Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Between Ascension and the End

One of the things I like a lot about the Easter season is the story we hear day after day in the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the Church's spectacular growth and expansion from Jerusalem to Judea to Samara and on out into the Gentile pagan world, taking us eventually to the very heart of that world, Rome. But, at the same time, Acts is also a very human story - and to me a very touching story - of the presence and action of the Risen Lord in the day-to-day lives of his people. It's a story of  how to live, here and now, in this interval between Ascension and the end. And as such it's a story of the kinds of human relationships and friendships that make life work for people in this world in this interval between Ascension and the end.

Being a somewhat sentimental sort myself, I've always found good-byes very difficult - whether I am the one departing the scene or, more likely, it's someone I cherish who is moving on with his or her life. So I have always been very taken with this scene when Paul says farewell to the members of the Church at Ephesus [Acts 20:17-27]. We hear only the first part of it today. The story continues tomorrow [Acts 20:28-38] with Paul kneeling in prayer and everybody weeping loudly - after which they all then dutifully get up and escort Paul to his ship.

Paul's story was one of heroic exertion and seemingly endless travel, but it was also one of community-building and of deep personal friendships, of needing other people and being needed by them in turn. Of course, we all need people in instrumental ways. As a pastor, I'd be a total failure if I didn't have others around whom I can rely on to do the kinds of things that need to be done that I don't have the skills to do. But Paul's friendships went way beyond the purely instrumental, as the emotion expressed in this story makes obvious.

We know that the Risen Lord has promised to remain with his Church forever, and we are inspired and motivated by that promise. But, in this interval between Ascension and the end, he has left us one another. In this interval between Ascension and the end, we have each other to know and to love and to be known and loved by.

Homily at Mass during the Paulist Ordinary General Assembly, Saint Paul's College, Washington, D.C, June 3, 2014.

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