THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST IS THE BEGINNING OF MAN’S VOCATION TO GOD

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Author’s Note:  This posting is a combination of two of my most recent homilies:  The 4th Sunday of Easter and the Feast of Ascension.  I hope you enjoy it.

When the Bishops of the United States chose to move the Feast of the Ascension from Thursday to Sunday, there was some confusion as to the reason why.  This most common reason was that by attaching a feast to a Sunday or secular holiday, the burden on the priests to travel to their various parishes during the week is lessened and attendance at Mass is increased. In Dioceses that have priests handling more than one parish, this move was rather helpful.

While those who preferred the feast to move back to Thursday and keep it as a Holy Day of Obligation (which is still the case in six dioceses) in looking at the readings that are attached to the three masses in question (Ascension, the 7th Sunday of Easter and the Thursday of the 6th Week of Easter), the meaning of this feast is given greater depth than was taken for granted.  In the readings for today, we hear proclaimed the final moments of Jesus on earth.  A little more than 40 days prior, the apostles were in mourning thinking that the one that they came to believe was the Messiah was killed and also that one of their group had betrayed him to his executioners.

Now, their sorrows were for a different reason.  Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection and their fears were removed.  They believed that he would be with them and lead a new movement.  Instead, Jesus was appearing to them at this moment for the final time.  They were told this day would come, but they hoped it didn’t have to.  In John’s Gospel that was proclaimed on Thursday instead of the Ascension Mass, Jesus told them “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me….I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”[1]  Jesus’ entire ministry was one of evangelization of the Jewish people, but also one of preparation for his apostles, who were to take over for him when he returned to Heaven.

This was the day in which his final charge was given to them.  It began with them coming to the mountain called Olivet where Jesus asked them to go.  From there, he tells them now is the time to make disciples of ALL the Nations, not just the Jews.  “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”[2]  He then implored them to return to Jerusalem and stay there and wait for that promise he told them his father would give them…. “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”[3]

The Apostles were still looking at Jesus as their deliverer from the temporal oppression they were facing.  He was like Moses standing on the mountain ready to give God’s commands to his people.  Or they looked at him like King David, ready to take back Jerusalem by force, if necessary.  He had just been raised from the dead, so it seemed natural for them to ask if it was now time that the kingdom will be restored to Israel.  Jesus, while assuring them that the kingdom will be restored, it will be not in the time or manner that they think.  “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.”[4] He assured them that they will receive the Holy Spirit and he will be with them always until the end of the earth.  And as he was saying this, he was raised up and left their sight.  They returned to Jerusalem and back into the Upper Room, where they spent their Last Supper with Jesus before the crucifixion.  There they were met by some women and others, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary, who all stayed there waiting for the moment that was promised to them would come.

This feeling the Apostles shared between themselves seemed to me to be a sentiment that we all have experienced at some point in our lives.  Is it time to make a change in our profession and make what we do as an avocation into a vocation?  A Vocation is defined as a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular career or occupation; a call, summons or pursuit. The word comes from the Latin “vocare” meaning “to call.” We usually take that word and place it in a religious mindset, such as a vocation to be a priest, nun, deacon, brother but it also means when one enters into the Sacrament of Marriage.  They spend their entire lives in pursuit of a better life for themselves and the person in which they are married.

A vocation can also mean a person’s civil life’s work.  A person has a vocation to be a doctor or a lawyer or a farmer or a store clerk or whatever.  Whenever a person has a desire to be something that they believe is important in their lives that benefit the lives of other’s and to do it every day, then that is a vocation. The pursuit of that vocation can take one’s entire life, and the rewards of it are measured not just monetarily, but in the lives of the people around them.

An Avocation, on the other hand, is something a person does that takes their mind away from their actual job; a hobby. The word comes from the Latin “avocare” meaning “to distract.”  This can be anything from working in the garden or volunteering or even taking a more than casual interest and study of one’s religion.  An avocation can help a person re-focus their mind to do their regular job better by stepping away from it. While this can help a person relax, it can also take the person away from the focus they need to enjoy each endeavor and, as a result, can lead someone to fail at one or the other or even both. The avocation takes the focus away from the vocation and, as a result, both suffer in the understanding and performance of each.

The ministry that Jesus was preparing the Apostles was one of vocation. This message was reflected in the Gospel proclaimed from St. John.  In it, Jesus tells those listening to him that he is the gate in which the sheep that pass through will find peace.  Those sheep who listen for their master’s voice will follow them, while those who try to enter another way are thieves and robbers.  He tells them that he came so that the sheep might have life, while those that came before him came only to slaughter and destroy.[5]

The recognition of the shepherd’s voice is stated in Pope Francis’ message for this World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  Francis states that those who listen and follow the voice of God must also be that voice for others.  “Those who are drawn by God’s voice and determined to follow Jesus soon discover within themselves an irrepressible desire to bring the Good News to their missionaries of the Gospel!”

At our baptism, we begin to hear the sound of God’s voice in our lives through our parents and godparents.  We continue to hear his call in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, where God calls us to come back to the flock and be fed.  In the Sacrament of Confirmation (which we will celebrate Sunday Afternoon) we are sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to continue that call for others so they can join the flock.  “As disciples,” Francis said, “we do not receive the gift of God’s love for our personal consolation, nor are we called to promote ourselves, or a business concern.  We are simply men and women touched and transformed by the joy of God’s love, who cannot keep this experience just to ourselves.”

While we think that vocations are just for the Ordained, it was not entirely that meaning in the early days of Christian evangelization, particularly as the reason we must be evangelizers in everything we say and do.  Recently, I have been reading a book on the early Irish Christians and their interpretations on the Scriptures.  The author spoke about the last phrase in Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you always until the end of the age.”[6]  To them, this meant so much more than just Jesus said to his apostles; it was a call to them to proclaim the Good News to the entire world as they saw it.  The author said that St. Patrick believed he was the living fulfillment of that phrase.  It was his mission to bring Christ to the ends of the earth, which at the time he believed he was, both spiritually and geographically, seeing Ireland as the end of the world in his mind.  Yet, the author suggests that we expand that phrase “the end of the age” from meaning that we are to stop when everyone has heard it to making sure this message reaches every single generation.  He says, “Perhaps we’d be better off regarding ‘the end of the age’ in Matthew 28 not as a fixed destination point but a promise of Jesus’ presence in every era of history….In (one) story, Patrick warns against being too preoccupied with either the past or the future: ‘you have your thoughts too much taken up with them.  They stand between your eyes and the Heaven that is all around you.’”[7]

This is our call from Christ: to be evangelizers of everyone around us in every age so that, when our age is over, the next one can take our place and spread the Good News without interruption.  It is what a vocation is meant to be:  for our skills and talents to be used for the betterment of not only ourselves, but, more importantly, the betterment of others and society.  This weekend in the United States we honor those who listened to God’s word, saw it being oppressed in other countries and gave their lives so that it could be proclaimed once more.  Their sacrifice was more than looking to the past or to the future, they saw it as a mission in the here and now, so that the next here and now can be fulfilled.  We thank them for their courage; ask that God keep them in his care, and that we keep in mind their actions as we go about our day-to-day activities in evangelizing the nations in our ordinary ways.

So the question we ask ourselves is “Do we treat our faith as a vocation or avocation:  a way of life or a distraction of our true purpose?”  To find the answer, we must hear the voice of the Shepherd.  The Lord is our Shepherd; there is nothing that we shall want. We have seen the Ascension and now we wait in anticipation; for as it was in the days of the Apostles; as it was in the days of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice; as it is today; we know, understand and acknowledge that Jesus has been, is now and will be with us always “until the end of the age.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

 

 

[1] Jn. 16:16-20.

[2] Mt. 28:16-20.

[3] Acts 1:5.

[4] Acts 1:7.

[5] Jn. 10:1-10.

[6] Mt. 28:20.

[7] McIntosh, Kenneth, ed. “The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew.”

(Vestal, New York:    Anamchara Books, 2017), p. 304-306.

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