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Living in a Mystery

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(6-16-2010) In retirement, I'm grateful to the Lord that my days are filled with prayer, people, study and reading. After all these years I still find it hard to resist reading a captivating detective story. My favorite author remains, P.D. James, the "queen of crime". Agatha Christie, not to be deterred, mind you, returns to nudge me from time to time to reclaim the title.

The mystery in any detective story challenges us to solve it. Religious mysteries, on the other hand, are never able to be solved. We can penetrate these thrilling religious mysteries, such as why is God so lavishly in love with all us humans? Or why is the Mystery whom Jesus calls Father-Abba- so delightfully "hung up" in love with us that he sent his son to raise us to himself forever? In faith, we can accept these mysteries, examine them, walk into them in our prayer, but we can never really solve them.

Imagine that you are holding a beautiful, many-sided gem in your hands. Hold it up to the dancing sunlight: one side flashes: crucifixion, the next signals resurrection, the third, ascension, still another, Pentecost. We wonder and rejoice at each of these expressions of God's love for us. Focus with me, today, Friends, on the Mystery of the Ascension---another splendid dimension of the Father's unending love for us through Jesus in the holy Spirit.

We are celebrating Jesus' going away from us-whatever that "going away" may mean. It seems to mean that we are then "separate from one another". But is that really our situation? Following the thought of Father Karl Rahner---Jesus, in ascending to his Father, has taken something of us with him. Jesus was raised on the cross, raised in his resurrection, and raised in his ascension out of love for us. In being raised in his ascension, Jesus is already in us-because his Spirit-the Holy Spirit-is already in us now! Because the Spirit of Jesus - the Holy Spirit- is in us, then we can will to believe that God in his love for us is closer to us than we can ever be to ourselves.

Through grace -this "faith-awareness"-of Jesus present in us, God's nearness to each of us in his Holy Spirit- this "faith-awareness" takes place in the heart of the woman or man who believes. While we may seem to be separated from Jesus-when his presence seems distant to us-then strange as it sounds, we are, due to the Holy Spirit, more united to him than we think. With the Spirit of Jesus in us, we are his, and he is ours.

Pope Benedict teaches that in the Ascension of Jesus everyone of us has found an everlasting place in God. In the mystery of his Ascension Jesus never takes off-never absents himself for a time from the world. Pope Benedict writes: "we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. He writes that Jesus himself is what we call "heaven". Heaven is a person.

In Matthew's version of the Ascension the Risen Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee. He does not appear in light or splendor. "He is simply "Jesus," the one that they have known and followed all along. Some hesitated or doubted to worship him. We simply don't know why. Weakness and failure is evident in the community of the disciples then as it glaringly is present in the Church today.

Jesus lovingly approaches this motley crew of disciples and proclaims his "Great Commission". In ringing words he challenges them and all of us-- his disciples yesterday and you and me today as he speaks:

All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt. 28:19-20)

Jesus' himself had carried out the mission determined for him by the Father-that he should enter into the suffering of the world and give his life as a ransom for many. All authority had been given to Him by his Father. Jesus now stands before his disciples in the role he will play for all---believers and unbelievers-till the end of time. In this "Great Commission" he summons all nations-all peoples-to conform to the way of life that he has commended---that they may experience him---not as a Judge, but as the Savior who welcomes them into his kingdom. Jesus' own mission had been to the House of Israel. Following that mission, which was one of partial success, Jesus now widens his appeal through all members of the Church, to all the nations of the world.

Jesus commands you and me to to assist other people to be his disciples---letting others know that in the Father's love for them they are personally called by him to continue his ministry of healing and teaching. Baptizing and teaching are means to achieve that goal of becoming disciples. Of Jesus. . The Church today dare not carry out that commission in any high-handed authoritarian manner as it has at times in its history. We are a servant Church.

Jesus has been raised --raised on the cross, raised from a grave, and raised to the Father, but he is in no way absent from us. Jesus is no absentee Lord, no absentee lover. His healing and teaching ministry told in the gospel is no simple record of something done at one time. His teaching and healing ministry continues in the Church as it struggles through you and me and all his other disciples to claim the world from the grip of Satan and to respond in the Holy Spirit to his and his Father's love for all humans. Jesus himself spelled out how we respond in the beatitudes -a response of serving and not of being, served, a response of liberating, and not dominating. By our baptism you and I are commissioned and graced to meet this challenge of serving as disciples of Jesus.

Ascension (C cycle) -

The immediate followers of Jesus were bewildered, fragile, and fearful. This praying community had no power of its own. Yet power was given this small group to have energy, courage, perseverance, and unlimited resources. That power was given as a result of Jesus' resurrection and return to God. Twice, friends, in today's first reading Jesus shares the power of the Spirit. . that his disciples then, and you and I today can carry out the agenda Jesus gave them and now gives us: the agenda to be his witnesses throughout the world. We wonder: Does the way you and I live out that agenda, the "Great Commission" of Jesus, give convincing witness to what the Lord Jesus is doing in us?

A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 1: 1- 11

Today's feast of the Ascension, friends, is not about getting the body of Jesus off the earth. Rather it is a dramatic moment when the presence of Jesus in the church is changed into the widest possible extent . . where all realities in heaven and on earth are subordinate to the Lord Jesus.

The Church is the "body of Christ". It is the hands that do his work, the feet that serve his purposes, the voice that speaks his words, the heart that loves, gives and forgives as he loves, give and forgives.

A Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians 1: 17-23

Read other homilies by Father Paul