May 17, 2015 – A View from the Rectory Window

“And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20)

Back in the seminary, there was a magnificent wooden stairway which went up four stories. As you have heard in my homilies, I don’t like heights. One night, a friend of mine, who had a very playful sense of humor, was up on the third floor near the library with me, right next to that stairway. He knew I didn’t like heights, and he suddenly went over to the railing, where you could look way down.

As he did so, he said, “Pete, imagine if this railing wasn’t here!” And he began waving his arms as he leaned way over! Well, he didn’t fall, but I was paralyzed with fear that he would!

The description of the Ascension of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles, which we read this past Thursday, shows the disciples looking up to heaven, watching Jesus depart. It reminds me of that moment at the railing of that high stairwell. There once was a time when the railing wasn’t there. And there once was a time when the Church wasn’t the large, worldwide institution it is today. No parishes, not much of a hierarchy, no written – out liturgical books, no bible, no catechism. Just the disciples, looking up to heaven, perhaps wondering, “What next?”

Maybe some were paralyzed by fear at the thought of doing it without Jesus! The heavenly messengers urged them not to stand there, looking up. Jesus would come again. Meanwhile, there was a mission. They were to go and wait for the Spirit, who would help them take the next steps.

The Feast of the Ascension recalls not only the Lord’s ascension into heaven, but also His assurance of security to remain with His Church always through the Holy Spirit. When I see people polarized over religious opinion, I wonder if they have forgotten His promise to be with us always, until the end of time. For we can be confident, that in the very reality of the Church, He is still present and known.

As Pope Francis said, people cannot be Christians without the Church, explaining that Christian identity is rooted in it and that believers cannot stand alone. “Our Christian identity is belonging to a people: the Church. Without this, we are not Christians. We entered the Church through baptism: there we are Christians,” Francis said during Mass on Thursday,
Vatican Radio reported.

“A Christian without a church is something purely idealistic, it is not real,” the Roman Catholic Church leader argued. He said that one cannot “understand a Christian alone” any more than “Jesus Christ alone” can be understood. “Jesus Christ did not fall from the sky like a superhero who comes to save us. No. Jesus Christ has a history. And we can say, and it is true, that God has a history because He wanted to walk with us. And you cannot understand Jesus Christ without His history. So a Christian without history, without a Christian nation, a Christian without the Church is incomprehensible. It is a thing of the laboratory, an artificial thing, a thing that cannot give life,” Francis said.

Fr. Pete