Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53
As I prepared to this, my first homily, I was reminded of one of my first experiences preaching. A couple years ago I used to go help at a soup kitchen run by the Missionaries of Charity Sisters. Each week before serving food, a different volunteer would read the gospel of the day and give a short reflection or homily. Eventually my turn came. The sister in charge pulled me aside, told me that next week I would be giving the reflection, and, she stressed, “make it short and sweet”. That week I struggled with what I could say, how I could keep it “short and sweet”. I asked God for help, but no inspiration was coming. Eventually the big day came and I gave my reflection. Afterwards, the sister came to me with a very sweet smile and said, “well brother, it was short … the sweetness will come with time”. Today, I guarantee neither the shortness of sweetness of this homily!! But, this story points to a common experience that we all have, though in different ways and circumstances.
Each of us lives through moments when Jesus can seem so far away. At times it can really seem like Jesus is not there to help us. This problem is a very good one to consider today as we celebrate the Ascension, when Jesus, after having been with his followers for 40 days after the resurrection, left them and returned to His Father. We could ask: “would it not have been better if Jesus has not ascended?” Imagine if Jesus were still here, living physically among us. Instead of struggling to think what I should say in my reflection at the soup kitchen, I could just email Jesus and ask him what He would like me to say. Or if you are a student in grade twelve there would be no need to stress about what you should do when you graduate. You could just message Jesus and get guidance. When loved ones suffer, you would not need to wonder why God would allow this to happen. Jesus would just be a phone call away. Governments would not need to debate over which programs would be best for society. They could just visit Jesus and He could end the debate. Would it not have been better if Jesus had not ascended? But He did and so we all live through moments when He seems absent from our lives.
The relationship between a mother and her child can help us understand why Jesus ascended into heaven. The way a mother cares for her child helps us to appreciate the necessity of the Ascension. Today we honor our mothers and celebrate their self-less love. Though a mother would do anything to help their child in a time of need, we know that in many situations a mother will stand back and seem to do nothing because it is what is best for the child. For example, when a child is doing homework a mother will assist and encourage the child. But, the mother cannot do the homework for the child. A mother may need to watch as their child struggles to get an assignment done. This is because the child needs to do the work themselves, so they can learn and develop. Mothers often behave this way for the good of her child. They “ascend” as it were away from the children, allowing them to solve their own problems. If she didn’t, the children would never grow and mature. This aspect of how a mother loves her child can help us better understand why Jesus would ascend in to heaven and seemingly remain distant during our times of struggle.
After the resurrection Jesus Christ needed to return back to heaven so that we could grow into adult Christians. If Jesus had remained always physically among us, we could never grow into the men and women that God wants us to be. Jesus came to earth for two reasons: to save us from sin and death and to transform us into the image of Himself. To help us become more like Him, Jesus taught the disciples by word and example what it meant to live a good, loving life. But Jesus’ mission of forming us into His own image was not completed with His death and Resurrection. To do this, Jesus needed to ascend. Just as we saw in the relationship between a mother and her child, Jesus needed to pull back, to allow us to struggle through our own difficulties, to put into practice what He had taught us, to help us to grow. If Jesus had stayed physically present with us, taking away all our difficulties whenever they arose, our spiritual growth would have been forever stunted. It was for our own good and out of love that He returned to heaven.
Jesus has not abandoned us but has given us His Spirit, His greatest gift. The Holy Spirit is always with us, gently transforming us to become more and more like Jesus. When we read the bible the Holy Spirit has a personal message to speak to us. In our conscience the Holy Spirit guides us, helping us to act rightly. When we take the time to pray, the Holy Spirit guides and comforts us. The Holy Spirit will speak to us through our friends and fellow Christians when we seek their help. The Holy Spirit gives us many tools and opportunity for growth but we are not forced to use them. Often we do not make us of these tools during times of difficulty. Because of this, these experiences are crushing rather than opportunities for growth. It is so important that during times of difficulty we both recognize that it is a time for growth and make use of the tools that the Holy Spirit gives us to make us grow more like Christ: sacraments, Scriptures and prayer. Jesus has left us the Holy Spirit so that we can be transformed to become more like Him.
Any kind of growth takes time. This is especially true with spiritual growth. However, if during times of struggle we faithfully use the tools the Holy Spirit has given us, we will gradually grow more loving, more and more Christ-like. To borrow a phrase from the sister from the soup kitchen, in our lives too, the “sweetness will come with time”. Today let us each try to identify one area in our life where we feel that Jesus is absent. Let us trust that this experience is an opportunity for growth and choose to use one specific spiritual tool to aid our growth.