Thursday, May 01, 2008

Would You Have Missed Jesus?

This man definitely would have missed him.

(Ascension Thursday 2008: This homily was given on May 1, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 1: 1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension Thursday 2008]

Would you have missed him?

If you had lived in Israel in the first century, and had a relationship with Jesus Christ back then just like the relationship you have with him right now, would you have missed him after he ascended to heaven on Ascension Thursday?

I ask that question because we only miss people we care about; we only miss people we’re close to; we only miss people we know.

Every once in awhile someone will say to me, “Fr. Ray, I miss him so much" (referring to a deceased relative or friend). Now I’ll do my best as a priest to empathize with the person in their grief and loss, but quite honestly it’s very hard to do if I didn’t know their deceased relative or friend myself!

We only miss people we know: people with whom we have a close, personal relationship.

The apostles missed Jesus when he ascended—they missed him terribly; the scribes and Pharisees did not. Nor did the people he hadn’t touched with is love and truth during his 3-year earthly ministry.

For them, Ascension Thursday was just another day on the calendar.

Sometimes our evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant brothers and sisters criticize us Catholics because many of us focus more on the rules of the Church than we do on the person of Jesus Christ.

And as much as I hate to say this, to some extent I think they’re right!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the rules and commandments of the Church aren’t important (if you’ve heard me for any length of time you know I would NEVER say anything like that!); but I am saying that the center of our religion is a person, and not the commandments!

So I ask you today: Why are you here at this holy day Mass? Is it simply because one of the rules—one of the precepts—of the Church says that you’ve got to be here every single holy day, and if you’re not you’ll commit a serious sin? Is that your first and perhaps only motivation?

Or are you here primarily because you love Jesus Christ and want to grow closer to him through the grace you will receive in word and in sacrament at this Liturgy?

I think many Catholics obey only because they fear; whereas in reality we’re supposed to obey because we love! We’re supposed to obey because we love Jesus and want to please Jesus and want to be faithful to Jesus and want to share Jesus with the world!

On that note, it’s no secret that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did not want to be pope. He had served the Church faithfully for more than two decades as head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, and he was looking forward to retiring from that role and finally returning to his native Germany, so that he could go back to academia: back to the writing and the research and the teaching that he loved so much. Remember, for many years before he became a bishop, he was a university professor and a world-renowned theologian. I read his works in the late 1970s and early 1980s in college and graduate school and seminary.

Then, of course, John Paul II died, and his fellow Cardinals elected him to replace his old friend.

If Cardinal Ratzinger had taken the job only because he feared the wrath of God and the fires of hell, you can be sure we’d all be suffering the consequences right now, since he’d be a miserable man and a very angry pope! But he’s neither of those things, as we all know from his recent visit to our country. That’s because he accepted the call to serve as Holy Father primarily for all those Christ-centered reasons I mentioned earlier: because he loves Jesus and wants to please Jesus and wants to be faithful to Jesus and wants to share Jesus Christ with the world.

If Pope Benedict had been there with Peter and the other apostles when Jesus ascended to heaven 2,000 years ago, he would have felt the same loss that they felt. He would have missed Jesus Christ as much as they did. That’s because he has a deep, personal relationship with his Lord and Savior.

May the same be true of us. And may that relationship begin—or if it’s already begun may it be intensified—here today at this Mass.