Thursday, May 05, 2005

Coping With Loss: The Lessons Given To Us By The Apostles

(Ascension Thursday 2005: This homily was given on May 5, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Acts 1: 1-14.)
The Chapel of the Ascension, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension Thursday 2005]

A close friend moves away—a trusted co-worker takes a job at another company—your mother or father or child or some other relative dies after a long illness.

How do you deal with the loss? What do you do to cope?

Those are very important questions, since we all face losses like these throughout our lives.

Let me share with you today a few lessons on how to deal with such situations, courtesy of the 12 Apostles. Lest we forget, they experienced a terrible loss in their lives on the first Ascension Thursday—the loss of Jesus! After living with these men for 3 years, and then appearing to them for 40 days after his resurrection, our Lord ascended into heaven, never to be with them in exactly the same way again.

But, to their credit, the Apostles handled this loss much better than they had handled the loss of Jesus on Good Friday. Back then, they ran away and did everything wrong; this time, they did almost everything right.

First of all, Scripture says, they prayed. They dealt with their loss through prayer. And this wasn’t just casual, half-hearted prayer that they engaged in. Scripture says, “They devoted themselves to constant prayer.” To be perfectly frank, they probably prayed as hard as they had ever prayed in their lives!

And they engaged in this prayer together. That’s also significant. Scripture says that after Jesus ascended, the Apostles went to the Upper Room as a group. Back on Holy Thursday, they had scattered after Jesus was arrested; now they gathered together and prayerfully supported one another.

Whenever we suffer a loss in our lives, we should also turn to prayer, believing that God’s grace can help us deal with our pain. And we also need to reach out to good friends—especially Christian, Catholic, believing friends—who will give us the human and spiritual support we need.

Of course, if we want an even greater measure of help we should look beyond the friends we have on this earth and look to the “friends” we have in heaven—especially our Blessed Mother. This is something we also learn from the Apostles: the Bible tells us explicitly that Mary was with them in the Upper Room after the Ascension and until Pentecost.

Notice, if you would, our last stained glass window. Pictured in that glass is the moment the Holy Spirit descended—10 days after the Ascension—and Mary is in the center of the group. You could say that there, in that window, you have 12 men dealing with their loss with the help of Mary.

A couple of weeks ago in my Sunday homily I mentioned that young Karol Wojtyla—who would someday become Pope John Paul II—lost his entire family (his mother, his father, his sister and his brother) before he was 21 years of age. In the midst of those losses, he developed a very strong devotion to our Blessed Mother—so much so that when he became pope he took as his motto, “Totus Tuus” (meaning “I’m totally yours, Mary—I’m totally consecrated to Jesus through you”).

Like Peter and the Apostles, Karol Wojtyla dealt with his losses by seeking support from the Blessed Mother. That, in and of itself, is a good reason for all of us to do the same.

The Apostles, I think it’s safe to say, also turned to the Eucharist during this difficult time. After Pentecost, the Bible says that the early Christians devoted themselves to “the breaking of bread” (the “breaking of bread,” of course, was the Eucharist). Well, if that was the case after Pentecost, I think it’s pretty reasonable to infer that the Apostles also celebrated this sacrament before Pentecost when they were with Mary and the others in the Upper Room.

I know many people who began to go to Mass daily at some point in the past after someone close to them died—and they’ve continued the practice to the present day. They continue to do it because they have found strength and comfort in the Blessed Sacrament, as the Apostles most probably did after the Ascension.

And finally, these 12 followers of Jesus persevered. They prayed, they supported each other, they looked to Mary, they most likely received the Eucharist—and they kept it up for 10 days until the promise of Jesus was finally fulfilled and the Holy Spirit descended on them.

Jesus had told them it would happen “within a few days.” They probably interpreted that to mean “1 or 2,” but they didn’t give up even after a week had passed.

The bottom line, my brothers and sisters, is this: the Apostles could not stop Jesus from ascending into heaven; they could not prevent that “loss.” Most of the time, we can’t control the losses in our lives: neighbors move, friends change jobs, loved ones die—and we are powerless to stop any of it from happening. But what we can control is our response to the losses we experience, as these Apostles controlled their response to the loss of Jesus.

May God help us to respond as they did—and to persevere—so that we will eventually experience the strength and consolation of the Holy Spirit that they all experienced at Pentecost.