Feast of the Ascension - homily
Last weekend, I officiated a wedding up near Philadelphia. The groom is a good friend of mine from Mount St Mary’s where I went to seminary. He played lacrosse for the college; I helped out with the men’s lacrosse team for four years there. He’s a great guy, and he married a fantastic woman. But, it was Philadelphia Eagles land – that’s right, enemy territory! So, at the rehearsal dinner, I was asked to give the blessing of the food. As I finished up the prayer, something came over me – an inspiration from the Holy Spirit? – to say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen…Go Redskins!!” A loud cascade of (playful) boos followed those last words.
It was a great weekend; they are a great, young couple. Thursday night was the rehearsal dinner, and then on Friday a bunch of us guys played golf. I was paired with the groom - my buddy, Kevin. Kevin was very excited to be getting married, of course, but he was also distraught. The week before, a good friend of his died in Iraq, serving our country. So, at some point on the back nine holes of the golf course, Kevin just came right out and asked, “Fr Greg, why did God allow this to happen? Why did He allow such a young and good person to be killed?”
Kevin was obviously very troubled, and these were his most significant questions. I looked at him and said, “well, the same can be said about God’s son. Why did he let his own son die in the same kind of way?” I went on to say, “Kevin, it’s all about faith. It’s all about Christ”. I then went through the story of our faith – beginning with Adam and Eve and how suffering and death entered the world, and on through Christ and then the Church. The point I was making to him is that the faith that he had been learning about his whole life has the answers to his deepest questions about the death of his buddy, Travis.
God allows evil because he gave us free will; we are free to choose to reject God by choosing evil. Suffering is a result of evil. But, God brings good out of evil. The greatest good that has been brought out of evil is the Cross. God allowed his son to die for our sake. He allowed Christ to be a sacrifice for us so that we would get to Heaven. Christ offered his life for us; it is the greatest sign of love in the world. God allowed his son to die so that we would see what love is all about. Love is sacrifice. Christ showed us the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends. Kevin’s buddy, Travis, imitated Christ in this way; he laid down his life for all of us.
Kevin was profoundly affected by this talk. It was one of those conversations where we just “get it” about Christ and about life. It was a talk like this where his faith became very real and relevant. It helped answer the deepest questions of his heart. He would go on to say that it was one of the greatest days of his life.
As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, I think this story is relevant because it asks the question, ‘what is this all about?’ As we remember the day when Christ ascended into Heaven and into glory, we can ask, ‘why did he come down from Heaven in the first place? What is the whole point of Christ’s life on earth?’ The whole point is love. Christ teaches about love and then shows us how to love. Love is sacrifice. Love is about laying down our lives for others. Some are called to do this in a physical way, like Christ and Travis. The rest of us are called to do this every day in less dramatic ways. You married persons know best what this means. I believe that there are more sacrifices in the married life than there are in the religious life. And, this is what I said to Kevin and his bride in my homily at their wedding: that they were entering into this same kind of sacrificial love that Travis lived. Kevin was laying down his life for his wife, and she was laying down hers for him.
When I look back at the conversations when I finally “got it” about Christ, it was one main talk with a priest about the Eucharist. He simply said, “’this is my body’ means this is my body”. I finally got it that this whole thing (pointing to the sanctuary) is real. That our faith is real. That God is real. It changed my life, and eventually propelled me to give my life as a priest. If I didn’t have that conversation, who knows, I might not be here at St Andrew’s. As I told the 7th graders the other day, ff the Church came out tomorrow and said that transubstantiation doesn’t really happen after all, I would take off the collar tomorrow, and find myself a girlfriend. In other words, if the Eucharist is just a symbol, then our faith is pointless, and my life as a priest would be a waste. If there’s no Eucharist, there’s no Catholic Church.
As we celebrate Christ’s ascension into Heaven, we thank God for showing us what love is all about through Christ. We ask him to help us to live the love that Christ has. And, through us, may others know God’s love. May we all live sacrificial love. May we all know God’s love, and may others know his love through us. May you all know God’s love this day.