Feast of the Ascension of the Lord – May 20, 2012
St. Augustin Parish – Des Moines, Iowa
Deacon Mike Manno
Readings: Acts 1: 1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16: 15-20
Today, of course, is the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. It used to be celebrated on a Thursday, forty days after Easter, but in most of the United States it is celebrated on the Sunday following. I guess this is the Church’s version of all those holidays that Congress has moved to either a Monday or a Friday so we can have three-day weekends.
Of course we’ll have a three-day weekend coming up for Memorial Day, and I’m looking forward to that … as an old formula car racer I really look forward to the Indianapolis 500!
The first reading today talks about Jesus being taken up into heaven. The angels who appeared to the apostles told them that Jesus would return in “the same way you have seen him going into heaven.”
So we have from our readings today the promise that Jesus will return again. What we don’t know is when. And there is something else we don’t know … and it is asked by Jesus in Chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel about his return: “When the Son of Man comes,” he asks, “will he find faith on earth?”
Think about that for a minute. Jesus confides in his disciples his concerns about what he will find when he returns, as we know he will.
So let’s ask ourselves, if Jesus were to return today, what would he find? Would he find faith?
Listen to what our Holy Father told members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last January: “In vast areas of the earth the faith risks being extinguished, like a flame without fuel. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of a religious sense which represents one of the greatest challenges for the Church today.”
Ever increasingly we look out at a world that has substituted its own god for the God of Salvation. It’s a god of accommodation with the world, not the God that has created the world; a god of rationalization, not the God of absolute truth; a god that we find in ourselves, not the transcended God that demands obedience.
We have a God that demands as much and he set out rules for life in the Scriptures and especially through Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus, you see, wasn’t just a first century sandal-clad hippy whose ministry preached peace and love – oh he did preach peace and love, but he also preached a gospel of faithfulness to God’s commands – and in speaking of hell, which he did with greater frequency than heaven, he warned that those who disregarded his commands would end up there.
So following up on the Pope’s remarks, are we being faithful to the whole Gospel, or just those parts of it with which we agree? Or are we compromising with the culture around us, and accepting lifestyles that go beyond God’s commands.
I don’t think anything is more illustrative of this than the recent conversation about so-called gay marriage. Clearly there is a biblical injunction against homosexual conduct and just as clearly large numbers of people who call themselves Christian simply approve of it and ignore the Scriptural injunction.
Of course, the Church doesn’t ignore it. And it has preached and campaigned against that conduct. And we have condemned it; not the people, but the act.
But isn’t it interesting that it is homosexual sex that gets all the attention from the orthodox. Jesus and Scripture condemn all out of wedlock sex, but how many of us wink and nod approval to our friends and children who are living in sin after deciding to “shack-up.” Is that not as worthy of condemnation as gay marriage?
And what about those who live in adultery after a divorce who have not had their prior marriages annulled? Is that not part of the faith that Jesus left us? Or what about the millions of Catholics who contracept? That prohibition goes back to the Apostles and what would be called our first catechism, the Didache; yet where is the response to that? Is it only homosexual sex that we condemn?
And it’s not just sexual morality that concerns us; how about those that use the economic system to drive down the poor to their own advantage; or those who use the legal system to gain an unfair – yet perhaps legal – advantage over a competitor?
And there are good, Catholic families that discourage vocations in favor of grandchildren; as well as Catholic institutions that abandon their Catholic identities for political advantage.
Is not our faith a full, balanced meal? Yet far too many of us choose to dine à la carte, accepting only those truths that correspond to a private world view.
We rely on the excuse of our conscience to enable our rationalizations, rather than using our faith to inform our conscience.
Have we accommodated our faith to the surrounding culture so much that we can’t see what is happening? Have we become so non-judgmental that we refuse to see sin where it exists?
But I suppose in a culture that is quickly trying to remove God from our societal discourse this should come as no surprise. We live in a society that is today governed by moral relativism rather than principles of truth; by tolerance of all forms of conduct rather than the commands of our God.
We may, in short, have reached the point Richard Niebhur suggested where we have created our own deity; a god without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a messiah without a cross.
When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith?
Or will he find millions of lost souls whose accommodation with the world has left them empty and without hope. Will he find a world full of fatherless children because we have disregarded the value of marriage and family?
And how many of our children will he not find because we have ended their lives in what should be the safest place for them, their mother’s womb? Will he find that we have lost the moral ability to draw a line between right and wrong, between faith and fantasy, or between heaven and hell?
Will he find us striving for the City of God or the City of Gomorrah?
When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith?