Spread the Word!
In this beautiful homily for The Ascension of the Lord, Year A, Father Hanly assures us it is natural to have doubts, but he reminds us the salvation of the world is now in our hands.
Readings for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, Year A
- First Reading: Acts 1:1-11
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
- Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23
- Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
When my nephew was growing up in a large family of six children, he used to take on a little bit of a cynical sense. So when his mother told him that today was the feast of the Ascension when Jesus was taken up into heaven, Anthony (who is a lawyer, by the way) said, “Oh, it’s the story of the first man in space.”
My sister was not too happy, but I laughed, because I said, “Well, he’s probably one of the disciples that doubted.”
As you notice in today’s gospel, we have disciples who doubt. And sometimes we think disciples are not allowed to doubt, they should never doubt, that there’s something wrong with them if they doubt, in fact, it’s a sin if they doubt. And it isn’t, which we will get to in a minute.
But the main idea that I would like to draw on this very, very brief gospel: this is Jesus’ final appearance. You remember for forty days he appeared in many ways the Risen Lord to his disciples under many different circumstances. And all four gospels are very rich. But this is his final, final appearance.
And, of course, he brings them into Galilee, because Galilee is the place where he himself received great honour and where he himself preached most of his gospel. And, of course, he goes up to a high mountain.
As you know, if you come to these Masses regularly, you know that whenever anything is happening in the Old Testament or the New Testament, it happens at the top of a high mountain, because beginning with the first covenant is given to Moses on the top of a high mountain with thunder and lightning — and beautiful quietness. And it begins the people of Israel, the chosen people, the long odyssey up to the time of Jesus.
Anyhow, he brings them up to the top of the mountain and
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
It’s alright to doubt, because, sometimes, if you don’t doubt, you will never learn to love. If you don’t doubt, you will never learn the true depths of another person. Because the response to doubt is faith, and it’s a very empty faith that sometimes isn’t torn with little doubts here and there. In fact, sometimes, they’re almost daily events.
And so it is that we Christians understand faith as the proper response to doubting. We’re not cynical people that doubt everything, but we do doubt many, many things.
And the apostles, the poor apostles who were to be with Jesus and to feel the greatness of God in a very special way, at times they doubted.
Did they doubt that Jesus loved them or God loved them? Of course not. They doubted their own hearts. They doubted themselves. They doubted what was happening. They didn’t understand. Could he tell us more?
And, as you know, they look kind of funny when you read the gospels, because why?
Because they know that the meaning of Jesus’ coming is to bring us to love. And if you’re going to be brought to love, the pathway is strewn with cynics and strewn with dangers and filled with doubts, because, to love, you must give your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole life away. And that cannot be done without a struggle. And so, at times, you feel the doubts creeping in here and there.
Remember that even Jesus, even Jesus, at times, had doubts. Not so much doubting his Father who he loved, but doubting how is it going to be done, and can I do it, and will I be able and am I strong enough?
But Jesus always answers the same thing. He always says, “I am with you. I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. Do not doubt. Do not hesitate.”
And he also tells us he loves us so much that he is offering his whole life, his whole heart, his whole soul so that they will understand the depth of God’s love.
And the depth of that love will turn their lives away from petty doubts and arguments and all these things that plague us in our ordinary way. And they will turn us to an understanding that God is love and it is to love He calls us.
And no matter how many times we fail, He picks us up, because the meaning and purpose of our lives is very simple: you must learn how to love yourself and you must learn how to love others the way God loves you and the way He loves all of us.
The other thing, before — because we’ve got a few other things that we have to do before we leave — the other thing I would like to emphasise in this wonderful gospel is (and I’m looking for it here) …
Do you remember this story? I think I might have told it a lot of times. The main purpose of today’s gospel, this story is a very simple one and it’s a great story and I don’t mind telling it again.
It’s Jesus goes up to heaven, you see, and the Angel Gabriel is standing there. And he sees Jesus walking around heaven and he says (this is after Jesus rose up), “How come you’re home so early? What happened?”
And Jesus says, “Well, I was going to stay a long time with these people, but what they did was they took me out and crucified me and now I’m here.”
And so Angel Gabriel says, “You mean you failed? You failed.”
And he said, “Well, not exactly, because before I left I did have a little time and what I did was I prepared. I prepared this group of disciples who I loved and they loved me. And I prepared and I told them everything I knew and everything and I sent them out in my place.
“And I said, ‘Now you go and tell everyone in the whole world, and tell them that God has forgiven them everything. And teach them all the things that I taught you: how to forgive and how to care and how to love and all these lovely things.’”
And, of course, the Angel Gabriel, being a little cynical, says, “Suppose they fail?”
And then Jesus kind of shrugs his shoulders and he looks up to the sky and he says, “I have no other plans.”
Think of that, now. “I have no other plans.”
The salvation of the whole world is in your hands. You have been given it. You’ve been given the power and you’ve been given everything and, now, if the world is to be saved, Jesus is depending on you.
But he will come along. He will come along and be our guardian, and he will never be far from us.
And should you think it’s too much and you’re full of doubts and full of terrors and full of wonders and full of problems, you will always find that he is there and he will give you the courage to continue God’s work in this world that needs God’s love so badly.
And the only ones that have been designated by God Himself to give this way is, of course, you and me, because we were baptised, and when we were baptised, we gave our heart, our soul, our life, our future into His hands that we might become His very own children.
I’ll end with a cartoon. There was a cartoon in The New Yorker. Most of you probably know The New Yorker is a very famous weekly magazine that was printed in New York City. And being from New York City, I think just about everybody grew up with The New Yorker magazine. And they had these wonderful cartoons. And one of my favourite cartoons is…
It takes place in the middle of Africa. In the dense jungle of Africa, there are two African warriors standing, one on each side of this incredible cataract, this waterfall, that’s pouring out from way up in the sky, you can’t even see the end of it, and the water is pouring down.
And one of the men says to the other warrior, he says, “It’s so beautiful. It’s so lovely. It’s too bad nobody has discovered it yet.”
Do you understand that? It’s their cataract. And they have lived with it. But they don’t look upon it as something that they’ve discovered like Columbus discovered America, you see that was important, and other great discoveries. They just took it for granted.
I use this to tell you that’s our main problem. Our main problem is not: following the will of God, following the desire of God, the love of God and everything about God — there’s no trouble with that.
The problem is that we’re a little bit like the two warriors who probably sit down and, after seeing this wonderful thing that nobody else knows about, they sit down and have their lunch and go home.
Now it’s not being too harsh on us to say at times we’re like that. We come and we eat the bread of Christ, who tells the most wonderful story in the world: that love is possible for all peoples. And what do we do? We go home and watch television.
What are we supposed to do? Everybody says. “I’m not good enough to do this. I’m not smart enough to do that.” What are we supposed to do?
We’re supposed to live like Jesus lived.
And what does that mean? Miracles?
No. It means you live his life. You don’t preach it. You don’t have to do anything extraordinary. You live as he lived.
People came to him because he was kind and generous hearted and understood and cared. People came to him and he was able to send them away with a lightness of spirit, a feeling that it was really worthwhile to be in this world. People came to him only because he listened, only because he cared, only because he forgave, he forgave everything.
And that’s all he asks of us. He is with us and all he wants is to be accepted. Not like the waterfall that hasn’t been discovered.
But if anybody is going to discover him, they will not have to go to Africa. The only way they’re going to discover him is looking at us and how we live.
And if we live the way Jesus lived, we don’t have to even preach. We just have to walk about and be as he was with his disciples: kind, considerate, forgiving and, most of all, trying different ways to learn how to love.