So often in life, when God closes a door he opens other ones for us. I’m reminded of this expression particularly at this time of year when graduates in middle schools, High Schools, Colleges and Universities throughout our land find themselves leaving the security of familiar academic surroundings and moving on to new challenges and opportunities. When God closes a door, he opens other ones for us.
Something of that reality is at work in the Feast that we remember in faith this day. Today's feast celebrates far more than Jesus' return to heaven after this time on earth was completed. Our Scriptures tell us that it's also the day that the disciples become apostles. The word "disciple" means "one who learns". The word "apostle" means "one who is sent". The disciples have learned well the freeing Good News of the Lord and now they are sent forth to share it with others. They are to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching. They have learned from the Master, and now they need to teach those lessons to everyone they meet.
Jesus assures his followers that he will be with them till the end of the world. They will baptize in the name of the Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit. They will teach the message of the Good News of God's reign, the commandments of Jesus himself. And they will heal in his name. Truly, his presence, his Spirit, never leaves them. Indeed, that saving presence in the power of the Spirit is here with us this day.
This past May 25th I celebrated my 43rd anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. During those 43 years, I have been privileged to witness the growth of our Diocese since its inception in 1976. Four bishops have served us as shepherds during these formative years. Each brought their unique talents to shape us into the local church that we are today. Each of them have heard the call of the spirit to be latter day apostles for our Church here in Orange.
While Bishops exercise this ministry in a unique way, we need to be reminded that this mission is ours as well. Too often we're like the apostles in our first reading. When we focus too closely on our own salvation, our own experience, people could say to us, "Why are you standing there looking up into the sky?" We, like the apostles, have been sent. We are to share our experience with those around us. This sharing will take many forms. It might be formal preaching; it might be telling a friend about the importance of our faith; it might be simply living our lives according to Jesus' command to love one another without counting the cost.
In December 2015, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, that great watershed moment in the history of our faith in the 20th century. One of the great aims of the Council was to nurture a greater sense of unity, not only within our own household of the faith but among all Christians throughout the world. It was the passionate commitment of Pope St. John XXIII that the sad divisions among Christians would be healed and that the great prayer of Jesus that he prayed the night before he died, that 'all may be one' might truly become a living reality.
An essential work of every apostle is to be a bridge builder for unity where ever God may put us in life. Husbands and wives do that as they strive to see each new day as an opportunity to deepen their love and commitment they made on the day of their wedding. Parents are called to do this for their families by the quality of their inclusive love for their children. Citizens of this land are called to do this as we engage in the great issues that foster the common good of our Nation, disagreeing at times but hopefully never being disagreeable!
And so, on this Ascension Day, may we hear anew that challenge and mandate given to all believers - a mandate that can indeed renew the face of the earth: Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature!
This exquisite performance of Gerald Finzi's "God has Gone Up" by the Georgia Boy Choir was recorded in Hereford Cathedral during their 2014 tour of Britain. This is one of my favorite choral pieces and a wonderful recording that is also visually stunning. There is nothing like the acoustics of a great English Cathedral!