The Spirit gave her new strength, hope and courage.
So, if we find ourselves timid and fearful in living the Christian life, remember that we have received the Holy Spirit of God. We have been given the Gift, we just need to trust in this Gift of God, the Spirit. Trust that you are not alone; trust that the Spirit will give you the words to speak, the courage to act, the strength to persevere.
Next week is Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit, Come!