Feast of the Ascension B

Perhaps because the Met have lost four in a row, I will share some bad news about the good news.  The Pew Research Forum released their report “America’s Changing Religious Landscape and the numbers are not pretty. After years of making up 25% of the American Population Catholics now make up only 20%.   We have usually had roughly the same amount of people coming into the Church as leaving the Church.  Now for every convert, there are 6.5 who leave.  And do you know what at 13% would be the second biggest denomination in the country?  Former Catholics.

Last night I taught a class on Pope Francis and his desire for a missionary church. There can be no longer be any doubt that now is the time for that.  Now is the time to tell better the story we know so well, the story that has changed our lives.  The story of the tenderness and compassion of our God who longs to gather us into community, who lives intimately with each of us and upholds the ultimate values of justice and peace.

It reminds of the Luke’s account of the Ascension from the Acts of the Apostles.  Two men dressed in white, apparently angels, announce to the stunned disciples. “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”  Now I don’t blame them for looking up.  When your friend ascends mysteriously in the sky, it is worth craning your neck.  We can’t stop ourselves from looking at airplanes taking off and they are supposed to fly!

But could a message be timelier?  The disciples were told not to gaze into the sky because the responsibility for the mission had been placed in their hands now.  The Spirit was to have them build up the church.  They had no time to search for the Lord who was not there.  They had to prepare for the Lord who was to return.  It was time to get to work.

Now it is time for us to get to work.  We cannot search out Jesus in the sky.  We have to discover him in the hearts of our brothers and sisters.  We cannot show him in the lore of old, but have to make him real in the work that we do and the lives that we live.  We need to show the face of Jesus who is not the one who limits freedom and excludes those who are often persecuted, but the Christ who showed true freedom is love and all are welcomed and wanted.  They need to know the Jesus not of the skies but alive in the world.

I feel I Know this generation of young people pretty well.  I admire them. They have a loathing of any kind of discrimination that I envy.  They have a heart of service that should make us all proud.  The problem is not these kids today.  This is an us problem.  Not a them problem.   How can we attract them if we don’t start by loving them where they are at?

There will always be a time to gaze into the sky. To know assurance of the truth and to witness the glory of our Savior.  We must always be amazed at the blessing of our God, but those gifts only are given so that others might bask in the love of God.  At the Ascension, we were given the joyful imperative to share the good news, to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, to let all know that Jesus Christ is the face of God.  If we tell this story with passion and hope, with invitation and joy, we cannot fail.

For I truly believe that this Christ still speaks to all.  That our God can still attract.  Next year will be an extraordinary year celebrating God’s mercy.  This is how Pope Francis describes the gift of mercy.  “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”  That will always get it done.  Let us share the story of that Christ and we will not be looking up at empty clouds but opening the doors to a renewed church.