May 13, 2018 – Feast of the Ascension of the Lord (and Mother’s Day!)
Readings: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11, Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13, and Mark 16:15-20
I will deliver the following homily today at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
I have often heard people refer to scripture as an instruction manual. While I understand what they mean by that, I find that image to be somewhat cold and impersonal. I don’t want to find the Bible in the ‘How-to’ section of my local library.
Scripture is the divinely inspired word of God. I want the word of God to be for me. I want it to talk to me directly and personally. I want it to inspire me and make me a better person.
In a reflection I read recently, a woman wrote that she turns to scripture for advice. I like that. It gives more of a pull-up-a-chair-and-let’s-talk-about-it feeling to scripture. It makes it personal. Although we may both pull up chairs to the same scripture, we will individually get the advice we need to hear. Advice that inspires and makes me want to be a better person.
The idea of scripture as a source of advice fits in well with our readings for today.
We begin the final week of the Easter season. Over the last six weeks we have celebrated the joy and hope of the Resurrection. The scripture we heard over the Easter season emphasized God’s unconditional love for us. Readings from the Acts of the Apostles detailed the sadness the apostles felt following the death of their friend, Jesus. This sadness turned to joy and hope when He returned to them.
Next week we’ll celebrate Pentecost. Once the apostles receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, they will have the tools they need to get started. They will roll up their sleeves and get to work.
That’s where we’ve been and where we’re headed next week – where are we now? With the Feast of the Ascension, we find ourselves in between the joy and hope of the Easter season and the Holy Spirit driven determination of Pentecost.
For the apostles, it was a time of hesitation, a period of time in which they felt unworthy and ill-equipped to do what was being asked of them. In the first reading the apostles were left, literally, “standing there looking at the sky.” They watched as the physical body of Jesus was taken from their midst forever. They were frozen in their tracks. The obvious question emerged, “Now what?”
They needed advice.
These particular readings and the idea of scripture as a source of inspiring advice come at a perfect time – it is Mother’s Day. Other than God, who gives better advice than a mom?
This gave me an idea. I decided to reach out to my kids and ask them to share with me the best advice they had ever gotten from their mom (my wife). Not only will this help me make a point in my homily, Carol will see it as a sweet gesture from me, making it a very inexpensive Mother’s Day gift.
Here are their responses:
“The best advice I ever got from mom was that everyone has a story to tell, and one of the best things we can do is listen to their story
Next: “When I was little, I remember asking Mom who she loved the most. She said, ‘Your dad.’ (That’s me!) I was surprised. I guess I was expecting her to say she loved me best or she loved us all equally. She added, ‘The best way to love you guys is to love Daddy.’ As confusing as it was at the time, now that I’m a dad it is something I keep close to my heart. I know when I love my wife, I am loving my kids.”
Another: “When we had our first child, mom told me: “Trust your instincts. No one in the world knows your baby like you do. Remembering those words has given me more confidence as a mom.”
And finally: “Mom taught me that a Noble Romans personal pan pizza is the cure for whatever ails you. I have taken that advice very seriously over the years.”
Other than the last one, I was moved by their heartfelt responses. Carol’s advice was never given as a “do this or you’ll fail” directive. It was given as something to think about and reflect upon. It was meant to be held in their hearts and used as needed. It was meant to inspire.
Have our kids always followed Carol’s advice? Probably not, but when they didn’t, I’m sure her words cam to mind and they heard her voice whispering that same advice in their ear.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is full of ‘motherly’ advice: “…live in a manner worthy of the calling you have received. Live with “humility and gentleness.” Live “with patience, bearing with one another through love.”
Paul recognized that the people of Ephesus were hesitant. They were, in effect, doing what the apostles at the ascension had done – standing there looking at the sky. Jesus was no longer there to teach them and walk with them on their journey of faith.
So, Paul offered his advice on how they should conduct themselves – be humble and gentle, be patient, love one another.
Many pieces of advice, none delivered as a directive. It was not presented as “do this or else.” Rather, something to think about and reflect upon, something to inspire, advice to be held in their hearts and used as needed.
Finally, in Mark’s gospel: While the apostles did not fully understand, Jesus had made it clear that the time would come when He would leave them. So, the apostles asked Jesus what they should do after He was gone. He offered this advice: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
Scripture whispers reminders in our ear. Its words of advice urge us to reach for holiness. The advice is not threatening, but rather encouraging, and meant to be held in our hearts.
Just like Carol’s advice to the kids, scripture presents us with the ultimate goal. We should continually strive to reach that goal. Acknowledging we are human beings and will never be perfect, we work to approximate the goal.
Chances are, we will never reach the ultimate goal while here on earth. We will never live as God calls us to live all day every day – that’s why we have Reconciliation. However, we will get much closer to the goal if we are constantly striving to reach it, rather than dismissing it as unattainable.
In other words, our kids may not always follow Carol’s advice. They may not always listen to the stories of others or love their spouse like they should, but how often will they do it if always is their goal?
We may not always be gentle and patient as Paul suggests, but how often could we be gentle and patient if always was our goal?
Finally, we may not be able to proclaim the gospel to every creature, but how many creatures would hear the gospel if every creature was our goal?