One of the greatest honors yet at the same time, one of the greatest difficulties of my ministry is walking with people towards death. No one wants to hear that their life is almost over, but there’s something very beautiful about having the opportunity to prepare. People who are approaching death certainly have their own concerns, but in my experience, most of them are more worried about their family than themselves. While it is certainly hard to have to tell your loved ones that you are passing away, perhaps the hardest part is deciding what they want their final words to their loved ones to be.
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus is a similar place. He has already risen from the dead and for forty days has appeared to his followers and now is preparing to ascend to the right hand of the Father where He will remain until He comes again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. Gathering with His disciples for the last time, He chooses His last words very carefully and leaves them with a command and a promise. He commands them to go “make disciples of all nations” by “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and assures them that He will be with them always until the end of the ages. Next Sunday when we gather to celebrate the feast of Pentecost we will see how Jesus remains with us, but today’s readings give us pause to look at this command.
You see while Jesus taught many things, healed many people, and performed many miracles, He came into this world for one purpose, to save us. God, in His great love for us, became on of us and gave His life so that all of us could have the possibility of being saved. As Jesus prepared to ascend to the right hand of the Father, he didn’t want that saving mission to end so he gave us a command to go into the world to baptize. Jesus left us this command as His last words because it is that important. Ultimately it is a matter of life and death: a matter of eternal life or eternal death.
This past week, after President Trump met with Pope Francis he was given a tour of the Vatican. Later in the day, the Vatican released a picture of President Trump and his wife standing before Michelangelo’s famous painting The Last Judgement. The Last Judgement is a depiction of the second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity which hangs over the pope’s private altar in the Sistine Chapel. In this painting, the souls of humans rise and fall to their fates as they are judged by Christ.
Regardless of politics seeing the president, who in virtue of his office is arguably the most powerful man on earth, standing before the fresco was a stark reminder of our fate. Friends, death is the great equalizer. It does not matter how much we know, how much money we have or how famous we are when we stand before Christ at the last judgment all that will matter is how we have used our knowledge, our money and our fame in service of Christ and our neighbor.
Today’s feast of the Annunciation thus invites us to stand before the final judgment and ask ourselves how will we be judged. As Catholics, the last command of Jesus Christ has reached us. Someone realized Christ’s command and lead us to baptism. We have now been given every tool necessary to attain eternal life, but will we cooperate with God’s grace to attain eternal life? What about our friends? Christ has given us a command to go out and bring others into the fold. Who in our lives do we need to go out and bring back into the Church? Who do we need to lead to baptism, or who do we need to lead back to living their baptismal life?
Today as we celebrate the great feast of the Ascension, our nation also pauses to remember those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We rightly set time aside this weekend to remember and honor those who were willing to give up their life so that we could live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. While we honor them, we too need to realize that as Christians you and I are called to imitate their sacrifice being willing to give up anything so that our family and friends may truly live in the eternal land of the free in heaven. My friends, Jesus has truly ascended to the right hand of the Father where He will come again to judge the living and the dead. If you stood before the judgment seat now what would your fate be? How about the fate of your family and friends? Well, we have heard His command. We must go out and bring people to the Church so that all of us can live in the land of eternal freedom, the heavenly kingdom.