Homily for the Feast of the Ascension 2019

A remote tribe in the deepest part of the Amazon Jungle sent one of their young men to explore the mysterious world beyond their tiny village.  Upon his return, the explorer could barely put into words the wonder’s he’d seen: the exotic flowers, the mystical sounds of the jungle at night, the strange wild beasts, the thrill of paddling his canoe over the treacherous rapids of the Great River.  “Go and see for yourselves,” he said. “You’ve got to see the wonders of live beyond the Great River!”


To guide his fellow villagers, he drew them a map.  The tribe was grateful: They framed the map and hung it in the center of the village.  They made many copies and studied it till they were experts on the Great River.  They knew every bend and turn, where the rapids were, and the waterfalls; where the wild animals lived and the exotic flowers grew….. BUT not one of those experts ever went to the Great River.  Not one ever saw its rapids and waterfalls and flowers.  Not one! Not ever!


     Jesus has given us a map to help us find our way home to God!  With varying degrees of interest, we’ve all studied Jesus’ map and most of us can sketch it with reasonable accuracy.  BUT, having the map, and being able to talk about it doesn’t get us home to our Father!  We have “to walk the walk, not just talk the talk!”


     Jesus puts it quite simply in today’s First Reading: “Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” he says.  He doesn’t say, “Go out and talk about me.” OR “Write a lot of books about me.” OR “Have a crusade or an inquisition and force people to follow me.”  No, Jesus says simply, “Be my witnesses.”


     To do that, we’ll have to be reshaped on the INSIDEreshaped into Jesus’ likeness.  That means becoming persons who know how to heal people, and feed people, and who know how to give them hope and heart and peace!


     Jesus’ Ascension, MEANS that he is NOW PRESENT to the world in a DIFFERENT WAY than he was before his death and resurrection.  In this “NEW WAY OF BEING PRESENT,” Jesus is NO LONGER LIMITED to one certain place and one certain time.  In this “new way,” Jesus is now PRESENT WHEREVER his FOLLOWERS (wherever his “witnesses”) ARE PRESENT! — Which MEANS that TODAY (June 1st/2nd – 2019) – our friends and neighbors, here in La Jolla, or Pacific Beach, or San Diego, or wherever – will get AN IDEA of WHO Jesus IS, and what Jesus would DO; and what Jesus would SAY – by what YOU and I do and say! —— In our homes, at school, at the office, on the playing field, in the grocery store — you and I are his WITNESSES –  living reminders OF THE PERSON and PRESENCE OF JESUS CHRIST!


     Jesus CAME to CONVINCE US of GOD’S eternal and compassionate LOVE for all of creation.  And, since the moment that Jesus CEASED to be visibly PRESENT to this world, WE – (YOU AND I and ALL BELIEVERS) – have become the living WITNESSES TO and REMINDERS OF that LIFE-GIVING LOVE.


     When I was a child, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, in Religion Class, at St. Rose of Lima, in Chula Vista, part of our curriculum was to learn the “SEVEN CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY”.  The CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY are: Feed the hungry; Give drink to the thirsty; Clothe the naked; Shelter the homeless; Visit the sick; Visit the imprisoned; and Bury the dead. —They are seven things that you and I are supposed to do for our “neighbor” IF we are serious about BEING WITNESSES of CHRIST’S PRESENCE in the world; and DOING WHAT JESUS WOULD DO! — And the “GOOD NEWS” is that we don’t have to go off to a foreign mission to put these “Corporal Works of Mercy” into action! — Most of us are ALREADY doing these things, on a fairly regular basis!


     For example, as your pastor, I have the awesome privilege, each week, of FEEDING your HUNGER and THIRST for “wholeness,” “holiness” and INTIMACY with God, HERE at this altar, with the BODY and BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST! — You, in your turn, feed your family, with the food and drink that keeps them healthy and strong; or you earn the paycheck that ensures that this will be done.  You make the payments that put a roof over your family’s head; and that put clothes on their backs. (And, when your finances and mine “allow,” WE “make a sacrifice” to our favorite charities – as our way of PRACTICING GOOD STEWARDSHIP – as our way of SHARING the wonderful gifts that God has given us, with those who are not as fortunate – so that they too may live out their lives with the DIGNITY that God intends!) – (Our parish alone, sponsors twelve different charities during the course of each year, and that doesn’t count the special collections for the Missions, the Pope, or our Diocese.) 


     So, “right off the bat,” that’s FOUR of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy, that most of us practice every day, without giving it a second thought!  


     As a priest, I VISIT THE SICK on a pretty regular basis, often offering them the consolation of a Special SACRAMENT for the HEALING of their BODY (if that is God’s will) and for the HEALING of their SPIRIT; assuring them of God’s presence in their time of testing!  (You, in your turn, hold the hand of your feverish child; or make sure that he or she has the proper immunizations; you cook up a pot of chicken soup for your sick neighbor or you look after their kids for the afternoon so that they can get some much needed rest; — and in doing these things, you and I are truly DOING what JESUS would DO! — We are “living signs” of his PRESENCE in the world!)


     The Corporal Work of Mercy that invites us to VISIT THE IMPRISONED can mean a trip to the jail; but it can also mean giving up some of our time by lending a sympathetic ear to those who are “imprisoned” by their doubts or fears or grief.  Visiting the “imprisoned” can also mean taking Holy Communion to the elderly homebound, whose bodies have “imprisoned” them in a world now shrunk to the size of their bedrooms; or visiting the local Convalescent Home.


     And as for BURYING THE DEAD — each time a friend or neighbor or fellow parishioner suffers a death in the family, and YOU are there with a casserole or a bouquet of flowers and a kind word (even though there are no words that can remove the sting of death) — and each time that we rearrange our schedules to attend a wake or a funeral; we are MOST CERTAINLY DOING WHAT JESUS WOULD DO.  And our “PRESENCE” – (at that crucial moment) – is the healing, and consoling presence of CHRIST HIMSELF! 


     As I said at the beginning of this homily, through his Ascension, Jesus was reminding us that FROM NOW ON, he is PRESENT to the world in a DIFFERENT WAY! — In this new way, Jesus is NOT LIMITED to one certain place and one certain time.  In this new way, Jesus is now VISIBLY PRESENT wherever his FOLLOWERS ARE PRESENT! — NOW people come to KNOW WHO JESUS IS through coming to know WHO his followers (his modern-day witnesses), ARE! — NOW, people get their idea of what Jesus would DO; and what Jesus would SAY – by what YOU and I – DO and SAY!


     It ONLY REMAINS for US to GET BUSY! — So to paraphrase the two men dressed in white garments in today’s First Reading from Acts: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”  THERE’S WORK TO BE DONE!