The Ascension of the Lord (2013)
Every person who has a heart has watched with great emotion as events in Cleveland unfolded this week. Our hearts are overjoyed at the three women who were rescued after 10 years of captivity and abuse and are now reunited with their families. And our hearts are horrified at the stories of what they endured for over a decade. Kept in chains and ropes, raped and beaten, it is one of the most terrible tales of abuse and disrespect for the human person that we can imagine.
The terrible, horrible, vile way those women were treated stands in direct opposition to the great love and affection they must have from their families. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think of how their own mothers must have treated their daughters with such love. Most every mother, if she is a good mother, treats her child with great care, even from before that child is born, feeding, bathing, answering cries in the night. It was common a few generations ago, but now we recoil at the thought of a pregnant women smoking or drinking, so much do we want to care for that child even in the womb. Yes, our human bodies are made to be treated with dignity and respect, from the moment of conception until our natural death.
One focus on this Feast of
the Ascension is that Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, was human. He had a human body, and we celebrate that
his earthly body ascended to heaven.
It’s easy to think of Jesus as God, but how often do we really reflect
on Jesus in his human body? It’s so easy
for us to spiritualize things, but so many of the feasts we celebrate every
year have to do with the real, physical, human Jesus. At Christmas, we remember that Jesus was born
to a mother and an earthly father; who knows, maybe Joseph cut the umbilical
cord! On Holy Thursday, we remember that
Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my
blood.” On Good Friday, we remember that
body was broken and crucified and died.
And Easter celebrates the resurrection of the body! It’s not anywhere in the Scriptures, but I
would bet that when Jesus was a kid, he fell and scraped his knee and had few
cuts and bruises. Jesus got tired, as we
see when he fell asleep on the boat on the Sea of Galilee.
He got hungry, as we see when he joined his disciples and friends over meals. He
experienced human emotions, as we see when he wept at the tomb of his friend
Lazarus or got angry at the moneychangers in the temple. Jesus sneezed and sweated and scratched. He got sick, and felt pain, and I bet that he felt
happy and content at the end of a long day. Jesus had a real body, like ours in
And he took that body
all over Galilee and Judea, walking from Nazareth
to Capernaum to Bethany
and back again. When he went from town
to town, and from person to person, he was saying, "This is my body."
His body was an essential part of his
ministry and life. And on the Solemnity of the Ascension, which we celebrate
today, we celebrate that body, Jesus’ whole self, being welcomed by the Father
And let us pray for the grace to reverence the bodies of other people, to care for them, to treat them always with respect and dignity, no matter who they are. Too many people are used and abused – as we have seen this week in Cleveland and as is played out in too many sad ways every day all over the world – but we Christians must be people who treat everyone, body and soul, with dignity.
After all, it is our belief that our bodies and souls will be reunited at the
Last Judgment, that our glorified bodies will live for all eternity to give
praise to God. That’s what we mean when
we profess that “we believe... in the resurrection of the body”! We believe that we will join Jesus, body and
soul, in eternal life. So let’s
practice, by remembering that our bodies, everybody, is a gift from God.
6th Sunday of Easter - C (2013) - Rev. John Rogers Vien (with thanks to Deacon Greg Kandra)
In July of 1967, a 24-year-old Navy pilot named Larry Duthie found himself in the last place a Navy pilot wanted to be: on the ground, injured, in the middle of a jungle about 20 miles from Hanoi, waiting to be captured. He had been part of a squad sent to destroy a bridge, and he’d been flying a jet with 5,500 pounds of bombs and extra fuel. During the flight, his plane was hit by North Vietnamese missiles. Before it exploded, Lt. Duthie ejected. When he landed, he shattered his knee. He couldn’t do anything but cower in the jungle in pain, clutching his dog tags, reciting over and over again his name, rank and serial number, which was all he was required to say to the men he was sure would soon come to take him prisoner. But they never came.
Instead, American rescue helicopters flew into the area to try and retrieve him. As Larry Duthie hid in jungle, the North Vietnamese fought aggressively with missiles and antiaircraft guns to prevent the rescue. The Americans fought back, with jets and helicopters. Four Navy pilots died in the rescue attempt. In the end, after more than a day of fighting, the Americans prevailed. Lt. Duthie was saved. He eventually made it home.
This last Thursday, he was at Arlington National Cemetery as the Pentagon buried one coffin containing what had finally been recovered: the few remains of the four pilots. Family and friends gathered. Horses pulled the flag-draped coffin on a caisson. Navy jets flew in formation overhead. And Larry Duthie, now 70 years old, remembered the men who had saved him 46 years ago, “They were unbelievably brave,” he told the Washington Post.
One of the men, William Jackson, had a nine-year-old son named Glenn who still recalls the July day his pastor came to the house to tell his mother what had happened. He remembers his mother sent him outside to play. Thursday, that nine-year-old boy, now 54, was there to honor his father and the other men. For the first time, he also met Larry Duthie. “All four were heroes,” Glenn said. “You think about what they did. For basically somebody that they really didn’t know. All they knew was that he was another Navy pilot and that he needed help.”
That kind of heroism was repeated countless times during the Vietnam War, and in so many wars before and since. We saw it on 9/11. We saw it in Boston. It happens today. Heroes who will do everything, who will give everything, for someone they “really didn’t know.” Someone needs to be rescued, and they are there.
When we hear stories like that, how can we who are people of faith not be reminded of Christ? His life was greatest rescue mission every undertaken – the mission to save all of us. And in today’s gospel, Jesus told his apostles that it wouldn’t end after he was gone. They would not be left alone.
“The Advocate,” he said, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” He reassured them, and us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
They are words we need to hear. So often in life, it is tempting to think that God has abandoned us. How many times do we cower in the jungle of our daily lives, anxiously waiting?
How often do we dread that phone call in the night? That letter in the mail? How often do we find ourselves worrying about a future we can’t see, a decision we can’t come to, a choice that seems impossible? How many families struggle with which bills to pay this month? How many seniors must decide between medicine and food? How many refugees fear being deported? How many immigrants wonder about their family at home? How many of us, myself included, have said, “I’ve made a mess of things and I have no idea what to do next.”
But this gospel offers these words to all of us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Christ’s peace is with us – through everything.
God’s mercy is with us.
The Holy Spirit’s comfort is with us.
This gospel comes one week before the feast of the Ascension. In a way, it prepares us for that event. Easter seems to be fading. The Easter lilies are gone. The Paschal Candle is a little shorter. We’re transitioning in a few weeks back into Ordinary Time. A season is drawing to a close.
But: that doesn’t mean it’s ending. No, the great promise of Easter lives on.
When we feel forgotten, we need to remember Christ’s words—his gift of peace, of an Advocate, of a guide who will look for us when we are lost, who will console us when we are despairing, who will be there when we feel alone or abandoned.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
Be assured, friends: we are not alone!
No matter how thick the jungle or how dark the skies…God will find us.
No matter how worried we might be…God will find us.
In our uncertainty. In our pain. In our fear. God will find us.
We are never forgotten or abandoned.
The great rescue mission of our salvation continues.
5th Sunday of Easter - C (2013) - Rev. John Rogers Vien (with thanks to Deacon Greg Kandra)
“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
Those words from this Sunday’s Gospel may be among the most familiar and the most comforting, in all of scripture. It can be tempting to sentimentalize this passage. We should not. Because the fact is those words should make all of us lose sleep at night. You see, in this passage, Jesus throws down the gauntlet.
What Jesus commands here is not only that we love one another, but that we love one another as he loved us. Let that sink in. And then think of the implications. He is asking us to love radically. Totally. Unconditionally. He is asking us – no, commanding us – to love one another as he loved his apostles. To love the doubter, Thomas. To love the denier, Peter. To love, even, the betrayer, Judas. He is telling us to love with a fierceness and a tenderness and a compassion that can even lead, if we love enough, to the cross.
Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have to admit that we continually fall short of loving people like that. Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have to admit that we continually fall short of even liking people like that.
And so this gospel is placed before us not to make us comfortable, but to make us uncomfortable. It is an indictment—and a challenge! How can we love one another as Jesus loved?
Well, I think it demands a kind of martyrdom. A death of self, of selfishness, of self-interest.
But martyrdom comes in different ways, in a thousand small but significant gestures that convey the love of Christ.
Maybe it is the martyrdom of silence – refraining, just once, from calling the guy across the street an idiot.
Maybe it is the martyrdom of patience – spending a half hour standing in line at the DMV and being grateful that at least you can stand.
Maybe it is the martyrdom of time – time spent listening to someone no one else will listen to, giving attention, offering support or friendship or consolation.
Maybe it is the martyrdom of forgiveness – letting go of rage or vengeance or hate, with Christ’s words echoing in our heart: “As I have loved you so you also should love one another.” And for many of us, that may be the most painful, most challenging martyrdom of all.
Last week, Michael Rogers, a Jesuit scholastic soon to be ordained a priest, posted on his Facebook page a personal letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old accused of the terror attack in Boston. “Dear Dzhokhar,” he began, “you don’t know me, but you tried to kill my family.”
Michael Rogers’ brother and sister-in-law were both running the marathon. His parents were just a few feet from the bomb blast. They were unhurt. But one of his students was injured by shrapnel.
Yet, Michael Rogers wrote in his letter that he cannot bring himself to hate the man who caused that because, as he put it, there has already been too much hate in Boston.
“Dear Dzhokhar,” he wrote, “I will pray for you. When the first pitch is thrown on Patriots Day at Fenway, I will pray that somehow you will know joy…the joy that makes us fully human and offers the possibility of real repentance…the joy that Red Sox baseball fills me with every year.
And he continued: “I will pray for you next year when the first shot is fired in the annual reenactment of the battle of Lexington and Concord, that you will come to know that peace and love are the only ways in which the world will ever be changed.” As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
Or, as Christ put it another time and as he showed us on the cross: Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors. Let go of the human desire for retribution and rage. Make hate become a martyr. Because that is the way to love.
It is our great call—yours and mine. The call not only to love but to love as Christ. The Christ who knew the nails and thorns of Good Friday, but who also knew the welcoming dawn of Easter; the Christ who gave not only his life, but who also gave us his body and blood in the Eucharist that we are about to share. In that ongoing sacrifice is an enduring reminder of his love, a love that “bears all things, and hopes all things.” It is a love, as St. Paul put it, that never fails. It is a love that serves as the great model to us all.
This Sunday’s gospel is not a Hallmark greeting card. It’s not a sentimental gift. It is an audacious challenge— from Christ to his disciples, from God to us. Love one another, he says. But don’t just love. Love as I do. It’s a tall order. How can you begin to fulfill it?