Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ascension and Our Call

Many years ago I wrote the story of my vocation for the B.C. Catholic. I showed it to my Mom and asked how she liked it.

“It’s very nice, dear,” she replied kindly. “But I notice your father and I aren’t mentioned.”

I never made that mistake again, and certainly won’t make it on Mothers’ Day!  My parents get full credit for laying the foundation for my call to the priesthood.

For teaching me how to be a priest, I give credit to my seminary, the Pontifical Beda College, and to several priests who were wonderful role models for me.

But one thing is sure: I learned how to be a pastor right here. For more than ten years, the parishioners at Christ the Redeemer have been my teachers and role models as I discovered the difference between being a priest and being a pastor.  In the Catholic Church, of course, all pastors are priests—but not all priests are pastors.

I’ll come back to this, but let’s look briefly at the readings.

The scriptures today offer two accounts of the Ascension. In the Gospel, Jesus is taken up to heaven, and the apostles get to work. It’s typical of St. Mark’s concise style.

But in the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we get a neat detail—the Apostles gazing up at the sky after the Lord has ascended. And we read the famous line, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It’s almost comical—as if the angel was a foreman barking at the workers—“what are ya staring at? Get back to work!”

I’ve never had to motivate parishioners who only wanted prayer without action. In fact, it’s the ones who pray who seem to work the hardest.

Before I came, many parishioners had taken part in a program to identify their spiritual gifts, Alpha was launched, and a generous community spirit drove the building of the church and school.

In my years at Christ the Redeemer, these foundations have been strengthened by our emphasis on stewardship and on intentional discipleship.

But the lion’s share of the credit can’t go to any program or concept. Our number one strength is people who truly believe they’ve been called to “proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”  People who don’t think Jesus was talking only to eleven people. Or to priests.

For so long our Catholic missionary culture was about priests, brothers and sisters travelling to foreign lands—and that is an important part of going into all the world to proclaim the good news. But in an age when the majority of our neighbours and co-workers do not believe in Christ, it makes no sense to ignore the mission field next door.

Our parish seems to have a special gift for what St. Paul calls equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Let’s look at this unusual expression. Don’t get confused by the word ‘saints’. All Paul means by saints is holy ones. He’s talking about committed Christians, baptized believers—in other words, all of us. We need to be equipped or made ready if we’re going to proclaim the good news in word and deed.

How do we do this?  First and foremost by inviting people to an active faith and personal friendship with Jesus—what we’ve been calling intentional discipleship. We do this is many ways, particularly by building a worshipping community around the altar.

How can people be sent out as missionaries if the sending community is not strong? We are so blessed to be gathered here as one in hope, in faith, and in baptism. And we bear with one another in love—which is not easy. Family feuds may be great on TV, but they are terrible in church. Our parish has maintained the unity of the Spirit in an exemplary way, avoiding any of the dissension I’ve seen elsewhere.

Even a strong community needs to build up its members.

We do this through the generous service of the countless parishioners who use the gifts God gave them to build up the Body of Christ.

No priest has all the gifts needed to equip his parishioners for the work of ministry, but a parish does. We have prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to use St. Paul’s list. We have people willing to lead Bible studies and faith studies—one of the prime ways to prepare missionaries for the world.

We have comforters, debaters, cooks, catechists, flower arrangers, youth leaders, musicians, singers, sacristans, servers, greeters, lectors, and a host of others.

Today we should add mothers and fathers to the list, for they have a primary responsibility to train and evangelize their children. Perhaps their ministry is the most crucial of all, and our schools exist to help them build up the Body of Christ in their homes.

The work of parents is not only crucial, but difficult in this confused world. One lad gave his mother a note for Mothers’ Day that said “Mom, I just wanted to tell you that Mothers’ Day wouldn’t be possible without me.  I’ll be waiting for my present in the living room. Love, Johnny.”

Whether we’re parents or pastors or any other category of parishioner, it’s not easy to build up the Body of Christ day in, day out.  The task is big. It can seem too big. But look what today’s Gospel says: “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message.” We’re not working alone!

We’re not alone and we have help. Do you remember the ad for blood donors that said “it’s in you to give?”  In baptism and confirmation we have received the gifts we need bring Christ to the world, according to our particular call.

These truths apply to everyone. St. Paul leaves no wiggle room: “Each of us,” he says, “was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And each of us is called and commissioned, today, by Christ. So let’s listen to the angels. “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” What are you staring at? You and your parish have work to do!

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