Sunday, May 13
Every now and then, after reading the tales of the early Church as it is told to us through the Acts of the Apostles or days like today in which the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, I begin to wonder what must have been going through the minds and hearts of those early Christians. And likewise those first followers of Jesus who, 40 days after this Easter Resurrection experience, were now going to bid their friend a fond farewell as He prepared to Ascend to God’s right hand. I wonder what they must have they been thinking In my wild imagination, I have a feeling some of them must have been whispering among themselves: what did we get ourselves into? With shaking heads and rolling eyes, as they confronted obstacles, heard of friends being arrested and thrown in prison for what they believed as early Christians, and still others who were being persecuted and scorned all because of this Jesus, I wonder if some of the first disciples weren’t asking: are we sure about this? Are we nuts for saying yes and following Him? Is this going to be all that it’s cracked up to be? Will it get any easier?
Although this year (because we are in Cycle B readings devoted mostly to the gospel of St. Mark) we are proclaiming a different text, the version of the Ascension that I most appreciate is from St. Matthew. For it is in Matthew’s gospel that we hear two significant things as Jesus is getting ready to Ascend to Heaven: first, that the disciples doubted and second, Jesus’ promise to his bewildered friends. I remember several years ago, a Chicago priest named Fr. Leo Mahon wrote a small book about Jesus and in his writings Leo reflected on this scene from Matthew’s Ascension account. He said, I take great comfort in knowing that some of the early disciples had doubts. That gives me great peace, Leo said, knowing that it’s okay to have some questions and not have all the answers. Mindful of the many challenges we face together on this journey of faith, I concur with Leo Mahon: it’s more than okay to have questions, fears, and doubts. It’s natural and it’s human!
I also appreciate Jesus’ most significant promise, as told to us by Matthew: I will be with you always! As He looked into the eyes of his troubled, doubting friends, all of them questioning what would life be like without his physical presence here among us, Jesus knew what to say: I am for you! And I will always be here for you! In your doubts, with your fears, amidst your sorrow, among you in your good times and bad, sickness and health: I will be among you now and always…no matter what…until the end of time! Just as I take great solace in knowing that it’s okay to have some doubts and questions, I take even greater comfort knowing of the Promise the Risen Christ makes to all of us: to stand near us, to hold us, to be our strength.
When I think about the vocation of motherhood (and fatherhood too), I can’t help but associate the experience of the Ascension with that of our moms and dads. When I think of the awesome responsibility so many of you as Mothers and Fathers take on, I immediately put you in the category of the first disciples. Amidst your joy and speechlessness the first time a child was brought in to your life, through birth or adoption, how many of you may have been whispering to yourself or to your spouse: oh my, what did we get ourselves into? Are we ready for this? Will we be good parents? Do we have what it takes?
On this most sacred day as we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, I hope you all take comfort both in your questioning hearts and your dedicated vocations as Mothers and Fathers that the Risen Lord stands with you always. It is the promise we need to hear perhaps more often than just on Ascension Day: “I’m with you! We got this! It’s okay to know that being a Mom or Dad is not easy. But what an incredible rewarding vocation to participate in this divine partnership with God as we care for the next generation!”
May the Blessings promised to the first disciples be the gift we receive today: I am with you always!
Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Ascension Day!
Father Tom Hurley