Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ascencion of our Lord

As I was preparing to preach this Sunday I came across a homily from Father Ron Rolheiser, one of my favorite preaches. I liked it so much that I decided to adapt it for this Sunday. I borrowed quite a bit from Him. Some words are my own, some words are Fr. Ron's, but it was all inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of God The Father. I hope you enjoy it.
Today we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord, one of the most mysterious events in the life of Jesus. To understand its meaning we have to return to the Last Supper account that is recorded by the apostle John in his Gospel. In here we find Jesus giving His apostles final instructions and preparing them for what lay ahead. And, he did this by explaining the reason why he had to leave them; not by dying on the cross but by finally returning to the one how sent him. There is no doubt about this in the culminating point of his instructions we hear Jesus say: “It is better for you that I go away! For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you.”
All 4 gospel accounts record that the Apostles did not understand what he was talking about. And it was not until his ascension and after the coming of the Holy Spirit that they realized how the sadness of this final departure had turned into great joy.
Jesus knew their hearts very well. He knew that after, experiencing the sorrow of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection, His final goodbye was going to leave them confused and scared. And he knew this because part of been human is not been able to handle separation and absence. After all, we are created to be in relationships. It does not matter how strong we might think we are, no matter the circumstance; no one can handle final a goodbye and having to let go of someone we love.
Separation and absence are part of the human condition, they can be painful, they can fill us with emptiness, and they can make us feel as if all the color, energy, and joy that form the tapestry of our lives are snuffed like a candle in the night. Jesus knew this very well, but he also knew the meaning of his resurrection, the fact that with him there are no goodbyes.
Our daily experiences are proof of this. How many times after the restless, dark heartache of a painful goodbye passes something happens that makes us experience the opposite. And we realize that goodbye is just a new way of seeing and sensing our loved one’s presence in a new and different way.
Parents, for example, experience this when their children grow up and leave home to start lives of their own, or get married, or when they leave for college, and specially that very first day of school in kindergarten.
When we separate from someone we love we are left with a restless heartache and feelings of emptiness. But, after a while, especially when we meet that person again, the heartache quickly disappears. Because by their absence they make us realize how rich is our love for them. The pain of losing someone can turns into the joy of finding something deeper in the one whom we thought we had lost.
“It is better for you that I go away”, These are the unspoken words that children say to their parents when they leave home; these are the unspoken words we say to our friends when we have to move on with our lives; these are the unspoken words spouses sometimes say to each other when they have to grow in ways that, at the end of the day, will make a marriage stronger; and these are the unspoken words we say to each other every time we have to say a final goodbye.
The interplay of presence and absence in life is a great mystery. Jesus shows this today in the gospel with his final goodbye to his friends. As people created for relationships, we need to be present to each other physically, but we also need to be gone from each other at times. We bring a blessing both when we are with someone and when leave someone for a time. There is no presence without absence and there is something of our spirit that we can only give to the ones we love by going away.
Why is this so? Because absence is sometimes the only thing that can purify presence. When we are physically present, there are always tensions, irritations, disappointments, and faults in our character that partially block our full love. That’s why we rarely appreciate our loved ones fully, until they are taken away from us.
The pain of absence can help us to stretch our hearts so that the essence, the beauty, the love, and the gift of the one who is absent can flow into us without being distorted by the tensions, disappointments, and flaws of everyday life. Absence can work to stretch our hearts so that we can receive our loved one in a way that more fully accepts and respects them for who they really are. That’s why children have to go away because in this way they force parents to accept that they are growing and that as time passes, they have to develop lives of their own.
The mystery of saying goodbye is really the mystery of the Ascension, the less understood of all the mysteries in the life of Jesus. Is a mystery that speaks about having to go away and having to let go, so that our loved ones can fully receive our spirit. It’s a mystery about having to say goodbye, when goodbye isn’t really goodbye at all, but only love’s way of taking on a different color, a color that is deeper, purer, more permanent, less-clinging, and less-limited by the tensions, disappointments, inadequacies, wounds, and betrayals that that are part of our fallen nature and that distort all our relationships. The mystery of the Ascension It’s a mystery about living with each other even when we are still a work in progress. Is a mystery about understanding than in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, goodbye is just another way of saying, I love you. God bless you my brothers and sisters.