Homily 05 28 2017
The Ascension of the Lord is not the observance of a departure but the celebration of a presence. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the promise of Emmanuel – “ God is with us”; it concludes with the promise of the Risen Christ, “I am with you always, even to the end of time.”
While Jesus returns to the Father from whom he comes, he remains present to us in the Spirit of his love, his hope, his compassion.
There is an African parable about two villages separated by a river. In each village, there lived a woodworker who knew how to make chairs. Both knew the secret of making strong, durable and beautiful chairs.
But the chair maker in the first village was afraid to teach others because he thought they would not make the chairs correctly — and worse, if they did, they could cut into his business.
So he jealously guarded his work. He became suspicious of anyone with wood, worried that they may have discovered his secret. He would ridicule them and warn them not to try and make a chair themselves. So he made all the chairs in the village, but no one wanted to go near him.
The young men of the village interested in woodworking left the village rather than ask to learn from him. The chair maker eventually died alone — and his secret with him.
But the chair maker in the second village did not keep his knowledge to himself. He helped anyone who asked what wood to use, how to plane and cut the pieces, how to mix the glue to assemble the pieces.
Over the years, many of the young men of the village served as his apprentices. Sometimes one of them would discover a way to improve the chair. The master chair maker would encourage the apprentice to show what he discovered to others.
As a result, the chairs in the village kept getting better and better. People from other villages would come and buy their excellent chairs — and soon tables and benches he and his apprentices began to make.
When people praised the master chair maker’s work, he would laugh and say, “I did not build these chairs alone. These young men have improved my chairs. I am getting old, but these young men will continue building better and better chairs. I have given my skills and knowledge to them and they have given their love and friendship to me. Together we have done far more than if I had worked alone.” (Adapted from Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy, compiled by Joseph G. Healey.).
As Priest here I have attempted to share my experience of 46 years of my priesthood with you, things I have learned in the past 46 years that I thought would be good for the parish...areas that God gifted me with and always trying to keep the best of traditions from former priests as part of the legend of the people here.
This old African story of the generous chair maker mirrors the meaning of today’s celebration of the Lord’s Ascension.
Today, Jesus the master “chair maker,” who has taught his disciples the “secrets” of “making” God’s kingdom of reconciliation and peace, turned the work over to the Church …to us.
On this day, Jesus calls you again to continue his work — work that has been vindicated and perfected in the Father’s raising him from the dead...and in the priests and parishioners who worshiped before you.
We who have seen and heard the story of Jesus are now called to bring that hope into the lives of others and into the life we share as families, as the Church, as the human community.
As the Ascension was a transition, you will experience a lot of the same as did the early church.
In everything you do in bringing two parishes together into one you will proclaim the Gospel of the Risen Jesus; every good work — however small or hidden — is a sign of Christ in our midst.
Jesus’ Ascension is both an ending and a beginning. The physical appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the “good news” is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled.
Now begins the work of the disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed. The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start. Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants.
Very much like this community. And yet, what began with those eleven had grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of two churches that will become one parish in less than a month.
The Church Jesus leaves to the disciples on the mount of the Ascension is rooted not in buildings or wealth or formulas of prayer or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in joy and under-standing that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives Catholics today the strength and freedom to be authentic and effective witnesses of the Risen One, who is present among us always.
Christ also calls You and I to be witnesses of God's presence on behalf of Christ and the Church here in the Archdiocese. In your histories you now stand upon the shoulders of some very faith-filled men and women
Continue that Journey together.
In the six years I have been with you, we have faced many challenges and there have been so many great things that occurred here. Trust in the Spirit as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost next weekend.
And the call I give to all of you is to continue your generous responses to the Annual Catholic Appeal. Numbers are less than last year...I know that you can do even better.
On this Memorial Day weekend, when we recall the many who have laid down their lives for their friends i.e., for us and for our liberties--we must take to heart the lesson of the Ascension and the blessed responsibility entrusted to us.
We must stop looking at the sky for answers that are already planted in our hearts and in our minds by the Spirit who brought Jesus from death to life.
We must begin to take up our part in the redemption of the world. It is we who are the anointed, called now to redeem the world. Redemption comes in the mercy that sets a place at the table of Christ for all women and men, especially those who need it most, those struggling and hungry for companionship and love.
Redemption comes whenever we recognize, in ourselves and our community, the image of Jesus, who has called us to be Christ.
Participating in the Annual Catholic Appeal is the beckon call to all parishioners. It is a holy call, a call to share in the work of Christ.