15 May 2015

'Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.' Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Year B

The Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt, 1636
Alte Pinakothek, Munich  [Web Gallery of Art]
These are the readings used on the Solemnity whether it is observed on Ascension Thursday or on the Sunday after it.
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples: 
“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

In Regions where the Solemnity is observed on Ascension Thursday the following Sunday is the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel John 17:11-19 (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem [Wikipedia]

As far as I can recall I was ten when my father taught me how to ride a bicycle. I borrowed the child's bicycle of my cousin Deirdre who was - and happily still is! - a year older than me. I can't remember whether I needed a number of lessons or whether everything fitted in to one summer's evening. But what I remember was my father's encouraging patience and his holding on to the back of the saddle so that I wouldn't fall. After a few efforts I managed to keep more or less straight for a few metres before getting wobbly. But Dad was still there holding on to the saddle.

Then the glorious moment when I went beyond a few metres, wasn't in danger of losing my balance - and realized that Dad wasn't holding on to the saddle any more. I was on my own! And quickly the street with the garden in the middle became my racetrack.

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you (John 14:25-27). 

Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles at the Last Supper and he has been speaking them to us again during the Easter Season. He had to leave them so that they and we could carry out the command he gives us in today's gospel: Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

My father's teaching me how to ride a bicycle meant that I had the freedom to cycle to school each day, to go for a 'spin' from time to time just for the sheer pleasure of it. It was also a great expression of the trust that both my parents put in me to use this new ability responsibly - something I didn't always do. Even when I didn't, they still showed their trust in me. I can only imagine the worry they felt at times, particularly the occasion when I arrived home very late from a dance when I was 17, long after my regular time, not because I was rebelling, not because I was being deliberately disobedient, but simply because I was enjoying myself rather thoughtlessly. We had no telephone. The mobile phone wasn't even an inventor's dream 55 years ago. My parents could only imagine the worst.

But they continued to trust me, encouraged me in my studies and fully supported my decision to become a missionary priest.

All of this gives me some idea of why Jesus went back to the Father. He wanted the Apostles to grow in faith and in responsibility through the gift of the Holy Spirit that he promised them. He didn't try to control them or to protect them in a way that would stunt their growth. He entrusted them with the enormous task of proclaiming the good news to the whole creation. He entrusted them to call all believers to share in that task.

One thing that has always struck me in the Acts of the Apostles is that there isn't the slightest trace of nostalgia for the Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee, Judea and Samaria. Through the Holy Spirit he was present to them in a far more intimate and personal way: Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14:23).

But we are anticipating the great feast of Pentecost here!

Let us be content with and encouraged by the closing words of today's gospel and look around us to see the signs that they mention: And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Museum of Art, Cleveland [Web Gallery of Art]

Communicating the Family:
A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love

The Sunday after Ascension Thursday for many years now has also been World Communications Day in the Church. The annual messages of popes in recent years have focused on the modern media as instruments to be used to proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Pope Benedict used the term this digital continent while Pope Francis in a previous message wrote about the digital highway.

But this year Pope Francis, while mentioning the modern media, focuses on the family as the place where we basically learn how to communicate:  'After all, it is in the context of the family that we first learn how to communicate. Focusing on this context can help to make our communication more authentic and humane, while helping us to view the family in a new perspective.'

The message of Pope Francis is particularly relevant to the people of the Republic of Ireland who are being asked on Friday to change the definition of marriage in the Constitution as involving a man and a woman to something 'genderless', in the name of 'equality'. 

Pope Francis in his message writes: 'The family, in conclusion, is not a subject of debate or a terrain for ideological skirmishes.' His closing paragraph speaks clearly about the true meaning of marriage and the family: 'Families should be seen as a resource rather than as a problem for society. Families at their best actively communicate by their witness the beauty and the richness of the relationship between man and woman, and between parents and children. We are not fighting to defend the past. Rather, with patience and trust, we are working to build a better future for the world in which we live.'

El Greco's painting above points towards the Extraordinary Jubilee Jubilee of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed and that will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this year.


Setting by Palestrina

Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes in coelum? 

Hic Jesus, qui assumptus est a vobis in coelum, 

sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in coelum. Alleluja

Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae. Alleluja. 
Dominus in coelo paravit sedem suam. Alleluja. 


Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? 
This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, 
shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven. 

God is ascended with jubilee, and the Lord with the sound of trumpet. Alleluia. 
The Lord hath prepared his throne in heaven. Alleluia. 

Performed : Ensemble Vocal Europeén de la Chapelle Royale
Dir : Philippe Herreweghe.

The words highlighted above are those of the Entrance Antiphon at the Mass during the Day. The Vigil Mass has different antiphons and prayers but the same readings.

No comments: