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Bishop's Homily for the Ascension of the Lord

May 13, 2018

[St. Ann Church, Kaneohe (Confirmation); St. Philomena Church, Honolulu (Confirmation)]

Don’t play with fire!  And don’t play with sharp knives!

This is good advice that parents give to their little children, and it is good advice for all of us.  Playing with fire can be dangerous to life and property, and playing with sharp knives is not usually good for our health either.  However, I notice signs around town for a fire-knife competition that will be taking place soon and that will provide quite a spectacle to those who attend.  Of course, those who compete know what they are doing.  They have had years of training and practice that has made what is dangerous to the rest of us an art that is not so dangerous to them.  Though I am certainly no expert in this sport, I would imagine the training starts with unlit dull knives and progresses from there, and that it probably takes years before one graduates to sharp knives that are on fire.

When Jesus sends us out on mission at his Ascension, he mentions that we, his disciples, will be able to do amazing things.  He says these signs will accompany those who believe in his name:  they will drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents with their hands, drink poisons without being harmed, and heal the sick.  Now this sounds like some circus tent form of evangelization, in which the greatest show on earth is to attract people, then catch them in the net of the Gospel.  But, while I do not think we should take these things literally, Jesus did mean what he said.

Many of you who are being confirmed write letters to me.  Some of you mentioned in your letters that it is a struggle to go to Mass sometimes.  There are a couple of demons called “laziness” and “boredom” that convince us that we do not really need to go.  Yet if we drive these demons out, our eyes will be opened to see that the Mass is not just a series of readings, rituals and words, but it is an encounter with the risen Jesus himself.  He is the Word made flesh, and when we hear his word here, it is meant to take flesh in his Body, the Church – us! – so that he can continue to do his saving work.  We celebrate today his ascension into heaven, but he is the living bread come down from heaven, who is physically present so that he can come into us in an intimate way to show us his love.  If we have faith, we can drive out the demons that cover our eyes to see only the outward realities, so that we can see that here, in a special way, we who are still on earth can be united to heaven.

Some of you mentioned that you would not be here if it were not for your parents insisting upon it.  God bless them for having the faith to drink the poison of your protests and whining and not be harmed at all, so that they could do what is best for you!

Some of you talked about your service projects that took you to care for the sick and the elderly, to help with special needs children, or to care for little ones.  Didn’t you have to learn a new language to speak to them – sometimes without words – the language of love?

Sometimes you are confronted with the serpents of selfishness that want to bite you with their destructive venom.  These can be manifested in pressures to use your sexuality in ways that God does not intend and that are ultimately not good for you.  There is the serpent, very prevalent in these parts, that says you young people are simply not capable of virtue, so you need to learn ways to protect yourselves or to get rid of the fruits of your “mistakes.”  With faith you will be able to handle these wily serpents and to dedicate your sexuality to the healthy way God meant it to be used, in the committed, faithful, and fruitful relationship we call marriage.  You can show the world that, with God’s help, you are more than capable of living virtuous lives.

Some of your friends may be very sick with depression, with self-loathing, and even with suicidal thoughts.  You can heal them with your loving and caring touch by letting them know that, even though life can sometimes be difficult, there is always joy in living it, because God’s love is always there for us and it is made concrete in our love for one another.

Those fire-knife dancers do a dangerous thing, and after their teachers and coaches have helped them develop all the skills they need, they give them sharp knives and light them up, and then let them go at it on their own.  So it is that Jesus is still with us in Word and sacrament to train us to take the Good News of his love to all we meet.  Then he steps away into the heights of heaven, so that he can unleash us to do these wonderful things ourselves – but never on our own, because his Holy Spirit fills us and guides us to do his work.  Yes, it can be dangerous to be a follower of Jesus, especially these days.  But he has chosen you – and all of us – to follow where he has gone before.  He trains us with his Word and his commandments.  He calls us to practice and practice and practice by our prayer, both public and private.  And then he gets out of the way and sends us out to set the world on fire with his love, to cut the fowl air of Satan to pieces, and to fill it with the sweet fragrance of his Holy Spirit and to dispel its darkness with his dazzling light.