The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notified as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
May 28, 2006

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Acts 1:1-11
The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."

Ephesians 1:17-23
... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Mark 16:15-20
And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.] [And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

The Easter candle, of course, is and has been for the last 40 days the symbol of the presence of the living, risen Jesus in our midst. With the simple action of carrying the candle away, we symbolize what we celebrate in this feast today: Jesus in his physical presence on earth has definitively left his disciples.

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In the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke takes a lot of time to say the very same thing through the symbolic raising of his body up into heaven, clouds come and he rides away in the clouds into heaven, someplace way up above. It’s important for us not to be too distracted by those symbols, because in fact as we know from Luke’s account of the gospel, actually Jesus rose and ascended back to God on Easter Sunday. During a period of time, he would appear off and on to the disciples, but he was gone; his death was definitive and when he rose to new life he reunited with God in heaven forever.

It must have been hard for those disciples to accept the reality that he was gone. In fact, as Luke describes it in the Acts of The Apostles, they hadn’t really been able to hear what he had told them. Throughout his public life, a number of times, people wanted to make him the king, restore the kingdom of David in all its glory. Establish Jesus as a powerful king on earth, to bring about the reign of God. And even now at the very end -- as we hear Luke describe it -- they are saying to him: “Is now the time when you are going to restore the kingdom?” It’s hard for them to think that he’s going to be gone.

He had told them -- as it is recorded in John’s Gospel -- at the last supper that he would leave them, but it seems again that they weren’t able to hear what he says. He said, “Indeed believe me, it’s better for you that I go away, because as long as I do not leave, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will not come. But if I go away I will send the Spirit to you.”

It was so clear, and yet they found it so hard to believe. Maybe part of the reason was that they did not really want to accept that he wasn’t, in his physical life on earth, to bring about the fullness of God’s reign. That was to be their responsibility. “You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. You will be my witnesses, the ones proclaiming the good news about God’s reign and how that reign will come about.” It will come about according to the way that Jesus lived and died, not through physical power or violence or wealth or earthly armies or kingdoms of the earth. It will come about as people learn to live according to his way, the way of love.

That’s a very difficult task that he left for his disciples and of course it’s not completed yet. And so those words in the first lesson today are being spoken not just 2,000 years ago but right now. It’s a living word, God’s word. God is speaking to us this morning, you, each of us are to be my witnesses. We are the ones that have the task to transform our world, to try to transform hatred and violence through love so that peace can happen.

We are the ones who are to spread the message about Jesus. All that he was, all that he taught, all that he stands for. We have to do that first of all as Jesus suggests by being witnesses. That is we have to take in the message, we have to transform our lives so that our very lives speak the message of Jesus. Not just our words but our lives, the way we live. We become witnesses to Jesus and everywhere we go we spread his message and bring about the transformation of the world.

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We might think it’s beyond us, to be able to this. But then we really need to hear what St. Paul tells those Christians at Ephesus. I suppose in a sense, he had established that church, he had proclaimed the good news, he had brought about the conversion of many of these gentiles in Ephesus, and probably they had become dependent upon him. But now he’s in jail, and so they have to do it. They probably were lacking in confidence, and that’s what he tells them, “That Jesus from heaven sends his gifts. To some he gave to be apostles, others prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, so he prepared those who belonged to him for ministry.” Jesus prepares us in the same way, and it can happen, if we accept that we are gifted by God and begin to use those gifts.

In fact, I think it’s very significant in a way that I was gone last Sunday because I was in Haiti. And one of the reasons I was there was that I was working to continue in the effort to bring Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste back to his parish. He’s in jail, conditionally released to receive medical treatment which he needs so desperately, but he’s in jail. And yet when I went to his parish, St. Clare parish in one of the slum areas of Port-au-Prince, it was amazing to see all that is going in that parish. Their pastor is in jail, but one of the days I was there the church was half filled with young people who were being prepared for First Holy Communion. There was no priest there to prepare them, but the people, the leaders of the parish were doing it.

When I celebrated Mass the choir was there and they sang with great power and joyfulness. And all the works of service are going on. In fact they have increased. You know that Fr. Gérard has been gone from that parish since last July when he was arrested and put in jail. But everything goes on, because the people, and these are very poor people that I suppose that a lot of us would say, “Well how could they ever keep it going.” Well they have. They have kept it going, because people have stepped forward, taken roles of leadership. They act as evangelists, preaching the gospel, living the gospel. They do the ministry of education and teaching. They do the ministry of reaching out to those who have no food. In fact, over the past few months the numbers they serve a full meal -- well, it’s not exactly a full meal. It’s beans and rice and little bit of chicken -- they serve now up to 800 people a day.

It’s amazing all that keeps going in that parish. And it’s because the people there have heard that they are the ones who are to be the witnesses, the ones who are to carry on the work of Jesus. To proclaim the good news. To make the good news happen. And it’s happening there.

I hope that all of us will begin to take very seriously this message. In a way, this feast day could distract us. We could look at that window over there [which depicts the Ascension], and spend our time thinking about how did Jesus rise up on that cloud and so on, and where’s heaven? Up there someplace? All of that speculation is absurd really. The message is: “You are the witnesses. Get out and go to work.” That’s what Jesus wants us to hear, and we need to take it in.

That makes me want to say a word about what I mentioned before Mass. Next Sunday we’ll be trying to draw forth new leaders for our parish. I hope each one of us will prayerfully consider, “maybe my name should be in that basket from which we draw the names of the leaders,” “maybe God is asking me to take a further role of leadership in this parish community.” I hope we will think about that. Whether we become a member of the leadership of the parish council or not, nevertheless each of us still I hope will leave the church today hearing Jesus tell us “you are to be my witnesses.” That’s the message of the Ascension this feast day. Go out into the world and by your very life proclaim the good news: God is love, and love can transform this world if we all live according to the way of God.

Go and be my witnesses. That’s the message of this feast.

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