The Ascension Homily - Where to from here? Waiting, waiting!

1 June 2019 | General Interest


Where to from here? Waiting, waiting!

Lk 24.46-53  AA 1.1-11  Eph 1.17-23

Last week I concluded with the late, great Daniel O’Leary’s final reflections on facing his mortality with hope and faith, as he spoke of “The invisible, unimaginable, universal energy of the cosmos – is Love. The realization invades me… Like the breaking of the dawn. Once sensed, the precipice of despair will always remain out of reach.”  And now, we have Jesus about to definitively depart from the earthly human scene, to return to the glory of the Father, yet promising to return in the light of the Spirit, commissioning the disciples, concentric inner sanctum of apostles, and the broader group of his believers.

Ascension to Pentecost is a sort of ‘limbo’ period where we are waiting, waiting, as Dr Seuss would say, “for a train to go or a bus to come or a plane to go or the mail to come or the rain to go or the phone to ring or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite, or waiting for wind to fly a kite, or waiting around for a Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a Better Break or a string of pearls , or a pair of pants, or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting. NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.” But it’s not that simple, is it?

Father Kevin Burke’s 49 years of priesthood and retirement from Eltham last Sunday was marked with a Mass of thanksgiving, celebration and acknowledgement of his ministry and friendship to many over that time, beginning here in Essendon where he grew up, with many family members and friends gathered. Kev the Rev’s 33 minute homily, slideshow and asides included, a further promotion of his autobiography “Even God Laughed: (Subtitled) The Strife and Chimes of Kev the Rev”! (launched by Father Bob Maguire a few months ago), as he meandered through his experiences in diverse parish appointments and other ministries such as Marriage Encounter, Parish Renewal and Antioch programs along the way. He asked a few people to ‘roast’ him after Mass as well, with me concluding the proceedings, recalling how I had met him at a vocations camp in 1968, when he was still a seminarian and I was in Year 11 at CBC St Kilda, as we’ve remained friends over those 50+ years. He’d make the Guinness Book of Records for the number of household visits (12,000+, according to his count!) he made, in his many parishes and beyond (often around 6pm in the evening!) becoming something of a legend in the process. In more recent years, with his passion for social justice, based on the Gospel message, he has also developed a penchant and talent for getting Letters to the Editor published in various papers (100 so far!), which I am sure will continue into his retirement. He covered quite a journey of fidelity to ministry and engagement with people over that time, not always in the most conventional way, but with sincerity, commitment and perseverance, in his own inimitable way. Certainly, Kev was one to get out there into the action!

An insight into his thinking and pastoral practice is perhaps reflected in a few apt quotes at the start of several chapters: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words” (Francis of Assisi); “It takes 43 muscles to frown and only 7 muscles to laugh” (Oriental Sage); “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun!” (Katherine Hepburn).

I was once asked why I often referred to the Old Testament and Jewish faith and practice, when we are meant to be Catholics, and that’s what matters most! Yet it is so clear that Jesus emphasizes the continuum of faith into his period of the New Testament and beyond. He comes to fulfil the Law, and not to abolish it, but also to establish priorities and not lay down details of law, nor of structures, for that matter. Christian communities later slowly evolve in their own way, with the Gospel call to all who respond, to live lives of faith in prayer, word and action.

The ending of Luke’s Gospel and beginning of Acts of the Apostles provide continuity into the time of the church, as the core of the Christian community forms, develops and spreads, but in sequential time for Luke, as he provides the 40 days between Easter and Ascension, and 50 to Pentecost next Sunday. We’ve already had the first conclusion of John’s Gospel with Jesus appearing in the closed room on the same day as Resurrection, to impart the Spirit and commission, the apostles gathered in fear. Luke’s preference is for the symbolism of time and repetition of earlier events, as with Jesus’ 40 days in the desert in preparation for his public ministry, and now 40+10 for the early church’s origins.

There’s an echo of an Exodus theme here, as Jesus leads them out to Bethany after exhorting them to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name, to all nations, the new promised land of the www – the whole wide world. It is a universal commission to go to the ends of the earth. (We have to concede, there has been some progress in this direction, given that, of the world’s 7+ billion people today, about 1/3 are nominally Christian, 50% of these Catholic, which, of course, means universal and implies inclusion, not exclusion.) And all of this happening, despite our human shortcomings, inconsistencies and misunderstanding of the message at times. As well, it might be added, this growth has occurred, inevitably guided by the Spirit, despite the institutional failings and hypocrisy so often revealed throughout history, since early church times. We can’t afford to lose sight of the truth and goodness at the heart of Jesus’ message and his call to love and forgiveness ongoing.

As we know, the ends of the earth back then were far more limited than now, some flat earthers probably fearing you’d fall off the edge if you ventured too far! Acts of the Apostles has the journey to Rome of Peter and Paul in the end, following on from Luke’s Gospel focussing on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem to meet his ultimate fate. Today’s Gospel is about moving way out from there, in order to evangelize the global village of which we are part.

At present, rather than living in a world coming together in peace and good will, unfortunately we see moves to build barriers and isolate, a preoccupation with self-interest, and unhealthy nationalistic tendencies, rather than an openness to work together in co-operation. The strong man leadership syndromes are most unhelpful when it comes to breaking down barriers and openness to mutual understanding, seeking the good of all. We see it in the UK and Europe, the USA, in particular, and in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and other parts of our divided, tangled and troubled world. 

And so, for us, as we look at a fractured and fragmented world, the opportunity is there to see the Jesus message as a call to unity, but not uniformity, in peace and good will, returning to another anthem which reverberates through the Gospels and Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. The Easter Jesus greets the fearful ones with peace and friendship, as they await the coming of the Spirit.

It can be easy at times, to lose focus and hope, particularly with the way recent events have evolved. Even in our own society in Australia, it has been suggested that divisions are now more apparent than ever, between rich and poor, right and left, religious and secular, and so on. Yet, the Gospel message is about integration, synthesis and harmony, seeking reconciliation and common ground, respecting our common humanity. And so we symbolically await the coming of Pentecost next week, although the Spirit arrived a few weeks early last week, for our 100 or so Year 6 Confirmation candidates!!

And so winter begins, the shortest day of the Solstice only 20 days off! 

john hannon                                     1st  June 2019


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