Homily – 7th Sunday of Easter/Ascension

My friends, we are coming to the end of the Easter Season with today and concluding next Sunday with Pentecost—the coming of the Spirit among us! This past Thursday, the Church remembered the day that Jesus was with the apostles one moment and then suddenly wasn’t with them, at least physically.

He told them and us that he would never leave us, so we knew that he certainly meant more than physical presence.  A close look at Jesus’ life and words tells us that his message to those first apostles, disciples and ultimately to us, was always “loaded,” so to speak, with more than meets the eye.  The above example of his being with them and then physically leaving them along with his additional message that, in fact, he would be with them always, is a case in point—many layers and ways to understand what he has said.  The parables are other examples of this.

I believe our Church would be stronger and more meaningful to more people if the hierarchy remembered this—Jesus’ ultimate message, the one he truly wants us to get, isn’t on the surface, alone, but goes much deeper.

In deference to Ascension Thursday, celebrated this past week; I looked up the list of holy days within the Catholic church that are still considered, “days of obligatory Mass attendance,” being that we don’t usually meet for Mass on these days and I found an interesting thing.

Most years the Church considers, besides each Sunday, six days that are days of obligation to attend Mass.  Those days are: January 1, the Solemnity of Mary—this is a feast to Mary, our mother and sister that apparently is about “being serious and dignified.”  I think we might do better to say, this is a feast to remember that Mary was one of us and did a wonderful job of it! “Solemnity” seems to speak of putting someone on a pedestal, out of sight and mind.

Moving on, we have the Ascension of Jesus, usually celebrated 40 days after Easter—which the Church remembered this last Thursday. This one too should have its name changed—where is Jesus ascending to? For a long time now the “three tiers” idea of our universe; heaven, earth and hell has been dispelled with—probably since astronauts have gone further and further into space and haven’t run into heaven yet! Although, on a larger plane, what these same astronauts have discovered out beyond the earth could be said to be quite “heavenly.”

Next, we have the Assumption of Mary, body and soul into heaven—again we have the notion that she is going up somewhere. This feast day grew out of the notion that because she carried the Christ Child in her womb, we couldn’t just let that precious body rot in the ground. Here again, the Church misses the point of our loving God choosing to be one with us, in our humanity. Humanity thus, is a good thing, not something we need to belittle and thus, the gift our God has given us.

Then, comes November 1, All Saints Day, which is a good one in that it remembers that all of us, are of God.

Next, we have the Immaculate Conception celebrated on December 8 and in my opinion, this is a feast that the Church really needs to lose because of the wrong-headed theology it demonstrates. If Mary was truly conceived without sin—or in other words, perfect, then she wasn’t human, which by definition means, “imperfect,” thus, there goes Jesus’ humanity.

We conclude with Christmas, December 25—God with us!  But, and this seems to be important, if January 1, August 15 and November 1 fall in any calendar year, on a Saturday or a Monday, there is no obligation to attend Mass because, I guess, the Sunday obligation “spills over” in either direction and “covers us.”  Certainly, folks are encouraged to attend Mass, but no penalty of “sin” if you don’t! Sounds kind of anal to me!

Now, you might be wondering why Christmas, the Ascension and December 8 aren’t included here.  Well, the Ascension always falls on a Thursday, and the Sunday obligation can’t stretch that far, I guess, so it has to be a holy day, Christmas is always a holy day no matter what day if falls on as well as December 8. Now, why December 8 is always a holy day, I can’t tell and besides; I have already said that we should lose this one!

And why then, if Christmas is a holy day, is not Easter? Well, Easter is always on a Sunday, so that is covered too! Double anal!!

This all makes me think of Jesus railing at the Pharisees for “tying people up in knots” with over 600 rules and regulations for daily living, as he tried instead to get them back to the “heart” of the law, instead of the “letter” of the law.

So, why am I picking on the hierarchy here?! Precisely for the same reason that Jesus picked on the Pharisees and the other hierarchy of his time—he wanted them to get beyond rules, which are merely meant to control people and get to the heart of the law, meant to set people free to be their very best selves.  Love God, and love your neighbor as you would want to be loved and appreciated—that’s it and if you do that, there is no need for days of obligation. Completing days of obligation is really the easier thing to do, rather than being about, “loving God and others.”  I have known people in my life who have kept all the rules, except the one to show love and mercy.

This whole Easter Season, in its readings, set up by people more gifted than the “rule makers,” is intended to help us see the glory of God made visible to us through the life, death and resurrection of the human and divine, Jesus of Nazareth.

We know that his life, death and resurrection singled him out from among humans because people were drawn to him through his words, his actions and something very special they saw within him.  Even those who had never seen him in the flesh, or heard his words, like Stephen in the Acts’ reading today, and was stoned to death rather than be silent about this man who had so captivated his life.  The apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, once known as Saul holding the garments of those who persecuted Stephen, became the greatest evangelizer of Jesus, sight unseen, that the world has ever known—granted he did have the “throwing off the horse” experience!

The message from Revelation today is a simple one too, “I am coming soon” and again we know that this has many layers of meaning.  The reading from John is from the beautiful 17th chapter that speaks so intimately of our God’s desire to be “one with us”—the very chapter where the name of our parish is taken from.  The Incarnation, in its very best sense was all about this—to be one with us as Jesus was and is one with the Creator.  Nothing here about keeping laws, rules, obligations—6 or 600!

Just love, love God, love each other. That was what was missing in Jesus’ time—the hierarchy of his time was into pressing the people with obligations and they, as my dear mother, through marriage, always used to say, “had forgotten the love.”

So, my friends, that is why I pick on the hierarchy as Jesus did in his time—to challenge them and us to remember the love—that is the only obligation we must ever keep—to remember the parables, the teachings and the wisdom of our brother Jesus—all about love.   Amen? Amen!