Showing posts with label Discipleship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Discipleship. Show all posts

Would it be better if the Ascension never happened?

Mark 16:15-20 (Ascension, year B)

“The time has come for you to start building houses on your own.” This was the last instruction that a young carpenter in training received from his mentor, a master carpenter. These words terrified the young man. For years he had apprenticed alongside the master carpenter, learning from him. His mentor was always there to check his work and answer any question he had about the trade. The young carpenter felt safe working with him. He would have loved to continue working under his mentor for the rest of his career. He felt angry that the master carpenter would no longer allow him to simply assist him, but was forcing him to take full, personal responsibility for projects.

Hesitantly, the young carpenter began building houses on his own. At first it was very difficult. He was unsure of himself. As he progressed through his work day, the young man encountered many challenges and questions he wished he could discuss with his old mentor. This, however, was no longer possible. The master carpenter was always at some other job. The young carpenter was forced to figure things out for himself. He experimented, took risks and showed initiative. He made mistakes, but he found as time went on he was learning and becoming a better carpenter. His skills developed in a new way that would not have been possible had he simply continued assisting his old mentor. Eventually he saw the wisdom of the master carpenter. Had his mentor not forced him to build houses on his own, his growth would have been stunted. Being left on his own was necessary for the young man to develop his full potential as a carpenter. Years passed.  The young man became a master carpenter himself and began apprenticing others. Whenever he saw that a young carpenter in training had learned all he or she could from him he would say: “the time has come for you to start building houses on your own”.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As we heard in the Gospel, at the Ascension Jesus gave us a mission and then left us on our to take the personal responsibility to do it. Understandable, when we think about the Ascension of Jesus we can feel like that young carpenter did when his mentor left him to work on His own.

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, didn't ask us to build a house, but a kingdom, the Kingdom of God. He gave us a clear mission: go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. We are called to tell everyone the Good News about the love of God made manifest in Jesus who has died to save us. We are called to lead others into a relationship with Jesus. We are called to build up the Kingdom of God by transforming the world so that it is more guided by the values of Christ like love, mercy and humility.

Jesus gave us this mission and then He left us. Here is a question that comes into my mind when I consider the Ascension: would it not have been better for us if Jesus had stayed on earth? It is hard to understand why Jesus had to return to His Father. Imagine if Jesus were still with us as He was after the Resurrection and we could still see Him face to face and speak with Him. Whenever we faced a challenge, either in our personal life or as a community, we could simply call up Jesus in Jerusalem, Rome or wherever He happened to be and He could tell us what to do. What should we do today to ensure the poor are taken care of and no one is hungry? If Jesus had not ascended we could just set up a meeting and He could answer that. Want to know how to obtain lasting peace in the Middle East? You would simply need to get Jesus on the phone. How can we properly care for the environment? Get Jesus on Skype and He’d have a solution. At times we can think it would have been better had the Ascension never happened.

Jesus, however, clearly tells us that it is for our own good that He ascends and leaves us (John 16:7). The young carpenter would never have developed into a master carpenter if his mentor was always around him, answering all his questions and preventing him from making any mistakes. The young carpenter had to take full responsibility for projects of his own before He could develop into a master carpenter. Jesus wants us to become become mature in our faith, developing our full potential as His followers. He wants us to become master Christians and not remain apprentices.  We will make mistakes, but if we are to become an adult follower of Jesus we need to take responsibility for building up the Kingdom on our own.

When He ascends into Heaven, Jesus leaves us on our own and yet He doesn't really leave us on our own. The mission of building up the Kingdom of God is at the same time fully our responsibility and a project which God is in full control of. Here is where comparing us Christians to the young carpenter breaks down. In order for him to grow the young carpenter had to take full responsibility for building houses. The work had to be his alone. For this to happen, the master carpenter had to remove himself from the scene completely. Jesus, however, is not bound by this human limitation.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is how Jesus leaves us on our own and yet doesn't really leave us on our own. Pentecost follows the Ascension.The Holy Spirit is a gentle, guiding, strengthening influence in our life. The Holy Spirit allows us to take full responsibility for the mission Jesus has given. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is fully in control, supporting us, keeping us united and giving efficacy to our actions. The Holy Spirit makes the mission fully our work and fully God’s. In completing Jesus' mission "work like everything depends on you and pray like everything depends on God" (Mother Teresa).

“The time has come for you to start building houses on your own.” . The young carpenter not only listened to these words of his mentor but acted on them. For this reason he grew as a carpenter.  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”. Today we have once again listened to these words of Jesus. If we act on these words we will grow as His disciple. If we do not, we will never mature. Have you taken personal responsibility for building the Kingdom of God?

Focus on Beauty

Matthew 13: 44-46 (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A)

Are you a Catholic because you want to be a Catholic or because you have to be a Catholic? Do you go to Mass on Sunday because you desire to or because you feel obligated to?

It makes all the difference when we follow Jesus because we want to rather than because we have to. Doing something because we desire to do it is a completely different experience than doing something because we feel obliged to do it. This principle applies in all areas of our life. If you watched the recent World Cup, you no doubt know Lionel Messi, (arguably!) the greatest soccer player in the world. Do you think that Messi became so good because he wanted to play soccer well or because others forced him to play well? Imagine if during Messi’s life, his father constantly  pressured him to practice and train hard so that he could become a professional soccer player. Perhaps Messi would continue playing for a while, but this external pressure would only take him so far. Eventually he would give up. The reality is that Messi desired with all his heart to play soccer and become great at it. It was this desire that led him to willingly make sacrifices and train hard year after year. In the gospel, we heard Jesus explain that the kingdom of heaven - that is, following Jesus and his way - is like a treasure or a pearl that someone is willing to sacrifice everything to obtain. If we go to Mass, pray and follow the commandments because we feel we have to, because we feel obliged by rules or expectations from our family and friends, we will only go so far. Chances are, we’ll eventually just give up. We should follow Jesus because we want to. Following Jesus should be something that captures our imagination and leads us to desire it above all else. When Jesus becomes our greatest treasure we willingly make sacrifices to be close to Him. It makes all the difference when we follow Christ because we want to rather than because we feel we have to.

In order to renew our desire to follow Jesus, it is helpful to reconnect with its beauty. The key word here is beauty. Notice in the parable that Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure or a wonderful pearl, two beautiful things. Jesus Jesus does not say that the kingdom of heaven is like a pair of old gym socks, taxes or broccoli.   Beauty attracts us, it draws us out of ourselves. Encounters with beauty inspires us to makes changes in our life. This is something I experienced in my own life. I was raised in a Catholic family. Like many in my situation, I often went to Church because I felt my parents made me. As is so common, when I started to become an adult and no one pressured me to go, I started to have a lot of questions. Why should I go to Church? Was Jesus God? Is there even a God? During this confusing a difficult time, I had an experience that greatly affected me. One day I went to visit my grandmother who lives close by the ocean on the Sunshine Coast. It was already dark and I was walking along the beach towards her house. Suddenly I was struck by the beauty of what I saw around me. The water was so calm and peaceful. The moon, which was shining brightly in the clear sky, was reflecting upon the ocean. It is difficult to explain, but at that moment I was struck by the idea that all this beauty was created by a good God.  More than this, I felt that this wonderful God wanted to have a relationship with me. This seemed like such a wonderful and beautiful thing! At that moment I greatly desired to have this relationship in my life and began searching to see how this could be possible. There is so much beauty in our faith. The beauty of Jesus’ life who died out of love to save us. The beauty of the holy lives of the saints. The beauty of being part of the Church, a family that transcends time and nationality. When we reconnect with this beauty, we renew - or perhaps enkindle for the first time - our desire to follow Jesus.

Our view towards Sunday Mass will tell us a lot about whether we follow Jesus because we want to or because we feel we have to. Sometimes going to Mass each Sunday is referred to as our “Sunday Duty”. True, going to Mass each Sunday is an important obligation and if we miss Mass on Sunday without a just reason it is a serious sin. Further, getting to Mass on Sunday can be difficult at times; people are busy and parking can be difficult to find! This said, we can often approach Sunday Mass as something we want to get done and out of the way so that we can get on with the rest of our day. Would we go to Mass if there was no rule forcing us?  The YouCat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church) has something very interesting to say on the issue of “Sunday duty”:
Actually, for a genuine Christian, “Sunday duty” is just as inappropriate an expression as “kiss duty” would be for someone who is truly in love. No one can have a living relationship with Christ without going to the place where he is waiting for us. Therefore, from ancient times the celebration of Mass has been the “heart of Sunday” and the most important appointment of the week. (YouCat 219)
If we really understand the beauty of what Mass is, we should want to go. We would desire to be with Jesus and receive Him in His word and His Body in the Eucharist. We would want to be strengthened by a community that is also trying to grow closer to God. How we view going to Mass on Sunday can tell us a lot about our desire to follow Jesus.

Are you here today because you want to be here or because you have to be here? Do you follow Jesus because you want to and or because you have to? If you are unable to answer a resounding “yes!”, stay calm. At times, it is normal for our desire to follow Christ to become cold. Take a moment today to rekindle your desire to follow Jesus by reminding yourself of one beautiful aspect of our faith that captivates and inspires you.

What is your "beautiful reason" for following Jesus?