Thursday, June 02, 2011

What We Need to Know, and What We Don’t Need to Know

(Ascension Thursday 2011: This homily was given on June 2, 2011 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 2011]

See if you can follow this . . .

The world is full of people who desperately want to know what they don’t need to know; and, who, at the very same time, don’t know what they should know and what they do need to know!

That’s one reason why more people gossip than read the Bible or the Catechism!

C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, understood this human tendency as well as anyone. That’s why he often has Aslan, the Great Lion, tell the other characters in these 7 stories to—for lack of a better expression—mind their own business! (Aslan, remember, represents Jesus in these novels.) For example, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy, one of the children, asks Aslan whether her cousin Eustace will ever come back again to Narnia. Aslan answers her by saying, “Child, do you really need to know that?” Along the same lines, in one of the other stories, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan says to Shasta, one of the main characters, “I tell no-one any story but his own.”

I mention this today because in our first reading we’re told that just before Jesus ascended into heaven 2,000 years ago the apostles asked him a question about the future of the nation of Israel. Their “inquiring minds” wanted to know. They said, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Apparently, they still had this idea in their heads that the Messiah had come to restore the nation of Israel to the place of prominence that it had under King David many years before.

Obviously they didn’t fully understand that the Messiah’s kingdom extended far beyond the bounds of little, old Palestine—and far beyond the bounds of this mortal life.

Jesus didn’t argue the point directly, but he did tell them, in effect, that this was something that they did not need to know about. He said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.”

How easy it is for us to be like these apostles! Before the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they desperately wanted to know things that they did not need to know. This story makes that fact crystal clear. But at the very same time they were completely unaware of some other things that they should have known and needed to know—like where the Messiah’s kingdom was to be found!

The world is full of people who desperately want to know what they don’t need to know; and, who, at the very same time, don’t know what they should know and what they do need to know!

I thought of this a few weeks back when I was having a conversation with a young woman from the parish—a young woman who attends a certain Catholic high school in the Wakefield area (gee, I wonder what Catholic school that is?). She was very upset because her French teacher was in the process of showing the movie, The DaVinci Code, to her class, without providing any explanatory information to the students. In other words, she had them watch this film without telling them about the numerous lies it contains about the Church and about the history of Christianity.

That’s probably because the teacher herself doesn’t know what the lies are!

Not surprisingly, this was causing a lot of confusion among the students in the class, and was even causing some of them to question their Catholic faith!

What those students need to know about their Catholic faith, they don’t know (and, unfortunately, they aren’t being taught!).

And yet, I’ll bet many of them know lot about actor Tom Hanks! I’ll bet some them even know a few things about Ron Howard, the director of the film. I know it’s ancient history, but I’m sure that at least a couple of them know he starred in the old sitcom “Happy Days” and that he played “Opie” on the old “Andy Griffith Show.”

All of which is nice to know, but relatively unimportant when it comes to living this life successfully and getting to heaven when this life is over!

The bottom line is this: Like the apostles in today’s first reading, we all want to know many things—some of which we really don’t need to know, and some of which we can never know on this side of the grave: Why did God allow my loved one to die at such a young age? Why doesn’t everyone believe in God? Why do some evil people seem to suffer so little in this life? Why, Fr. Ray, did God let you get Parkinson’s Disease?

I don’t know the answer to that last question—and I don’t think I ever will while I’m here on this earth. But, to be perfectly frank, I don’t need to know it.

That’s certainly what Aslan would tell me if I lived in the magical world of Narnia.

And yet, in the midst of the frustration that comes with not knowing everything we’d like to know, we CAN still know many things! In fact, the good news is that we can know everything we NEED to know in order to be saved—everything we need to know to get to heaven!

May the Lord help us to know those things, and to focus on those things, and to be faithful to those things, so that we will someday reach our heavenly goal—the goal that Jesus reached on the very first Ascension Thursday.