The Ascension and the Great Commission in a Time of Pandemic
Today we celebrate the great feast of the Ascension of Jesus to heaven. We hear in the first reading from the book of Acts, “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) Jesus has not abandoned us. In fact, he has promised to be with us always even unto the end of time. He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us so that we, His disciples, may be where He is. At times, life on earth can be a valley of tears but in heaven there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering and no more death. We are reminded today that we are pilgrims in this world and that our real intended home is in heaven with Jesus.
The Gospel reading contains the last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mathew. When someone is dying or leaving us, his or her last words are especially important. Jesus left the disciples with these last words of instructions. “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt 28:19) This “Great Commission” that was given to the apostles is the same mission that has been handed down to us. We are called to pass on the good news that Jesus Christ, true God, and true man, by his death and resurrection has brought all of mankind the promise of salvation. Today, we use the term “evangelizing” when refer to “passing on the good news” and over the last decade all of our Popes have called us to a New Evangelization where “the mission of evangelization is a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus, is necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature.” Pope Benedict XVI
But in this time of pandemic and social isolation, who and how can we evangelize? Well I guess if you are like me, the people that we are in the closest relationship with or proximity to right now is our family members. So, the who is our family. What about the how? At the recent New Evangelization Summit the question of how to most effectively evangelize our family members was put to an esteemed panel of Church leaders and their overwhelming response was that the best results were seen in a consistent witness of Jesus at work in our lives. We were reminded that our family relationships can be mixed and complex and that everything we say and do may have a bigger impact. As Sherry Waddell said, “In a family setting, a whisper can be heard as a shout”. Our family members will believe because they see repeatedly, not perfection, but an honest and transparent pursuit of holiness. Yes, there can be timely proclamation of the good news, but mostly family members are moved by the witness of a believer’s life, especially in times of trial and suffering.
In earlier Pastor’s Messages I have utilized the anagram “STEPS” to describe the path to discipleship. The final “S” in STEPS stands for “sharing your faith”. Jesus told the disciples to go and make disciples. He sent them out into the world to lead people who are unconnected to God into a relationship with him. When we share our faith and invite people into a relationship with Christ, we are bringing them one step closer to sharing that place he has prepared for all his disciples. I was recently reminded that the 12th and final step of the extraordinarily successful Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program is to go out and “carry the message of AA to other addicts”. It is no different for us. We have not completed the “STEPS” to discipleship until we have shared the hope of our faith with others.
God bless you folks. Father Gerard