Fr. Paul's Homily
A few years ago I was playing golf with a gentleman from a previous parish. He was a few years older than me and had been remarried about 10 years. During the course of the golf game, he told me about his first wife and how she died from a brain tumor. I offered words of consolation to him in losing his first wife and his comment back to me was, “Father, it wasn’t all bad. During that last year that we had together, we became very close.” He truly felt that the illness, while it was devastating, had actually given a gift to his wife and himself. He was able to move on after her death and thus was able to begin a new life with his present wife.
I remember a conversation with one of my aunts about 20 years ago, when her husband had been deceased about 2 years. She said, “You know Paul, it does get easier over time. You don’t think it ever will, but it does.”
Today the apostles must let go of Jesus a second time in the Ascension. Let’s talk about letting go and starting over.
The Acts of the Apostles provides us with our first reading today. Written as the second book of St. Luke, he begins by recalling how his first book, the Gospel of Luke, “Dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up…” He continues, “Jesus presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Jesus encourages the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and await the coming of the Holy Spirit. St. Luke goes on to describe the Ascension, “When Jesus had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” The Acts of the Apostles will go on to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then the early years of the church, especially concerning the life, conversion and mission of St. Paul.
From the reading today we learn that the disciples had to let go of Jesus twice; once on Good Friday and once in the Ascension. Good Friday was devastating; although Jesus had predicted his death, the disciples were totally surprised and felt a horrible emptiness. Jesus was their foundation, their hope, their Savior, and he was gone. The disciples had to struggle with this tremendous loss until the resurrection.
There are people in this church who have gone through this experience of a sudden and devastating loss of someone you love deeply. Perhaps it was an auto accident that took your child from you; maybe it was an aggressive cancer that took the life of your loved one in a few weeks. Whatever the situation, we have gone through this painful loss that leaves us numb and wondering if we can continue on.
While the resurrection of Jesus came quickly, only three days, most of us have to wait much longer before we begin to sense resurrection in our lives. For some it might be months, for others it might be years. Resurrection is when we begin to sense a spark of new life in our souls. It is when we can begin to laugh again without feeling guilty. Resurrection is when we begin to sense that our loved one is still with us, but in a totally different way. Resurrection is when we can begin to look at the life of our loved one, and not just see the tragic death, but see the blessing of his/her life. Resurrection is what my aunt was referring to when she said, a couple years after her husband’s death, “Paul, it does get easier.”
We always live in hope of the resurrection.
But the disciples had to let go of Jesus the second time in the Ascension. He had been with them for 40 days, appearing to them; eating meals with them; explaining the Scriptures to them. They had heard him, touched him, seen him…and now he left again with the command to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost.
For Jesus, his final gift was not the resurrection, but Pentecost, the sending of his Holy Spirit to transform the world with faith and love. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that would guide the disciples for the rest of their lives, often leading them to martyrdom. Life in the Spirit was not a continuation of their old life with Jesus, it was a completely new life.
As Good Friday is always connected to Easter Sunday, so the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is always connected with Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit. A Letting-go, was followed by a Receiving.
Sometimes we have to “Let-go” before we can receive. In 2001, my brother lost his wife to cancer after a 12 year struggle. With three children between 16 and 9, his life was not easy. Yet, he was able to move on, beginning a new life with his present wife, five years later. A symbol of his moving forward was the collection of memories of his first wife in a corner, glass curio cabinet. Rather than having items of his wife’s memory spread throughout the house, in many rooms, he collected them in a way that honored her, while expressing a decision to move forward.
In a sense he had to allow her to ascend into heaven, letting go of her as he had known her, before he could begin anew. This need to allow someone or something to ascend is true in many areas of life.
In my early years of priesthood, the local Catholic high school had a principal who was severely handicapped from the waist down. His limitation was the result of a car accident that occurred when he was a young man. As principal of the high school, he had to ascend stairs every day, using the handrail and special crutches. It was very laborious, to say the least. What always amazed me about this man was, not just his persistence and physical upper body strength, it was his attitude. This man was a mature, capable man who lived his life fully with a true sense of joy and purpose. I picked up no sense of bitterness in him.
Some time in his life, this man had to let his former, healthy body ascend to God. He had to let-go of his anger and resentment, so that a new spirit could enter him. This new spirit would be able to find joy, meaning and love in his new life as a physically challenged individual. In a sense, he had to let his desire for a healthy body to ascend, so that he could receive the spirit of a new life, as a handicapped individual.
So, how do we receive this new spirit? We first let-go of whatever we are clinging to from our past; whatever is causing a sense of resentment or anger. Then we need to do what Jesus said when he called his disciples to wait for the sending of the Holy Spirit. We cannot demand this new spirit, but we can open our hearts and patiently wait for his coming.
Good Friday belongs with Easter Sunday. The Ascension belongs with Pentecost. We lose, and we receive. Let us all look into our lives and see what we need give to God and let it ascend to him. Then let us pray for the gift of the Spirit of new life that will fill us with joy, meaning and love