Today we recall Christ's ascension to his Father in heaven. Before he left, he promised his disciples that he would be with them always. Indeed, the Lord is with us when we gather in his name, as we listen to the word of God, and as the bread and wine are consecrated. Let us celebrate the assurance that Christ is with us always, now and until the end of time.
As we continue our personal responsibility in mitigating the virus. We have all had to change and adapt. This even includes our common prayer and liturgy. As you are aware the Ascension in our part of the country is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter: Ascension Thursday and it is a holy day of obligation, but in these challenging times the bishops of the north east providences of our county have for this one year transferred the Ascension to this Sunday, providing us with an opportunity to liturgical celebrate this event in the early life of the church in our liturgical prayer. A gift? In the midst of much suffering. For our liturgical celebration of the ascension is not just something to recall that happened in history to Jesus, but is intimately link with the meaning of resurrection and who we are as an Easter people. It is still and always is for us Easter time!
A couple of years ago, Pope Francis declared a year of mercy. An opportunity for us to reflect on mercy and for each of us to grow in mercy. We rediscovered the meaning of forgiveness, community, and our traditions corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Hopefully, we have grown in mercy. I also think that we came to understand that mercy is much more than forgiving. Forgiving yes, but forgiving to built community and relationship. Francis is in images and preaching always reminding us that we as church are called to gaze, see one another especially the suffering and those on the periphery and built relationship and communion. Jesus' passion, death and resurrection is God's gift of mercy pour out abundantly upon us. We are forgiven and our relationship, communion with God is re-established. As I share so often the powerful image of God taking a walk with Adam and Eve each evening in the garden. Sin brought chaos and separation, Adam and Eve hidden themselves from God and one another as it was time for their daily walk. In sin they were ashamed, they realized they were naked. The resurrection reestablishes god's relationship with the human family, not because of what we have done, but because of what God desires and has done in the word made flesh. God wishes to journey with us, creation renewed and regenerated! The ascension is fruit of the resurrection, not merely Jesus return to the Father, but Jesus bringing all of creation with him. Jesus has lifted us up to the Father, Jesus invites us to enter and say yes to this communion. We no longer need to be ashamed, experience our nakeness for God has clothed us in his mercy. Our rising is to strive to grow in holiness, in conversion—to bring the image of God in which we were created to manifestation in our words and actions—to conform our will to the will of God. To live communion with God.
As we hear the conclusion of Matthew's gospel, we are blessed to hear details of the meaning of the ascension. First, Matthew tells us that there were 11 disciples who went to Galilee. Not twelve, but eleven. Judas is no longer among the company of those who represent the new Israel. This remains a painful reminder that not all followers of Jesus are perfect. We doubt; we drag our feet; we sometimes are not as courageous in carrying forth Jesus' saving mission as we might be. Yet, in spite of our weakness, Jesus has still empowered us to carry on his ministry. His ministry will continue, and it is this continuation of the ministry of Jesus that is the fruit of our relationship and communion with God. The disciples went to Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus' saving mission began; it is where it ends. But not really. These verses from Matthew's chapter 28 conclude his gospel. Note that there is no mention of the Jesus rising into the heavens as we heard in Luke's Acts. Matthew ends with the Great Commission to go and baptize "all nations." There is no end to Jesus' being with us because we take up his work and carry it—carry him—forward for all time. Finally, Jesus ordered his disciples to a mountain, a place in Scripture of divine encounter and divine revelation. Jesus promises to be with them "until the end of the age." His Presence is his farewell gift to the disciples. They are to take up his saving mission by making "disciples of all nations" through baptizing and teaching. The disciples are his farewell gift to the world. Taking up his saving mission, so are we. It takes us a lifetime of following Jesus and proclaiming his Good News to learn how gifted we are and what a gift we are to others. What the disciples hadn't yet come fully to believe was that Jesus would always remain with them, giving them strength. Through the Spirit. There was a startling newness to what Jesus was doing and the message he was conveying. Never before had someone so completely shared power. Never before had someone promised the most potent power—the Holy Spirit who is with us "until the end of the age."
The power given Jesus is now handed over to his disciples, and the new thing about this power is that it is a divine Person—the Holy Spirit who is sent to dwell within us, making us one with divinity. This Spirit given us is the way Jesus remains with us. We have the power to make disciples, baptize, and teach; we are Jesus' gift to others. But more importantly, we have the power to be the Presence of the risen Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is his gift to us. With the Holy Spirit we can faithfully continue Jesus' ministry. The Holy Spirit transforms us into being gift for others. And now we journey in these final days of this easter season praying for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our time and day as we move towards Pentecost. Jesus has ascended to the Father not to abandon us, but to divinize us and empower us with the Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.
Like you, I am eagerly looking forward to time when we will be able to celebrate Mass together within our beautiful Church building. I wish to briefly address two items that have recently been in the news:
First, you may have seen that Bishop O'Connell in accordance with state guidelines has permitted "drive-thru" Masses. After discussing with our pastoral team during our daily meeting, it was decided that due to the limited size of our parking lot and the requirements for social distancing that it would not be possible for us to provide a drive thru mass. I regret this decision, but truly believe that this is best for our safety and maintaining proper dignity of the Eucharist within the guidelines developed.
Secondly, the President stated that churches and other houses of worship are essential and should be open immediately. Bishop O'Connell has informed us that there is a group working to develop guidelines for the safe opening of our church for liturgical celebrations. While no definite time line has been set, the guidelines will be provided as soon as possible and provide parish staff the appropriate amount of time so that these guidelines may be implemented to assure the safety of all while complying with guidelines issued by the state government as well. Bishop has asked us not to schedule any liturgical services in church yet. The church is open for private prayer with appropriate social distancing guidelines and procedures. In the interim we will continue to celebrate and live stream Sunday and daily Mass. As I have shared, it is just as challenging for your priests to celebrate Mass in this manner as it is for you at home.
You will also see in this week's bulletin, that the Diocese has directed that all in-person Religious Education Programs during the summer months be cancelled. This will affect our Summer Academy and Vacation Bible Camp. We are hoping to be able to conduct an online version of Summer Academy. If you have registered or were thinking of registering your children for Summer Academy, please email John McGuire at email@example.com if you would participate in an online Summer Academy this year.
Let us continue to pray for one another especially for those we remember this Memorial Day Weekend who have given all that we might live in the freedom of our nation.