Ascension Sunday 2020 / Memorial Day Homily

     Yesterday, I celebrated my 5th anniversary as a priest. While in some ways it feels like just yesterday that I was ordained, when I look back over those 5 years, I am still in awe over how God can use someone like me to be His presence to people in the world. To this day, I consider one of the greatest blessings of the priesthood to be how people welcome me into their families at some of the most joyful moments of their lives and at some of the most difficult times. In the past 5 years I have been blessed to witness miracles as well as tragedies that no human person should ever have to experience. Yet, in the midst of those jubilant and horrific moments it has been humbling to see how God is at work. As I look back over the past 5 years, I can honestly say that even if I or others didn’t recognize it in the moment, God has always kept His promise from today’s Gospel and He will always be with us. In the midst of the good and the bad, these past five years have opened my eyes to a perspective on how precious life is and how active God truly is in our world.

       One of those moments that continues to keep things into perspective for me is having the honor of walking with someone towards death and especially being there as they prepare to pass away. I don’t know if you have ever experienced the final goodbye with someone you love, but they are always very tender moments that reveal the truth of the relationship that exists. As I’ve journeyed with dying people through their final goodbyes to family and friends, I have watched with amazement over how much thought they put into what they wanted their final words to their friends and loved ones to be. Probably very few of us have ever stopped to think about what our final words to our loved ones would be, but I guarantee they would represent what was most important to us.

       Well this is exactly where we find Jesus in today’s Gospel. He has died, risen and for 40 days He has appeared to his disciples and friends. Now He is preparing to ascend to the right hand of the Father where He will remain until He comes again at the end of time, as the creed we are about to profess reminds us, to judge the living and the dead. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is gathered one last time with His apostles and with His last words, He leaves them with a command and a promise. He commands them to continue His mission by making disciples of all nations through baptism, and He promises that He will never leave them. Even though Jesus no longer walks this earth, He has not left us orphans, no He has left us the Catholic Church and her sacraments, which are “the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is His Body.”[1] 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 of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations.

       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 one 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. The Church is after all “a plainly evident path to the Risen Lord.”[2]

       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 for our country. 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.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 774

[2] Robert Cardinal Sarah. God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Dias San Francisco: Ignatius (2015) Pg. 145

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