Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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True Discipleship

The Ascension

What is a disciple? I’m pretty sure we all have an image of a disciple in our heads. In my head I see the Apostle’s, a rag-tag group of unwashed and unshaven men following an itinerant preacher in Ancient Israel. Or perhaps today we might imagine some sort of missionary going door to door trying to share the Good News of Christ’s salvation, or perhaps, we could envision just an ordinary person who claims to follow Christ going about his or her day not looking all that different than everyone else around them.

At its essence though a disciple is someone who engages in an active relationship with Christ, one who sits at his feet and learns from him, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” Matt 11:29

So a disciple is someone who is bound to Christ, follows and learns from him. Clearly, just because you follow Christ doesn’t mean you’re a disciple; just look at Judas. So we need more than this if we are to be true disciples of Christ.

What else did Christ command of his followers? “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Matt 28:19. A disciple therefore is in relationship with Christ and shares this relationship with others, we could say, they bear God to others to invite them into relationship with Christ.

So a true disciple of Christ is in relationship with Him and obeys his commands to go out and make disciples of all nations. A friend of mine shared with me the other day some thoughts she had on the Ascension. She said it was kind of funny how Jesus commands them to go and evangelize and they just stand there and stare at the sky as he ascends into heaven. So an angel comes down and commands them to go. So what do they do? They go back to the upper room. So finally, God sends the Holy Spirit and they are transformed and go out and literally change the world. It took the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and also their cooperation, their yes… their amen… their “Let it be done.”

And why, what is all this for? It’s simple really, what is anything for? What is the purpose of all creating things? As it says in Eph 1:11-12 “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.”

Everything that exists, and the entire will of the Father is in, through, and for the Son. We exist to praise, glorify, and magnify God’s glory. To do this is to do the will of the Father. To be holy, to be set apart. That is what the word “holy” means after all, to be set apart for God. It’s the reason we consecrate our churches, the altars, the vessels, and the hands that do the consecrating. To consecrate means “to make sacred with”, or to make holy, to be set apart. It would be terrible sacrilege to drink beer out of the chalice used at Mass. And so we too should be holy, set apart by God, to exist for the praise of his glory.

OK, so how do we get there? Well, looking at all of life, nothing is done on our own. In everything we do, we need others to help us and teach us. So, I think a first step is to find a teacher, a role model, one who is a true disciple who can show us the way. And throughout history there have been many true and good disciples (the saints), but ultimately each of them, as holy as they are and as amazing and awesome as they are, are only copies of the original, the first disciple, our Mother, Mary.

Mary & Elizabeth

Look at her life:

Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit:

Luke 1:35: “And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

She gave her yes, her amen, her “Let it be done”:

Luke 1:38 “Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

She then immediately goes to Elizabeth and bears the Good News to her relative; she is the first and truest “God-bearer”:

Luke 1:39-40 “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”

She learned from her Son:

Luke 2:19: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

She exists for the praise of his glory:

Luke 1:46-47: “And Mary said, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.’ “

If we are to be true disciples, our best hope is to be like the first disciple, the prototype, there can be none better. Fly to Mary, our Mother and ask for her intercession. Pray to her often, love her with all your heart. As St. Padre Pio said, “Never be afraid to love Mary too much. You can never love her more than her own Son.” After all, who are we to disobey Scripture? Remember, the true disciple does the Father’s will. And as it says in Luke 2:48 “Behold, from now will all ages call me blessed.” Mary says this just after her cousin Elizabeth, moved by the Holy Spirit proclaims in Luke 1:41-42, “Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’ ”

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen!


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Ascending Hope

That awkward moment when a friend comes to you seeking advice, you can see they’re desperate for hope, for something to hold onto and their faith is holding on by a thread and they look to you to provide that hope. Yet, in your heart, you too are holding on by a thread, confused and hurting and almost lost. You stand next to your friend looking up to the sky wondering, “Lord, why did you leave us?” As a youth minister, I’ve been in that situations more times than I could count.

Like the Apostles at the Ascension, I look to the sky wondering why he’s abandoning us. Lord, if you love us so much why in the heck are you leaving us? Why don’t you stay? We need you! Can’t you see how much we need you?
Ascension

Have you ever pondered, I mean truly meditated on the mystery of the Ascension? I’m 38 years old, I’ve been a youth minister for almost 15 years and yet I’ve never once really pondered the mystery of the Ascension. Until recently it was one of the 6 Holy days of obligation. It is one of the most important feasts in our Church’s calendar of feasts (and we have a lot of feasts). And yet, most Catholics I know have gone more than surface deep into the mystery of the Ascension.

Why is that, I wonder? Perhaps because it’s rather simple, Jesus’ time had come to go to heaven and so he went; like our loved ones who’s time have come. But perhaps it’s also because in the depths of our hearts we wonder why he had to leave? A few weeks ago I decided it was time to teach my teens about the Ascension and I quickly realized I had no idea what to talk about to them. Every reason I could think of for the Ascension left me wanting.

He had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come. Why? If the Father and Jesus are truly one, then so too the Holy Spirit; where One is, so all three are. Wouldn’t this life of faith be so much simpler if Jesus remained on earth and proved his existence and love to us by his mere presence? Imagine, Jesus sitting on a throne in Jerusalem and all the world could see, touch and hear Jesus alive and well. Someone has a question or doubt and they could simply go to Jesus, or better yet, in his glorified body he could bi-locate to them.

But then, where would our joy be? If you were a world class soccer player, would you want to sit and watch the World Cup from the stands or be on the field playing? We are called to be saints, to participate in our own salvation. The joy of evangelization is surpassed by very little in this world.

So what? I would give all that joy to make atheism irrelevant. I would happily lay down any excitement and fulfillment of watching a young person come to know Christ if just one of the terrible wars or violent extremist groups were eradicated because of the presence of Jesus, bodily and irrefutably present on earth.

All of the above is good and right but leave you wanting. It was Fr. Robert Barron who finally provided the answer, one I’m still coming to terms with as I write this post. Quite naturally we perceive heaven and earth as the ancient Greek philosophers did, as two dichotomous realms, completely separate from each other. When Jesus ascended into heaven he left us behind. Sure, he’s still with us spiritually, but what this really means in a practical sense is that he left us behind and sent us his Spirit. He still left us behind.

But praise be to God, he’s not Greek, he’s Jewish; or rather, the Jewish understanding of God is a bit more accurate. You see, as Fr. Robert Baron demonstrates, heaven and earth, while distinct from each other are deeply interlaced into each other. There’s a blending and melding of the two. It isn’t that Jesus left us so much as that he ascended into something more. It’s as if a triangle suddenly became a pyramid (again, a Fr. Baron reference). Those of us who are two-dimensional wouldn’t even begin to comprehend the pyramid.

Heaven and earth are one, or rather, are in the process of becoming one and the Ascension of Christ is what makes that possible. His glorified body is the beginning of the melding of created, human, earthly nature into the spiritual nature of God. It is the adoption of humanity by Divinity. We are sons and daughters of the Father because Jesus not only took upon himself our humanity but because he raised it up into divinity.

2,000 years ago a wise Jewish rabbi was asked by his disciples how to pray and he replied, “Thy kingdom come, the will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May God’s will be made a reality on earth as it is in heaven. May earth become heaven! The Ascension isn’t the departing of Jesus. It is the reunification of heaven and earth! Jesus didn’t leave us, he merged us into the life of the Trinity!

So what does this mean? It means that when we preach the Gospel, the Good News, we make the kingdom of God truly present; we become the hands and feet of Christ and overlay heaven upon earth. So, as I sit there with my friend, both of us desperate for hope, we look towards the heavens searching for answers and find them in the presence of our faith: his faith, my faith, our oneness of hope. You wouldn’t seek help if you had no hope.

It also means that while we can’t see Jesus without the eyes of faith, he is closer to us than we can possibly imagine. It’s as if the triangle that became a pyramid has enclosed us within his fullness. We are the Body of Christ, not a body severed from its head but still attached! Remember, Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He isn’t “God with us for 33 years and then God in heaven”, away from us. But he remains God with us because heaven and earth have become mingled and united together and with each act of love we make this union more complete.

For me, this answer satisfies. I don’t fully grasp it, and probably never will until I’m in heaven, but it satisfies. I long for my Beloved, to touch him and hold him, to be consumed by him. And this longing, this “now and not yet” is what keeps me going, hoping for a simple “now”.

Holy Spirit2

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/why-the-ascension-of-the-lord-matters/196/