The Ascension

by Fr. Larry Rice

On the Feast of the Ascension, the church celebrates the return of Christ to the Father, his physical body leaving the earth behind. In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that his return to the Father is necessary so that the Holy Spirit can be given to his disciples. For many years, this feast was celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation on the Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter. The precise date moved from year to year, as the date of Easter moved based on the lunar calendar. Not long ago, most of the dioceses in the United States moved the celebration of the Ascension to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and the State of Nebraska have maintained the celebration on the Thursday after the sixth Sunday of Easter. Why is the Ascension important or necessary? Why couldn’t the risen Christ have simply stayed with us, guiding the Church on Earth for all time? imagine what the world would look like today if Christ has not ascended. If Christ were still walking the earth, what would faith be? Where would our free will be? My own opinion is that it was necessary for Christ to ascend and send the Holy Spirit so that our faith would matter, and our free will remain intact. God is still with us, and present to us, but in ways that allow us to freely choose to accept or reject his grace. Christ is present in the Eucharist, in the Word of God proclaimed, and in his Body the Church.

The Holy Spirit is present to us, dwelling within us, received at our Baptism and sealed at our Confirmation. But these ways of remaining with us are not so concrete that our free will is collapsed. He have the ability to choose the Good, and to choose to accept God’s grace, and he’s never going to do anything that makes that choice less meaningful. So the feast of the Ascension is important to us, not because it’s a big “good-bye” to Jesus, but because it ushers in a new era in which Christ continues to be present to us, and in which the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all believers. Fr. Rice is vocations director for the Paulist Fathers.

Copyright © 2016, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington DC. All rights reserved. Image: Getty Images.

May 21st, The 6th Sunday of Easter

Easter Fullness:

Being Easter People

by Father Herb Weber

Shortly after I was ordained, I was asked to give a tour of our parish church to an interdenominational group. A woman stopped me and asked, “Don’t Catholics believe in the resurrection of Jesus?” I assured that we not only believed, but that that doctrine is central to our understanding of salvation.

At that, the woman pointed to the crucifix and added, “Then why do you still depict Jesus dying instead of having an empty cross?” I admit that I was surprised by the woman’s assumption, but since then I have become grateful for her questioning. Having grown up Catholic and having looked at a lifetime of crucifixes, I had never found any contradiction in seeing Jesus on the Cross and believing that Jesus rose from the dead. And I still don’t see a contradiction between the two. In fact, the unity between the two images has only grown stronger as I realize we have to believe in the selfless dying in order to give glory to the rising. Put another way, Easter cannot happen without Good Friday. Nonetheless, it is easy for people to lose a balance between these two aspects of our faith. Many of the contemporary Christian songs, I’ve discovered, emphasize the Cross and Jesus’ redemptive dying on the Cross. This, of course, is not new. Even great old hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” did the same. We don’t want to stop at the dying, however. If Jesus’ dying is the ultimate act of sacrifice, the wondrous love that transforms all love, then the rising is the hope for all those who die with the Lord. At the same time, there is a temptation to glory in the Resurrection without admitting the dying. We truly are an Easter Church but only when we know that our dying with the Lord has to continue again and again. It was not uncommon, in the euphoria of the early days after the Second Vatican Council, for people to recite something like, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is the song we sing.” There was joy and hope, but also more than a bit of naivete.

Being people of Easter means more than merely feeling good. We are firmly anchored in the Paschal Mystery itself that calls us to new life through death. A conviction that we are Easter people becomes apparent in a healthy parish. It’s not done through hyperactivity and a near manic approach to liturgy. Instead, there is a pervasive sense of purpose and a strong commitment to discipleship of the Lord. As Jesus died and rose, so must his followers. At our parish, we have discovered that the best representation of Jesus as the risen Lord is found in the way we live as Church. In other words, we have to live as people who truly believe not only in the Resurrection of Jesus, but that the Resurrection of Jesus has made a difference in our own lives. This conviction becomes apparent in the way we gather for worship, and then follows in various forms of outreach and service. Just as individuals must personally embody the paschal event of rising after dying, the same is true for parishes. By having a powerful sense that the risen 2 Lord is present and that each person is to be treated with dignity and respect, the church community begins to live Easter. With acceptance and gentleness for all, hope and healing is provided for people. It’s not just one thing that people do, but the amalgam of all that the parish is. In short, the parish has to be hope-filled and enthusiastic about its mission to reach out to others. Yes, we glory in Easter, especially when it is seen in its fullness as it follows Good Friday.

© 2017 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

 FACT OF FAITH

WHAT DOES THE CHURCH BELIEVE ABOUT MARY?

Traditionally the Catholic Church has honored Mary, the mother of Jesus, during the month of May. Some parishes hold May processions— participants sing hymns about Mary, recite the Rosary, and crown a statue of Mary with a wreath of flowers.

Some people believe, mistakenly, that Catholics worship Mary. Worship is reserved to God alone. From the earliest times, however, Christians have sought Mary’s prayers and help. They ask Mary to intercede on their behalf, which is entirely appropriate given Mary’s preeminent role in salvation history.

The Church teaches that Mary is the first and the greatest of all the disciples of Christ. Through her “yes” to the angel, she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and truly became the Mother of God. As the Mother of God, it was fitting that she was given the great gift of being preserved from Original Sin. This is called the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Paul VI gave Mary the title of Mother of the Church. Just as Mary prayed with the Apostles and disciples after Jesus’ Death, she continues to pray before God for the Church and all humanity.

The Church honors Mary on various days throughout the liturgical year. In many parts of the world there are popular, local devotions to Mary. Mary in her Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the United States. This feast is usually celebrated on December 8.

© 2017 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

 Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times

A pastoral reflection from the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Administrative Committee has issued the following pastoral reflection in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands. In the statement, the bishops encourage each of us to do what we can to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States. The full text of the Bishops’ Administrative Committee statement can be found below:

The word of God is truly alive today. “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33-34). To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes. Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: “We are with you.” They may also be a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence. It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity. Intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well. When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus? Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children. Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, “out of many, one.” In doing so, we will also realize God’s hope for all His children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), strengthens us to bring our words to life. How might we, as Catholics and in our own small way, bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life?

  1. Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children.

  2. Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own. Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have 2 programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and to help them know their rights. It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.

  3. Call, write or visit your elected representative and ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration. As Pope Francis said, “To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland.”

    © 2017 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops