Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily. May 4, 2008. Ken Hughes, SJ. Feast of the Ascension

Feast of the Ascension.  May 4, 2008


When my three siblings and I get together, which is not very often, we do like to reminisce.  We especially like to go back to our childhood years and recall various adventures.  We remember places and events.  We talk about our schools:  the Randall G. Morris, the Robert Gould Shaw in West Roxbury, Roslindale High for my sisters, B.C. High for my brother and me..  We talk about activities at the old Children’s Museum in Jamaica Plain, Saturday morning bird walks in the Arnold Arboretum.  And we recall wonderful summers at my aunt’s cottage at Lake Boon in Stowe, Mass.  Sound like nostalgia?  Of Course!  Those were the good old days.  We may have been poor and we certainly worked hard, but life seemed simple, and somehow we had time for one another, time for play, for fun, and, yes, time for God.  I suspect that people who want to go back to the Tridentine Latin Mass are caught up in a similar nostalgia.  It is not really the Latin they want; it’s nostalgia for those days.  They lament a loss: back then, they think, Catholics knew who they were, knew what they had to do to be saved, and believed themselves to be different from everyone else.  That’s nostalgia, a longing to return to former happy circumstances, a homesickness for the past.  We all engage in it from time to time.


Interestingly, you never find nostalgia in Scripture: not in the Acts of the Apostles, not in the Letters of Paul not even in the Gospels.  You might think that these authors, writing some 30, 40, and in the case of John, 60 years after Jesus’ death, might keep directing us to the past, to those wonderful days when Jesus (now recognized as divine) walked the countryside. They could have highlighted the thrill of being with him, and wished to be back there, and now lament the loss of those precious years.


No, we don’t find that kind of nostalgia in our Scripture..  Instead, everything points ahead to what God wants us to do and what God is doing now to help us get there.  Sure, we do look at the past, we do look at Jesus and we do listen to Jesus’ words but always in order to move forward as best we can to bringing about God’s dream, God’s desire for all his people.


Listen to what our Scripture says this morning as we celebrate this Feast of the Ascension:


In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus tells his apostles, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


In the Gospel from St. Matthew, we have Jesus’ final words, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”


Jesus was speaking to his apostles, but also to us.


And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we hear, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know the hope that belongs to his [Jesus’] call …”


Paul is speaking to us as much as to the people of Ephesus.


The mission we are summoned to stretches out before us and has no limits. Hope is the hallmark of this mission.


Why do we have hope?  Because Jesus tells us that He will always be with us.  He is truly Emmanuel, God with us forever.  Why do we have hope?  Because the Holy Spirit of Pentecost (which we celebrate next week) has already come upon us and  empowers us.  Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost are intertwined moments moving us into God’s dream.


It is good for us to reflect on this mystery (and it is a mystery) at this time.  In two weeks, Fr. Dani Villanueva, who has brought much life and energy into this community, will be returning to Spain.   By the end of June, Fr. Dave, after over a decade of graced commitment and dedication, will depart from us for the West Coast.  And I know that other church leaders have to leave us. We must take time both to celebrate their gifts and grieve their loss. But there may also be that temptation to nostalgia, to linger in the familiar past and lament, and not embrace creatively an unknown and challenging future.


Oh, we will probably be like the apostles gawking up in the sky for awhile until the two angels nudged them along.  We will probably be like the apostles in both their worshipping and doubting. That’s o.k.  Neither they nor we are perfect.  But, hopefully, we will also be like the apostles finally trusting that Jesus was walking with them and that the Holy Spirit had empowered them.  Their experience, and that is what we have in Scripture, gives us the courage to move forward as a community.


There is no time for nostalgia!  God’s dream for us must go forward! Like the apostles, we are still called to witness to Jesus’ presence among us, both here at St. Mary of the Angels and wherever we go on our journeys,  -- maybe to the ends of the earth, certainly to the end of our life.


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