02 June 2014

Goodbye, Farewell, Amen

Ascension of the Lord
           I didn’t plan it this way, but it happened to work out that the Sunday Mass at which I say “farewell” to this community is also the Sunday that, as a Church, we celebrate Jesus saying “farewell” to His disciples and Mother as He ascends into heaven.  Of course, there are major differences: I won’t be leaving today’s Mass or reception on a cloud into the heavens, and I’m not going to ask you to wait for the next week in the upper room of a house, praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 
The rock from which, by tradition,
Jesus ascended into heaven just
outside Jerusalem
As Jesus leaves today, He doesn’t leave for good.  We heard about the two men, whom we traditionally think of as angels, telling the disciples, “‘Men of Galilee…This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.’”  But, just as important are Jesus own words recorded at the end of today’s Gospel: “‘And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’”  Jesus, even as He leaves His disciples in such a way that they will no longer see His glorified body, promises that He is not abandoning them.  He promises to be with them always.  That is why, of course, they also pray for 9 days, awaiting the promised Paraclete, the Advocate, who will fill them with power from on high, the Holy Spirit, Who is Christ’s presence for all ages, and teaches them things that they could not understand while Jesus was on earth.  Jesus doesn’t abandon His flock, His People, His Church, but remains with them always.
            We see that through the Holy Spirit working through Bishop Boyea as he made decisions about where priests would be in the coming year.  Bishop Boyea needed Fr. Dave Hudgins to study canon law, and to learn how to be Christ’s presence on the Tribunal, and he is sending me to Adrian, to be Christ’s presence there.  And he is sending you another priest to take my place, to be Christ’s presence here, as well as another priest to take Fr. Jim’s place.  In some ways I’m sure those priests are similar.  In other ways I know they will be different.  I’ve already been told that I need to tell Fr. Dan Westermann that he will be expected to attend as many sports games as possible, and announce STA basketball games.  We’ll see what he can do.  But Jesus supplies the priests that this parish will need to grow as disciples, and Jesus will remain with you through them.
            Jesus also gives a mandate, a command, as He ascends into heaven: “‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…[and] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’”  Jesus commands His disciples to tell others about Him and teach them to observe His commands because He has given us the way (not one way, the way) to happiness, which prepares us even on earth for the eternal joys of heaven.  Jesus does not want His presence to be limited to those who physically saw Him while He preached on earth.  Jesus wants His presence to be spread all around the world, and, after Pentecost, we see the disciples do precisely that: they spread out and preach the Gospel to modern-day Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, Egypt, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, perhaps even Spain, and so many places in-between.  Filled with Jesus’ presence, they are compelled to tell others about Jesus and live and preach His way of life to others.
            People have sometimes asked me how I was able to be everywhere: sports, band concerts, plays, classrooms, parish meetings, etc.  I just tried to be a father, and I emulated the sacrifices so many of you parents have made and are making to be at your children’s events.  The only difference was that I have a lot more children than any one family here!!  But in trying to go to everything, if only just for a little bit, I was trying to show you that, while Jesus of course cares that you go to Mass each Sunday and holyday and that you go to confession regularly, Jesus also cares about the things you do outside this church building: the games you play, the events you’re engaged in, the clubs and organizations to which you belong.  Jesus cares about it all, and He wants you to spread His presence to all those events in which you participate.  To the extent that you could see Jesus caring when I showed up, give praise to God.  To the extent that my presence didn’t communicate Jesus’ presence, I apologize.  And I’m sorry I could not do more.
            We don’t really hear about it in Scripture, but we know that Jesus laughed from time to time.  We know that Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus.  We read in Scripture that Jesus consoled sinners and extended His mercy to them.  He spoke difficult words and set a high bar for what it means to follow Him.  He called all to deeper conversion and a fuller life through a deeper relationship with God.  I have laughed with you.  I have wept with you at funerals.  I have been the vessel of God’s mercy more times than I can count.  I have spoken difficult words, and reminded all of us that to be a disciple means to daily carry our cross with Jesus.  I have tried to encourage all of us to get to know Jesus better and love Him more.  Thank you for all of those times.  Thank God that I was able to try to be His presence in those times.  And while we say farewell today and in the coming days, the most important thing is that the Father remains with you; Jesus remains with you; the Holy Spirit remains with you, because Jesus promised, “‘behold, I am with you always.’”