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Bishop's Homily for the Ascension of the Lord

May 28, 2017

Ascension of the Lord, Year A – May 27/28, 2017
[St. Mary Church, Hana (Confirmation at 9:00 a.m. Mass); St. Peter Mission, Puuiki]

I remember how disappointed I was the first time I ordered a teriyaki steak at a restaurant.  The steak was good, but it was only glazed over with teriyaki sauce, while I had been accustomed to the ones my mother would make, in which she marinated the steak for at least 24 hours in the teriyaki sauce.  The flavor was not only a “topping” added to a regular steak, but it permeated every pore of the meat and was much more delicious. 

This comparison occurred to me when I thought about the command Jesus gave his first disciples and still gives to us:  “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.”  Now, we may be tempted to think of Baptism as just pouring a little tiny bit of water on someone’s head as the sacred formula is pronounced.  But in reality, to baptize means to immerse, to soak, to completely marinate (if you will!) in … God!  -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It is not just a glazing over with God’s love, but being soaked in the very name of God and of the eternal community of love that is the Holy Trinity.  It is not just putting on God as our “Sunday best,” but having God’s life in every pore of our beings, all the time, and everywhere we go.  We are to live God’s love in our homes, in our most intimate relationships, in our communities, and in our body politic. 

But Jesus’ command does not only apply to the Baptism we receive, as grateful as we are for this gift.  He sends us out to immerse others in this loving name of God, so that they, too, can be soaked in his life and love.  But if this is Jesus’ desire, why did he leave us by ascending into heaven, beyond our sight and beyond our grasp?  Wouldn’t it have been more effective if he had stayed with us to direct us, to give us all the answers we need to know, and to strengthen us as we go out to immerse the world in God’s love?  Here I think of my days in the parish.  If I was in the office, people had a need to ask me, “Father, what should we do about this?  How shall we handle that?  What should I say to so-and-so?”  But I noticed when I was not available, they were perfectly capable of answering these questions themselves, of using their own gifts and abilities bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit to do what needed to be done.  Perhaps Jesus ascended into heaven not to abandon us, but to empower us to go our ourselves – always in his name and with his power, never in our own – to multiply his reach into all the world.  He did not want his message to be confined only to those who have a special relationship with him, but he has called us all to be stewards of the Gospel by withdrawing from our sight. 

Of course, the beauty of this is that even though he has now opened the heavenly realm to embodied human beings by his own Ascension there, he is still with us in very concrete ways.  He has left us the Sacred Scriptures, so that he, who is the Word made flesh, can speak to us personally whenever we read them or proclaim them.  He left us a company of disciples in the community of the Church, so that we will never feel alone in the mission entrusted to us, no matter how difficult it may be.  He gives us the sacraments, in which it is he, in his risen presence, who baptizes, who breathes out the Holy Spirit, and who unites a man and woman in the sacramental sign of his love for his Bride, the Church.  It is he who continues to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance and to heal the sick in the Anointing of the Sick.  It is Jesus, risen from the dead a ever present with us, who chooses certain men to be his deacons, priests, and bishops, so that through them he can consecrate the world in his service.  And best of all, he is the living Bread come down from heaven who immerses himself in us, filling every pore of our being with himself, so that we need not look up to heaven with open mouths any more to see him, but instead make him as present to the world as he makes himself present to us. 

And so if different races, religions, and nations are to live in peace and not the wars we so often see, it will only happen if we who are baptized and filled with the Spirit do the hard work of immersing them in the name of the three distinct persons who forever live in the harmony of perfect unity.  If people who feel rejected, bullied, or dehumanized are to have their rightful dignity restored, it will happen if we realize we are the ones who are sent to soak them in forgiveness, in hope, and in love.  If families are to live in fidelity to one another, it will only happen if we who are soaked in the name of God can go out and soak them in the same love. 

Jesus ascended into heaven to raise the bar for us, to show us that our call to be his disciples goes far beyond what this mundane world has to offer.  He shows us that no matter how difficult things may seem for us here below, we are already soaked in heavenly love.  And he entrusts us with calling all to our common heavenly home by sending us out in the power of his Spirit and with his own authority to immerse the whole world in the perfect love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.