Monday, 14 May 2012

Ascension of the Lord - Year B

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20

The Ascension of Jesus inaugurates the time of the Church which carries on his mission. What is your relationship to the Catholic Church?

Some people seem angry about being Catholic. I used to be like that as a child and think how lucky non-Catholics were because they didn’t have to go to Mass and do all the things we had to do. Of course, when you think like that living the Catholic life is always a chore.

Some people seem quite happy to be Catholic so long as it doesn’t interfere too much with their own lifestyle. Like a friend of mine who became a Jew but it didn't seem to make much difference in her life. She told me, 'We shouldn’t take it all too seriously.'

My dad used to look up from his reading sometimes and say “I’m so glad I’m a Catholic!” For him it was one of God’s greatest gifts. And he took it personally. He was glad his children accepted the Catholic faith but in the first place he was glad for himself; he loved being a member of the Catholic Church.

What about you? Are you glad? And how glad are you about being a Catholic?

Some people say 'All churches are the same and it doesn’t matter which one you belong to.' But this is obviously not so. There are huge differences and contradictions between religions, not to mention the other Christian denominations and the Catholic Church.

You might say to these people 'Well, if there’s no difference, why don’t you become a Catholic then?'

Jesus founded only one Church to whom he gave the gospel, one truth, under the one authority of the Apostles and their successors. I believe that Church to be the Catholic Church. That’s why I belong to it!

It’s not that it’s a nicer Church, or a bigger Church, or a more orderly Church - it’s that it is the one, true Church. That’s the only reason I belong to it because, in many ways, it’s one of the hardest things to be a good Catholic.

St Bernadette of Lourdes was once asked what she feared most and she replied 'Bad Catholics'.

And that’s another thing my dad told me: Lots of people can’t make up their mind about the Catholic Church. They can’t let go of it but they can’t practise it either. How sad! They hobble along, always feeling a nagging guilt about not living the faith and at the same time not being able to turn their back on it.

Well, I am blessed to be able to say that I am one of the many Catholics who believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches and who do their best to live up to it, despite occasional failures.

Some people say 'I believe all of it except this bit and that bit .. '

This amazes me. If the Catholic Church can be wrong about this bit or that bit why shouldn’t she be wrong about all the bits?

No, faith in the Church is a package deal and until you accept, with all your heart and mind, the entire package, your faith will always be a burden to you, a source of discomfort and unease.

We must believe all the teaching, the whole package, especially the difficult and challenging bits - euthanasia, confession, missing Mass, Real Presence, abortion, women priests, homosexuality, and so on.

If I thought the Church was wrong about women priests or homosexuality or condoms or mortal sin I’d leave, quick as a flash. But thank God I believe it all. For me the Catholic Church is the living voice of Jesus Christ in the world today.

Jesus taught many things while he walked among us and then ascended into heaven, leaving us in the hands of his Church. Does that mean that he had nothing further to teach succeeding generations? Not at all!

I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now(Jn 16:12).

He gave that task, through the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to his Church. That is the part of the Church we call the teaching Magisterium. When the Church says no to contraception it is Christ himself speaking and that’s why I say, the Church is the living voice of Jesus Christ.

Do you believe that? If it is not Jesus speaking through his Church why would we want to be members of that Church?

Once at a healing Mass in another place we came to the moment of saying the Creed together. I invited, or maybe more exactly, challenged the people 'If you don’t believe these words, don’t say them.' One man was very moved. He came to speak with me later and admitted, maybe for the first time in many years, that he did believe but that he hadn’t really been living his faith very well.

The fullness of truth which Jesus gave his very life to bring to the world now resides only in the Catholic Church. Other denominations have lots of that truth but not all of it – and some even oppose and deny some of the truths they once believed.

A priest friend of mine put it very neatly one day when a pastor of another denomination was telling him all about the teachings of his particular communion. My friend replied 'What you say is full of truth … it’s just that there’s not enough of it.'

So let me ask you again. Do you rejoice that you are a Catholic? The Church is the Bride of Christ and a bride deserves to be loved. So maybe I should be asking 'Do you love the Church?'

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