Friday, 22 May 2009

The Ascension of the Lord - Year B

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

In the readings for today’s Mass we become aware of a basic opposition – the hesitation, uncertainty, and even the sheer ignorance of the disciples of Jesus versus the confident, powerful, irresistible plan of God in the world.

And I am not speaking only about the hesitation, uncertainty, and ignorance of the disciples 2000 years ago but also of the disciples of today – as well as the confident, powerful, irresistible plan of God that is unfolding in the world of our own time.

Perhaps the image which most clearly illustrates this opposition is the image of the disciples standing round, mouths open, eyes wide as Jesus their Master ascends slowly and surely into heaven.

Our uncertainty - God’s power.

And then the angel comes and says: Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky .. (with your mouths hanging open)?

When Jesus announces to them that he is to be taken from them they give further proof of their ignorance by asking: Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

What a dumb question! After all this time - what a dumb question!

And look at Jesus’ wonderfully patient response. He does not chide them - he merely says there are some things that are not for them to know.

These men had been with the Lord for three years and still they thought he had come to get the Romans out of their hair. That is what they had been told by the popular press. That is what people thought! But that is not what Jesus came to do.

And we here in Australia, in this parish in the year 2009 have to be careful we don’t make the same mistake. We, too, can have a false idea of what the mission of Christ among us really is.

We have our funny human ideas about what the Church should be and what she should be doing – and we set about reshaping what Christ gave his Body and Blood to establish.

That group of disciples looking up to heaven is truly an image of where we so often find ourselves in our own lives and in the experience of ourselves as Church; we come to an intersection in our lives, a moment of loss, a moment of renewal and decision.

And we need to remember the words of the Master - he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, in other words, don’t set out on your own - don’t follow your own human ideas, don’t start building what is not yours to build - but wait for what the Father has promised – the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In the situation of the Church today, a Church struggling to remain faithful to the identity Christ has given her, we need to heed these words again.

Pope John Paull II cautioned us many years ago, before we do anything (and he specifically mentioned before we make a diocesan pastoral plan), to wait in Jerusalem, so to speak - to contemplate, the face of Christ.

How many dioceses have done this? How many were wise enough and patient enough to heed his words? How many were ready to let the Lord call the shots and reveal them to all through patient prayer? All too many launched into the deep with empty fuel tanks.

And so our plans to cope with the crisis facing the Church today is a human plan, our answer, our ideas and not the plan of God. The best some dioceses have managed to do is to set about preparing for priestless parishes while John Paul II, aware of our ignorance, specifically warned us not to do that. He said: it would be … a fatal mistake … and in spite of all good will, would be seriously harmful for the Ecclesial Community. He knew that if we prepared for priestless parishes we'd get them.

We are all dumb – and God isn’t – and neither was John Paul II nor our present Pope, Benedict XVI.

We must learn the lesson of the Ascension. We must learn it as a Universal Church, as a diocese, as a parish, and as individual parishioners. I personally believe that it is essential that in this particular moment of history, all serious disciples must 'return to Jerusalem' - to basics, to listening to God – and to waiting patiently for his word, his voice, his instructions, his power, his Holy Spirit.

When will we learn?

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