Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions":
the members of the Dominican Laity and the recent men retreatants
both at St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, Texas
most dioceses have scheduled the celebration of the Ascension
on this Sunday (instead of celebrating the 7th Sunday
of Easter), I thought it would be helpful to reflect on this
Imagine what it felt like to be one of Jesus’ first disciples.
What a roller coaster ride they had had! There were the heady first
days of traveling with him; listening to his powerful preaching;
being wonder-struck as he performed miracles and feeling pride when
people learned they were his intimates. Except for the arguments
with Pharisees and Sadducees, things were going pretty nicely for
this band of followers. Formerly, they were nobodies; now they were
somebodys – they were disciples of Jesus. It was all very fine, and
things seemed to be getting bigger as they entered Jerusalem with
Jesus with the sound of the crowds in their ears and the feel of
palm branches under their feet on the road into the city.
Then the roller coaster plunged straight down, as far down as it
could go. Jesus was arrested, hastily tried and dispatched to his
executioners and the burial party. The formerly enthusiastic
followers fled to lay low and figure out their escape. But just days
later, things took another dramatic swing – he was alive with, as
Acts tells us today, "many proofs after he had suffered, appearing
to them during forty days and speaking about the reign of God." But
here it is, the Ascension and their emotions are in for another
rapid shift in direction, Jesus has left them again. I wonder what
they were thinking as they "looked intently at the sky as he was
going"? "Why can’t he stay? Just when we need him the most, he
leaves us. Who’ll be with us to show us how to be his witnesses?
Who’ll intervene when we argue among ourselves? Or, when scandal
rocks our community and we feel like we are going to collapse?
Who’ll teach us how to answer his enemies’ objections? What should
we do next? This evening? Tomorrow morning? Should we go home and
lead good lives, or go on the road to be preachers? What does
‘preach the gospel’ mean anyway?"
These may have been some of their ponderings as they stared up to
the heavens. It took the "two men dressed in white garments (were
these the same two at the empty tomb?), to shake them out of
whatever nostalgia, or anxiety they were feeling. The motion-sick
disciples drag themselves from the mountain and return to the midst
of the world, Jerusalem. They don’t have a clue what to do next, but
Acts tells us that Jesus’ Spirit will find them and equip them for
the tasks that lie ahead. They will discover that they won’t be on
their own in their uncertain future, that Jesus’ life with God will
be the source of more-than-enough gifts with which to spread the
news of the reign of God.
The Ascension sounds like a conclusion, and in some ways it is.
It concludes the earthly ministry of Jesus and ends one way the
disciples have known him. But the Ascension is also a bridge to
another, new and surprising way the disciples will know Jesus. This
new experience of his life with them will be made known by the
coming and activity of the Holy Spirit. Their Jewish belief taught
that heaven is where God dwells. No human could seek to attain such
a place, for the Almighty and transcendent One dwelt there. (Elijah
and Enoch were taken up to heaven, but they were the exception and
not the rule.) Now that Jesus had been "lifted up," his followers
can believe that he had not only risen from the dead, but is in a
new life with God. His being there gives us hope that one day we
will also be there. Jesus in now in God’s company, his appearances
to his disciples have ceased. But since he is with God, like God, he
is present to all, no longer limited by time and place. Absent, yet
fully present. Since Jesus is alive with God, we are assured that he
will come again. Meanwhile, because of his present status as Lord of
all, he works with his servants to bring about God’s plan. We, on
our part, work diligently here on earth, in collaboration with him
and as we do, we keep an eye on Jesus, for where he is, we will
someday be. A lot revolves around the Ascension. Because of it, we
believe Jesus will come again; that he rules over all creation;
sends us the Holy Spirit; is our priest and reveals God to us. This
feast gives us great hope.
After the Ascension, what must the disciples do to get things
going? There was a lot to do; a gospel to be preached, works of
compassion and healing to be performed. Did some of the disciples
want to get on with their assigned task? You could picture them
rolling up the sleeves of their tunics, ready to get to work. Did
they feel that since they had learned a lot from Jesus while they
were with him and, since he had showed himself to them after his
resurrection, they had more than enough experience and training to
go out and change the world? Some may have felt timid and not quite
ready, but there are always the enthusiastic and energized who want
to do something, anything, right away. This group may have felt
frustrated to hear that they must "wait for the promise of the
Father about which you have heard me speak." When there is a lot to
do, most people don’t want to first stop and do nothing.
The early church is about to undergo a big change. The Ascension
is an in-between time, when one period is ending and a new is about
to begin. But not quite yet. Rather than rush off fired by their own
enthusiasms and plans, the disciples are told to wait. So, they will
do that, letting themselves be ready and waiting for God to have an
influence over them. I think of all the church gatherings and
meetings when we say a perfunctory prayer and then hurry on to the
work at hand. Whether it be dealing with important home or church
issues, I am so task-oriented, I forget the partnership we have in
the community with the Holy Spirit, "the promise of the Father." The
Spirit’s coming will begin a new age, when the words and actions of
the disciples are the fruits of the Spirits’s life with us. With the
Spirit’s guidance our projects might take an unusual shape, a new
routine, an unexpected turn. Maybe we will be less driven, less
success oriented, more accepting ting of the voices of others and
more willing to be flexible when change is needed. How will these
disciples and us be more open to the coming Spirit?
First, the instructions are to wait and receive what God wants to
give us. As a church, and as individuals, we are going to have to
figure out what form our "waiting" takes, our attempts to be open to
the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We need to devise "strategies for
waiting" that reflect our dependence on God. More deliberate prayer
for guidance by communities of faith might reflect the
Ascension-hope of the community that believes Jesus’ promise to give
us his Spirit to guide us.
It’s possible to be quite actively involved in our work for God
and still keep within our busy schedule and active a sense of
waiting--- even as we go about our projects. Some people start the
day with a few quiet moments expressing in wordless prayer openness
and dependence on God for life and nourishment. Others, busy in
their world of family, work and service, carry in their heats
through the day brief mantras, short repetitious prayers, that state
and reiterate openness and dependence on God for initiative and
direction for the form their response to God should take. "Speak
Lord, your servant is listening." "Here I am O God, ready to do your
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
"Indeed, any sermon that remained
entirely in the realm of abstract thought, never
touching the real world of field and crops, parents and
children, employers and workers, feasts and banquets,
toil and play, would hardly qualify as Christian
preaching at all."
-----Thomas Long in,
The Witness of Preaching.
the eyes of your hearts be enlightened
Have you ever thought about what it means to see with your heart?
How is it different than seeing with only your eyes? Can you think
of a situation that you saw with your heart? Working for
environmental justice begins with seeing with your heart, as do
other social justice issues.
Perhaps, one of the most beautiful prose I have ever read on the
subject of seeing the environment with your heart comes from Fr.
Anthony de Mello, S.J., in his book, The Song of the Bird (Anand,
1982). He writes, "If you really heard a bird sing, if you really
saw a tree. . .you would know - beyond words and concepts. What was
that you said? That you have heard dozens of birds sing and seen
hundreds of trees? Ah, was it the tree you saw or the label? When
you look at a tree and see a tree, you have really not seen the
tree. When you look at a tree and see a miracle -- then, at last,
you have seen a tree! Did your heart ever fill with wordless wonder
when you heard the song of a bird?" Last week in this column, we
praised creation. This week we get to work for the miracle we live
Do you like breathing? Do you know that trees are the lungs of
the world? Pope Francis states that "Everything is connected." What
would be the quality of air without trees?
Years ago, Rachel Carson wrote a book called, Silent Spring
(Readers, 1962). She writes, "It was a spring without voices. On
the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins,
catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there
was now no sound." She was ringing an alarm about the overuse of
pesticides. Everything is connected.
What you do or don’t do to preserve the environment, will yield a
positive or negative visible result. On this day of observance of
Jesus’ ascension, we have to begin a personal ecological conversion.
Here are three initial steps:
1. See the world as a living miracle not as a commodity.
2. Take the Pope Francis pledge: "I pledge to pray for and with
creation, to live more simply, to advocate to protect our common
3. Choose one environmental issue and advocate on its behalf.
Interested in Care for Creation in our parish, we are looking to
form a board. Contact me at
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Acts reading:
to his disciples:
will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the
ends of the earth."
In Jesus, God wanted to be involved in our world. Now the
disciples must continue that work of involvement. We are called to
proclaim the Good News: heal the sick, reconcile enemies, feed the
hungry, and teach people God’s ways.
So, we ask ourselves:
- In what ways does the mission – "proclaim the gospel" –
apply to us?
- Can we list some of the "signs" of Christ’s presence that we
have experienced in our roles of service?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Walic C. Thomas #0405380 (On death row since 8/9/96)
- James F. Davis #0510234 (10/2/96)
- Melvin L. White #0434355 (10/15/96)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday
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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group,
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2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These
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http://www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find
"Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and
"Homilías Dominicales," as well as
articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those
wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the
Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent
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you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the
Great Priory of Texas
Vince Hagan Drive
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