Sunday, June 1, 2014

Between Ascension and Pentecost

                                    7th Sunday of Easter

Ascension of the Lord
Stained Glass Window
Assumption Church
Fairfield CT*
(click on image to enlarge)

Today, the seventh Sunday of Easter, falls between the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, which we celebrated last Thursday, and the feast of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday. For these nine days we, like the first disciples, are in a kind of Limbo. We commemorate these nine days in our “Novenas,” a word taken from the Latin word for nine. Jesus has ascended and now we wait for His Spirit to come at Pentecost.

It is interesting that in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives us the immediate aftermath of the Ascension. After witnessing the Ascension, the Apostles walk back the short distance from Mt Olivet (the mountain of Olives) to Jerusalem. There they went to the “upper room” where they were staying. There were eleven of them: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, Simon the zealot and Judas not the betrayer.

In a few days they will become the Church. Significantly, they are joined by some of the early women followers of Jesus, including his Mother, Mary. In this rare reference to Mary we can see her already as Mater Ecclesia, the Mother of the Church.

Today’s gospel is from the seventeenth chapter of St. John and describes the last words of Jesus before he leaves the Last Supper to undergo his Passion and Resurrection. Jesus is about to complete his mission on earth and his departing words are directed at us as well as the Apostles. His whole mission has been to reveal the Father to us and once that is accomplished, the rest will be up to us. He says to the Father,

          And now I will no longer be in the world,
But they are in the world, while I am coming to you.

In a way we will be on our own even though Jesus promised to send His Spirit and not leave us like orphans. But still, his work is done but ours is just beginning. We will hear the story of Pentecost next week but for now I would just like to say that there are multitudes today that feel like orphans. This is especially the case with contemporary teenagers and college students.

Depression seems almost like an epidemic among young people today. Suicidal thoughts and behavior are alarmingly prevalent in high schools and colleges. Colleges employ psychotherapists to deal with this very real problem. Catholic schools are not immune. A college professor told me that at a nearby college, the students pride themselves on attending a Jesuit institution, but shrink from identifying it as Catholic. They have cut themselves off from the faith that motivated St. Ignatius and formed the basis of Jesuit spirituality, Now, they only have an empty shell. Now, they only have themselves to turn to. Now they are really orphans.

Actually, they turn to behaviors that only make them feel worse. Drunkenness and drug abuse are rampant on college campuses today. The high incidence of sexual abuse is a sign of unfulfilling sexual practices. The resulting shame and guilt cannot be taken away by counselors or therapists. These well meaning professionals can listen and advise but they can’t forgive. Since most of these students have discarded their religion in their early teens, they have nowhere to turn.

As St. Peter said in today’s second reading, if you are going to be insulted and suffer, let it be because of the good you do and not the evil. He writes to the members of the early Church,

But let no one among you be made to suffer As a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.

If we are insulted for doing what is right and good, then there will be no shame and we will be able to “rejoice exultantly.”

Today’s responsorial Psalm is the famous Psalm 27 and is directed to all of us who might think of ourselves as orphans.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;Whom should I fear?The Lord is my life’s refuge; Of whom should I be afraid?... Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call,Have pity on me, and answer me.Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.


Reading 1.Acts 1: 12-14
Reading II. 1 Peter 4: 13-16
Gospel. John 17: 1-11a (the hour has come).

* Image by Melissa DeStefano

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