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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

ASCENSION OF THE LORD June 2, 2019

Acts 1: 1-11;Psalm 47;Ephesians 1: 17-23;Luke 24:46-53

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE:

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

Since 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 feast.


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 will."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060219-ascension.cfm

QUOTABLE

"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.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened

Ephesians 1:18

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 in.

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 home."

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 socialconcern@hnojnc.org

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

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:

Jesus said to his disciples:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria,

and to the ends of the earth."

Reflection:

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 ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

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 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:  http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"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 weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: 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 to preaching.

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 weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

 

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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