Ascension - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2018

I can no longer remember whether it really happened, or whether I read about it somewhere. Anyhow, for a priest, it is a fitting sort of “feel good” story. In the seminary, a priest from the diocese came to visit us and, after a while, one of the students asked him, “What does a priest do?” And he answered to this effect. “I remember when I first started. It was my first day in my first parish, and I was sitting down, asking myself, ‘What do I do now?’ Then the front door bell rang, and I went down to the front door – and from then on, I have never asked myself again, ‘What do I do now?’”

I can picture the first disciples. Jesus had gone. Full stop! I can imagine them asking, “What do we do now?” Have you ever asked yourself, as a disciple of Jesus, “What do I do now?” Have you ever asked Jesus, as a disciple of his, “What do I do now?” In today’s first reading from the book, Acts of Apostles, Luke has Jesus saying, “You will be my witnesses…” That sums it up succinctly, “Witness to me. Show them what I did. Do what I did.”

Was there one underlying, one unifying, thread that sums up what Jesus was doing during his life? My answer to that is that Jesus wanted to show the world, the people whom he met, all of them, whoever they were, ultimately that God loved them, that God was essentially, and only, a God of mercy. He did that by witnessing to God’s love, by himself loving them in practice, by respecting them, and more than that, by engaging with them, relating to them, respecting them, responding to their needs whenever he could, however he could, whoever they were. He treated even those who did not like or approve of him, as responsible adults. In some cases, his love was “tough love” – but it was firstly love, and never violent.

I am constantly thrilled, helped, encouraged, empowered by so many of you ordinary Catholics who do just that [and I hardly know most of you]. I have been so privileged to have met so many good people over my life, and at times to have been accepted as their friend myself.

I wish that all in leadership positions in the Church could be more like Pope Francis. He doesn’t say all that much, but so much of what he says, when he says it, is said joyfully, and caringly. You may not hear much about the practical things he does, but they are constant, they are simple, and they are challenging.

Here in Australia, sadly, we in leadership positions, priests and bishops, have simply lost credibility. The less we say at the moment, the better. Until people see us as loving them, as interested in them, as prepared to listen to them and their struggles, they are not interested in what we say, especially when we endeavor to lay down the law. I don’t blame them. Fortunately, Church leaders are only a small segment of the Church. You are the Church. You are the voice and the hands of Jesus in the world. You are the ones who meet the ordinary ones; and you are the ones who can show them, in their constant need, the love of Christ embodied in yourselves. Jesus asks no one to succeed – just to love as best we can. We can leave outcomes to the grace of God.

What do we do? “You will be my witnesses”. And if we wonder at times how to, or whether we are up to it, Luke has Jesus adding, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. Stand by!