Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Easter

Ascension of the Lord
June 5, 2011
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

The Ascension is one of those inexplicable biblical moments that cause confusion about the actual progression of real events. Matthew tells us the Eleven Disciples went to Galilee as Jesus ordered them to do, while Luke in Acts tells us that Jesus was taken up in bodily form near Jerusalem. For Matthew, the mountain is a place of revelation where Jesus touches the lives of the disciples. The ascension is correlated to the resurrection, but this scene is a partial fulfillment of Daniel's vision of the Son of Man who ascends to heaven on the clouds. Although the disciples see the risen Jesus, his words rather than his appearance are stressed. The disciples worship Jesus even though doubt creeps in.
The farewell of Jesus tells us that God has bestows divine authority over the kingdom on Jesus as the Son of Man. It also contains a general command to go forth and make disciples of all people in different cultures - including the Jews. The disciples are to carry on the teaching ministry of Jesus that lays the foundation for Christian education, theology, and other intellectual work, which includes interpreting the Sermon on the Mount that renews the Old Testament.  Lastly, Jesus promises to be with them now and in the future. He fulfills the meaning of his name - Emmanuel - that is, the divine presence as they make decisions, study, pray, preach, baptize, and teach. His spirit will be present until the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.

Luke stresses the Ascension as the beginning point of the church while his Gospel tells of the life, teaching, and deeds of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles is both a continuation and a new beginning. Easter is not the end, but a beginning. Jerusalem's centrality marks the continuity between Israel and the church even though the people fulfilled the role of prophet-murderer. The church is founded amidst successive persecutions and receives a refinement of its mission - Israel is to be recast in its mission to the ends of the earth - even to Rome (the new cultural and political end of the earth)- where it will restore all things according to the kingdom of God.
Luke's passage re-enacts Elijah's ascension into heaven. Although there are witnesses, the ascension of Jesus is not to be conceived of as a event within history. The "two men" and "the cloud" are both present in the Transfiguration that was attended by Elijah and Moses. Christ is seen as the ultimate prophet - greater than the two venerable Old Testament figures. Jesus will be the "Son of Man" at his coming and has a direct link with his coming to us again. Therefore, the ascension acts as a reminder that Christ will come again to complete his kingdom, which will end the time of the church's mission.

As with all events in the life of Jesus, it is better for us to consider the meaning rather than piece together the disparate details, although the details always matter. We don't want to be caught short like the disciples who were looking up in the sky trying to figure out what just happened. No, we have to look around us to see where the presence of Jesus is active. The work of the kingdom has been given to us to advance. We are to proclaim the saving work of God in and through the person of Jesus until the kingdom comes in its fullness. Too many people need to hear about the risen Jesus. In our actions and words, we are to make ourselves so desirable that people will envy what we have - the risen Lord in our midst. Our lives are to testify to his saving and sustaining actions and like Mary, his mom, our whole being needs to sing out in song the goodness of the Lord. This song has to reverberate to the ends of the earth.
Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Paul went to Ephesus introduced believers to the Holy Spirit. Paul recounts the ways he served the Lord with humility, tears and trials, but he is to return to an uncertain fate in Jerusalem. As Paul says goodbye, he urges them to keep watch over each other and to be vigilant about those who pervert the truth of the Gospel. Paul was brought to trial. The Pharisees and Sadducees were so divided that armed forces were sent to rescue Paul from their midst. The Lord told Paul that as he was faithful in Jerusalem, he must go to Rome and be faithful there as well. King Agrippa heard Paul's case and determined Paul was to be tried in Jerusalem, but Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to be held for the Emperor's decision.

Gospel: The disciples realize Jesus is returning to the Father and that he is strengthening them for the time he is away. Jesus prays for the safety of those given to him by God. He wants them to be safe as they testify to God's steadfastness in the harsh world. He prays for unity, "so that they may be one just as we are one." He consecrates them to the truth and wards off the Evil One. He also prays for those given to him through the testimony of others. The love Jesus and the Father share is available to future disciples. ~ After the Farewell Discourse ends, Jesus is found at the seashore with Simon Peter who professes his three-fold love of Jesus. Jesus forgives him and asks him to take care of his people even though the authorities of this world will eventually have their day with him.
Saints of the Week

Monday: Norbert, bishop (1080-1134), a German, became a priest after a near-death experience. He became an itinerant preacher in northern France and established a community founded on strict asceticism. They became the Norbertines and defended the rights of the church against secular authorities.

Thursday: Ephrem, deacon and doctor (306-373), was born in the area that is now Iraq. He was ordained a deacon and refused priestly ordination. After Persians conquered his home town, Ephrem lived in seclusion where he wrote scriptural commentaries and hymns. He was the first to introduce hymns into public worship.

Joseph de Anchieta, S.J., priest (1534-1597), was from the Canary Islands and became a leading missionary to Brazil. He was one of the founders of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero. He is considered the first Brazilian writer and is regarded as a considerate evangelizer of the native Brazilian population. Alongside the Jesuit Manuel de Nobrega, he created stable colonial establishments in the new country.

Saturday: Barnabas, apostle (d. 61), was a Jew from Cyprus who joined the early Christians in Jerusalem to build up the church. His name means "son of encouragement." He accepted Paul into his community and worked alongside him for many years to convert the Gentiles. He was stoned to death in his native Cyprus. He was a towering  authority to the early church.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Jun 5, 1546. Paul III, in the document Exponi Nobis, empowered the Society to admit coadjutors, both spiritual and temporal.
·         Jun 6, 1610. At the funeral of Henry IV in Paris, two priests preaching in the Churches of St Eustace and St Gervase denounced the Jesuits as accomplices in his death. This was due primarily to the book De Rege of Father Mariana.
·         Jun 7, 1556. Peter Canisius becomes the first provincial superior of the newly constituted Province of Upper Germany.
·         Jun 8, 1889. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins died at the age of 44 in Dublin. His final words were "I am so happy, so happy." He had written "I wish that my pieces could at some time become known but in some spontaneous way ... and without my forcing."
·         Jun 9, 1597. The death of Blessed Jose de Ancieta, Brazil's most famous missionary and the founder of the cities of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.
·         Jun 10, 1537. Ignatius and his companions were given minor orders at the house of Bishop Vincenzo Negusanti in Venice, Italy.
·         Jun 11, 1742. The Chinese and Malabar Rites were forbidden by Pope Benedict XIV; persecution broke out at once in China.