Father Hanly’s homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is for the Commissioning of the Readers and so he tells the Readers a story.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel: Luke 24:46-53
Recording of Gospel
Recordings of Homily
Part 1 – Introduction to Commissioning of Readers
Part 2 – Concluding Story
Transcript of Homily
In today’s scripture, we read that Jesus tells his disciples to go through the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. This mandate is given to all of us, that, by word and example, by the very lives we lead, we may bring the healing and saving love of God to all peoples.
One of the many special forms of ministry by which we do this, dedicated to putting into practice this mandate of Jesus, is the ministry of the Readers. And today, you saw in procession, the readers of both sides of our parish, Christ the King and St Margaret’s Church, and together they gather here to be recommissioned.
The Commission means they give themselves wholeheartedly and dedicated to the Word of God, especially during Masses on Sundays and Holy Days, but also in other liturgies, such as weddings and funerals and the many, many ways in which the Ministry of the Word is used.
So today we are very happy that how many? Twenty? Thirty? Seventeen members of the church that have belonged to this ministry, many of them for many years and some of them are just beginning and some have not yet begun who are still in training, they are going to now … we do this very special liturgy.
Liturgy not transcribed. Transcript of Part 2, the concluding story of the homily, follows:
It’s an old story, and it’s one of my favourite stories, but I think today with the new readers and everyone speaking of the Word of God and its very, very important reality in our own life, I thought I’d regale you, before we move on to the Offertory, with this final story.
Many, many years ago, even before I was born, perhaps even before my father was born, it was very common in the United States of America, because they had no television, they had no movies, they depended on many other ways of hearing the beautiful readings from the past, for instance from the Bible, from Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, so moving, and all the prayers of civilisation.
And the way they would do it is about once a month, or every two months, they would invite a very special orator into the village, and then he’d go to the City Hall, and he’d be well known and be able to speak wonderfully well.
The orators in those days, when they gave a sermon, they spoke for two hours without stopping. See how lucky you are! Anyhow these mighty men with great voices, they’d choose one, and then everyone was invited to City Hall on, say, a Sunday afternoon, and they would recite.
They’d recite the poetry of the great poets and they would recite all kinds of patriotic things, but they would most of all recite the Bible, because in those days people, largely Protestant, would know every single verse of the Bible and where it came from and how it was expressed.
So the audience was waiting and, when the orator came in, he was a very nice man from a large city and he greeted the people and he began to read parts of Shakespeare “To be or not to be” and they’d all applaud. And then he read the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln and they all applauded. And everybody thought that this was really good.
And then he decided, “I’d just like to say to you is there anything you would like to hear and I’ll read it for you.”
And everybody was waving their hand, but he saw a little old black man way down in the back and he asked somebody, “Who is that?” And they said, “Well, he’s a retired preacher, but he’s a little bit old.” And he had his hand up, so the orator said, “Well, I tell you now, stand up, Reverend, and what would you like to hear?” And the Reverend he was kind of shy, because these were very important people, and he was very, very ordinary and poor. He had a little poor parish out in the boondocks.
Anyhow, he said, “I would like to hear ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’” which is the most beautiful poem and the most beautiful part of the whole Bible, for many people. And you hear it again and again when people die. And every family, if you give them a choice, they will take “My shepherd is the Lord, there is nothing I shall want,” and you all probably could say it by heart.
Well, the orator thought he’d have a little fun with the people, so he said to the preacher, “If you say it after me, I’ll do it, but only if you say it after me.”
Well, the poor little man, he was looking all around and very nervous. Finally, everybody was saying, “Yes! Do it! Do it! Do it! Do it!” so he figured, probably, in his mind, “Well, I’ll do it very badly and he’ll look even better,” which is the idea the orator had in mind, of course.
Anyhow, the orator began:
The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures where He gives me repose…”
on and on…
And everybody was, “This is wonderful! This is terrific!” When he finished, they all applauded and said, “Yes, that was one of the best…” Then he said to the little preacher, he said, “It’s your turn now.”
So he got up and he began. I’m not going to try to imitate the way he read it, but he read it very different from the orator. And from the first lines: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want,” a great quiet descended upon the people.
And he was a little halting, and he made kind of pronunciation mistakes, but when he read it and he read it and he read it and people realised they had never heard anything like it. This was the most beautiful rendering they had heard in all their history.
And when he finished: “My hope is in Him” everybody was so stunned, they couldn’t applaud and many were beginning to cry. And, finally, the little man felt that he was a failure and it was terrible. And everybody got up at one time and just applauded and applauded and applauded, you see.
Now the orator was a good man and he walked over to the little reverend and he put his arm around him and he said to the people, he said: “I know the psalm; this man knows the Shepherd. And that’s why he read it so well.”
So, Readers, remember, it’s not enough to know it up here or in your mouth. You’ve got to know it in your heart, and, when it reaches there, everyone will know that it’s inspired by God that we all should hear it this way. It’ll take you a whole lifetime to even try, but it’s worth trying and I leave that with you.
But also everyone, the words are the Word of God. And the Word of God comes in many ways to challenge us, but, most of all, to touch our hearts.
Because in those readings and scripture, close your eyes and forget who’s reading it, it is God speaking to you, face to face and, hopefully, heart to heart.
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This homily was delivered on 16th May 2010.
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