May 16, 2021 — The Ascension of the Lord
ACTS 1: 1-11; PS 47: 2-3, 6-9; EPH 1: 17-23; MK 16: 15-20
During this Easter season many of our First Readings have come from the Acts of the Apostles. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday which culminates the Easter season for the Church. Scholars generally agree that the Acts of the Apostles was also written by St. Luke. Today’s reading from Acts certainly gives an indication of that. It is clear that Acts is written to someone named Theophilus as it opens with “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up.”
The Book of Luke opens by also stating that it is being written to Theophilus: “I, too, have decided…to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus.” Those who study sacred scripture love to debate who Theophilus was, but that is not important. For our purposes we are Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “friend of God,” or “God lover” which includes all of us.
Perhaps the greatest message of the First Reading, the opening verses of Acts, is the basis of the Book itself. The Gospel of Luke records all that Jesus began to do and to teach. It is the beginning of Jesus’ work. However, Acts describes how Jesus’ work continued with His disciples and followers. In a sense the Book of Acts is still not complete because the work of Jesus continues today. Today’s “Acts” may not be scriptural, but through us as disciples the Lord’s presence and works continues in the world and in His Church.
We are part of this great legacy, and that is the real message for us here: we are called, and we are expected to be the disciples who share the Good News with others.
St. Paul never states the specific reason for his letter to the Ephesians, our Second Reading. But it is certainly possible to ascertain his motivation from what he includes in the letter. In today’s reading he speaks of our approach to understanding and faith when he says, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened.” In scripture the word “heart” tends to indicate the very core and center of life. It is much more than a realization or a comprehension. It means something we embrace and appreciate to the very foundations of our lives and the way we live them.
Paul wants the Ephesians (and us) to know that few things give us more secure and enduring hope in life than knowing that God has called us and has a specific calling for each of us to fulfill. This is complementary to what we hear in the First Reading. The hope of God’s calling has its perspective in the future. If we believe in resurrection and eternal life, we can grasp the hope which comes with salvation.
Nevertheless, Paul wants us to know that we are worthy of the calling, the command if you will, given us by Jesus. If we wish to be saved, we need to live distinctive lives here on earth. The letter to the Ephesians, and today’s passage, gives us very specific teaching on how we are to live our lives in our parishes, in our world, and in our homes.
Jesus makes it clearer in the Gospel Reading from Mark, as He addresses His followers prior to His Ascension into heaven, that they have a responsibility, and it was one they could not escape. We share that responsibility. It is part of our calling and part of what our lives as Catholics and Christians should and must be.
When we go out to do the work of God, Jesus is always with us and He works with us and through us. This is the pattern for all we do, our sense of ministry and mission. A wise philosopher once stated that signs are meant to follow believers, not believers following signs. The final verse of the Gospel — “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” – continues to this very day. That is the message of everything we have heard in Holy Scripture today, and it is the message we should hear every time we are exposed to Holy Scripture.
May 16, 2021 — Seventh Sunday of Easter
ACTS 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; PS 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20; 1 JN 4:11-16; JN 17:11b-19
As we celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven, we recall that He is not of this world and we were not made for this world. We were made for eternal life. Our readings today remind us that we are called to be set apart as disciples of Christ.
In our Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that as Christian disciples, we do not belong to the world. He prays to God the Father, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”
We must stop and ask ourselves, “Who do we belong to?” The answer is that we belong to our Loving and Gracious God, “that they may be one just as we are one.” But, do we act like we belong to God? How we spend our time, what we do with our talents and how we spend our treasures are a good reflection of who or what we belong to.
Does our time reflect time with God, our families and friends? Are our talents used to serve our families, friends, fellow parishioners and those in need? Does the way we spend our treasure glorify God? Is it put to good use? Our lives should be a direct reflection of Whose we are.
Being a disciple of Christ will not always be easy. As our early disciples experienced, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them.” But it is because we were not made for the world. We were made to be saints, truly a calling that is out of this world.
Although we do not belong to the world, Jesus clearly prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” We are called to live in this world and to not become consumed by it. We need to keep our minds and hearts fixed on our goal — eternal life.
In order to not become consumed by the world, we need to be on guard from the evil one. As Christian stewards, we must be aware of what we bring into our homes, what we watch on television or social media, what we read, what we listen to and who we call friends. And when we keep a disciplined prayer life and remain close to the sacraments, we will increasingly become aware of the areas of our lives that are becoming consumed.
In our Second Reading, St. John expresses that he, along with others, “have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.” Living set apart from the mainstream world becomes much easier when we recognize, experience and personally encounter Christ’s love for us. His love is radical and His home for us in heaven is unthinkable. If we only knew the reality of both those things, we would do anything to love the Lord and be with Him.
Jesus’ ascension is a good reminder for us that we, too, are called to heaven. Let us strive to live our lives as a reflection of this goal in mind. And let us pray for the grace to understand just a fraction of God’s Perfect Love for us and for the grace to express our love in return.