The Ascension of the Lord
Reading I Acts 1:15-17, 20-26
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20
Reading II 1 John 4:11-16
Gospel John 17:11-19
Jesus is reminding us this morning that you and I have to live each moment. Then he says, “Leave the rest up to me. Life is precious, love is precious, forgiveness lets it all happen. Don’t hold on to yesterday and don’t worry about tomorrow. Just capture what is happening in your life at this moment.”
Yesterday in our local newspaper there was a story of a young man who has an illness and the chance of his living for a long life just may not take place. We don’t know that for sure, but that is what he has been told. And his response to the illness is: “We all have a certain time on earth, so whatever time God gives me — I do want to live it to the fullest.”
Sometimes we think of life as the blessing and death as a curse. Jesus says, “Neither one is correct. Life is a gift, and death is a gift.” That’s what he’s telling us today. “I’m going home to the Father and I am putting you in charge. I want to see whether or not you are going to let the Spirit work in your life.” He’s not asking anybody to be busy. He is just saying, “I want to know if you are going to live your faith. I want to know if you are going to put people first.”
A friend of mine worked at an engineering company with a gentleman who was a few years older than him. The gentleman’s wife died and he retired. Then my friend retired. His co-worker asked, “What are you going to do in retirement?” My friend has a wife and two grown children and he answered, “I don’t know. I’ll play some golf and just kind of enjoy life.”
The co-worker asked, “Do you like to travel?” My friend said, “Yes.” The co-worker said, “How would you like to travel with me, all expenses paid, because I just need someone to be with me.” My friend thought, “Well, I’ll go on one vacation with him and that will be that.” So he went on the vacation with him, and one vacation led to another. They traveled across the world taking one or two vacations a year. My friend was to be the person to take care of his older friend.
They were over in Europe on one of the vacations. It came time to wake up in the morning and usually my friend got up, showered, and then got the older man up and got him dressed. Well, that morning the older gentleman woke up first and he called, “Charlie.” He called out again, “Charlie.” There was no answer. The older gentleman got up, went over to the other bed, shook my friend, and nothing happened. So during the night the one who was to be the caregiver died, and the other gentleman was still alive and ready to go.
The older gentleman got on the next flight and came home. With all of the security that was needed, it took more than two weeks for the body of my friend to be sent home to Springfield.
I share that with you because that is how we all live life. You are 40, you are 80 — and God says, “When did I ever tell you that was going to make a difference?” And so sometimes that is how we live. We think, “I’m 40, I have time to do this. I’ll clean the gutters out next week. We’ll take a vacation when we retire. We’re going to do all of these things. I’m going to be in control of my life and I’m going to tell you just how it is going to happen. And, God, when I decide it’s time for me to ascend to the Father, I’ll give you 24-hours notice.”
I think God spends most of his time in heaven just laughing at all of us. He says, “I just bring you into the world. I just brought Grant into the world. Just enjoy life, and there is so much to enjoy. And don’t push things off.”
And so this morning maybe we have to ask: “How do I live my life? Do I really love my neighbor? Am I reaching out to the poor? Is my life making a difference? Do I really see that there is something God has put me here to do, and now I need to do it.”
We could go to St. Jude’s Hospital and see children who are faced with unbelievable challenges — but they are happy, they are enjoying life. Other people have everything and they are not happy. The happiness comes on the inside, it’s not on the outside. So as we look at the Feast of the Ascension and Jesus says, “I am going to the Father. But I am not going to leave you as orphans. I’m going to come back.”
Last year the children in our grade school experienced white doves being released and sent out. It was a very powerful moment for our children and those who witnessed it. Paul Mast does the dove releases all the time. He came to the grotto and brought a number of doves with him. At a certain point he opened a basket that contained about twenty doves and they all flew out. The children were very excited to watch this. And as the doves disappeared, the children said, “Well, that’s over. Let’s go back to school.”
And Paul Mast said, “No. Those doves are all going to come back and circle around. Then they fly higher and circle around again. They circle higher and higher, and then they head back home. And when I get back to my house, the doves will be there — at home.”
It is a good example of the Spirit of God. God puts that Spirit in us and says, “Take it for what it’s worth. But just know that Spirit is always going to take you back home.”
May you and I have that desire to be let go as free as a bird, and also to have the faith that the Spirit of God is going to draw us right back home. He doesn’t tell us how long we have to be a Christian, he just says, “Just remember — I am the one in control. And when I need you back home, I will bring you back home. There will be no argument because I will be in control. “
Many people will think Father Dennis, who is 65, is old — and others will think 65 is young because that’s how our minds work. (Father Mike announced earlier in the service that Father Dennis became ill during a wedding rehearsal, 9-1-1 was called and he was taken to the hospital and it was discovered he has meningitis. He is very ill, and cannot speak. Father Mike asked everyone to keep Father Dennis is their prayers.) But to God, Father Dennis is a person who has been asked to live out his priesthood and there was no guarantee of how long that would be. But here is a man who has lived his life to the fullest.
So the challenge for us today is: Are you living your life? Am I living my life? Not in fear that I am going to die tomorrow, but with the understanding that we have been so blessed that if I am not living my life to the fullest — something is missing here and we are not able to receive from one another, and we are not able to give to one another.
That is the challenge. And that is what Grant is going to receive right now through baptism. The spirit of God will come into him and take him for the rest of his life. Our gift to Grant is that every time he comes to church we are going to excite the Spirit within him. And he is going to excite the Spirit within us.
It happens with every child, every birth. It happens with every ordination, and every marriage. It happens with every change of work, and every job we have. It happens with one neighbor moving away from next door, and a new neighbor moving in. It happens when we take in an experience we have never had and we realize — wow — I’ll never forget that. That’s the beauty of it all.
So on this Feast of the Ascension may you and I realize we don’t have to know, and we don’t have to be in charge. We just have to be happy, joyful and filled with his Spirit.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.