Ascension of the Lord, Year A – 17

Ascension of the Lord, Year A – 17

Acts 1:1-11 / Eph 1:17-23 / Matt 28:16-20

Have we ever had that experience of saying goodbye and knowing that we will not meet that person ever again? The only occasion that we can probably think of is when death separates us from our loved ones and we know that we will never see that person again, at least not here on earth.

But other than that, it may be quite difficult to imagine a goodbye that is forever. Yes, it is difficult to imagine a goodbye that is forever. But we can certainly imagine how it feels if we won’t be able to see the other person forever.

That was how the disciples felt on that day when Jesus ascended into heaven, which we are celebrating as a feast today. They already had that traumatic experience of His death on Good Friday when they thought it was all finished.

But Jesus rose from the dead and He continued to be with them for 40 days. And now He is telling them that He is leaving them for good. Though they might be more prepared this time round, still we can understand how they felt about Jesus leaving them for good.

But this phrase “leaving for good” is quite interesting, isn’t it? Obviously, it means leaving forever. So, what good can come out of that?

The final parting words of Jesus are these: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.”

Those final parting words also come with a promise: Know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time. So, Jesus is telling us and promising us that He will be with us forever, until the end of time.

Our response can only be this: Yes Lord, I want to be with you forever, till the end of time. Now if that is what we want, then we will do as Jesus told us – make disciples, baptize them, teach them to observe all the commands that He gave.

Our whole life is to be centered on what Jesus wants us to do if we want to be with Him forever. And we will be given what we need as Jesus tell us in the 1st reading: you will receive power from the Holy Spirit.

Through the Holy Spirit, we will be with Jesus, and we will be able to do what Jesus told us to do. So, Jesus ascended into heaven and left the disciples for good. The “good” that He left them with is the Holy Spirit so that He will be with them till the end of time.

That “good” is passed down to us and hence, we must pray to the Holy Spirit in order to receive the power that Jesus wants to give us. Let us go back to the history of our faith.

God the Father inaugurated His presence among us when Abraham responded to Him in faith. The Nativity of Our Lord inaugurated God the Son’s presence among us when God’s self-expression became flesh and was born among us as one of us.

This Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven inaugurates the time of God the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. Jesus’ ascension into heaven opens the door to the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within those who have been baptized into the Body of Christ.

Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven challenges us to see God in a new way. Christ’s ascension is not an ending, it’s a beginning. On the surface it appears that Christ’s Ascension is a departure, but actually it is not.

Spirit-filled in His resurrection, Christ now comes to us in a new way – in His Holy Spirit. It is a new beginning. Christ in His humanity is now taken to a new status, the highest of all states of being.

Now at the right hand of the Father in the fullness of divinity, Christ comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit – particularly in His Sacraments. He will always be with us, He will never leave us.

The cycle has now come full circle. God has come to us in Christ; God has given Himself to us in Christ; God is now at work among us again, sweeping us up into Christ’s glorious, resurrected, and Spirit-filled humanity.

Through Him, with Him, and in Him we are now in Christ’s ascended humanity returned back home to our Father. The scope of this panorama is stupendous, awe-inspiring, and really beyond human comprehension or mortal human words.

It is Mystery in the full sense of the word mystery – mystery not in the sense of reading a “Who Done It?” novel, but mystery in the sense that we are gazing into a reality that far exceeds the scope of our ability to depict it or put into words.

To be honest with you, if I were standing in that group of apostles and disciples at Christ’s Ascension I would have been dismayed. I would have been quite intimidated.

I would have thought: “Are we to lose Him again?” Timidity would have engulfed my heart and soul. But Pentecost would follow and my timidity would have been erased.

We have been intimidated – made fearful and timid because of so many things that goes on around the world. Even somethings that goes around you and your family makes you fearful and timid.

It is into this sort of world you and I live in that God sent His only ­begotten Son, not to condemn us but to save us. The post-resurrection message, repeated so often by Christ, is: “Fear not! I am with you. I am with you even to the end of the world.”

The infallible sign of His Presence among us is love. We can love even in a world such as ours. We do, in fact, love in a world such as ours. The power of God’s love is being made manifest among us.

You are making that powerful presence felt in your lives and in the lives of those whom you cherish. You are making the presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ real in the lives of those around you.

If there is one sentence I want you to take home with you today it is this: Everything and everyone you love is being redeemed. Those whom you love are being redeemed not just by your love, but by Christ’s love within you that reaches them.

Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven is at work through you, with you, and in you. He has not left us orphans – He is here. Because of His ascension, He is here!

And when the Holy Spirit comes we will be enabled to throw off our timidity. We, filled with Christ’s gift of courage, will be able to go out in public and boldly live in the face of whatever challenges life and the people in it throw at us.

For Christ Jesus, now at the right hand of our Father, is at work in us bringing order out of chaos, meaning out of absurdity, good out of evil, and life out of death.

Jesus ascended to the Father and at the same time we are now being sent to follow the way that He has gone. It is therefore a feast where we are called upon to recognize our Christian responsibility, our calling, our vocation.

It is a celebration where we are called upon to recognize Christ as the ‘driving force’ of our everyday lives. He is giving us the task to continue His mission of love to the world.

This mission He came to fulfill with His own words and deeds, hopefully with his inspiration, will be done by us through our own words and deeds. This is the mission we still need to accomplish. Amen.



6th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

6th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17/ 1 Peter 3:15-18/ John 14:15-21

There is this story of a couple with a young son and they were looking around for a place to rent. Finally, they came upon a place that was owned by an elderly man, and they really liked the place.

So, when the couple inquired about the rent, the old gentleman said, “I would gladly let you have this place, but I don’t rent it out to couples with children.” glancing at the young boy as he said this.

Of course, the couple was disappointed with this, so they turned to leave. After walking a couple of steps, the young boy turned and went back to the house and knocked on the door.

The elderly gentleman opened the door and saw the young boy and said, “Oh, it’s you. What do you want?” The young boy said, “I want to rent this place!”

The elderly gentleman said, “But I don’t rent it out to couples with children.” And the boy replied, “I don’t have children. I only have parents. So, how much is the rent?”

Not surprising actually, because nowadays the young children can think so fast and they are able to give a reply to whatever we say to them. We may have to admit that the young are better educated than us and they certainly know more than us.

But being better educated is not just about thinking fast and having something to say about everything. The 2nd reading spells out the purpose of a Christian education and formation.

It says this: Reverence the Lord in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you for the reason for the hope that you have.

It continues by saying: But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that He will give us an Advocate (a Helper/Defender) to be with us forever. And this Advocate is the Spirit of Truth, who will help us to love Jesus and keep His commandments.

And this Spirit of Truth, this Advocate is indeed helping us to understand our faith and defend it. Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. He sees them sad and upset, because soon they won’t have him with them – and who can fill that void?

Until now he has been the one who took care of them, defended them from the Scribes and Pharisees, sustained their weak and faltering faith, described for them the truth of God, and initiated them into God’s great family project for humanity.

Jesus speaks to them passionately about the Spirit. He doesn’t want to leave them orphans. He himself will ask the Father not to abandon them, to give them ‘another Advocate’ that will ‘always be with them.’ Jesus calls this advocate ‘the Spirit of truth.’

What is hidden behind these words of Jesus? This “Spirit of truth” mustn’t be confused with a doctrine. This truth won’t be sought in theologians’ books or in the hierarchy’s documents. It’s something much more profound.

Jesus says that this Spirit “lives in us and is within us”. This Spirit is encouragement, power, light, love… that reaches us from God’s ultimate mystery. We must welcome this Spirit with a simple and trusting heart.

This “Spirit of truth” doesn’t change us into “owners” of the truth. It doesn’t come so that we impose our faith on others, or control their orthodoxy. It comes so that we aren’t left as orphans of Jesus, and invites us to be open to Jesus’ truth: listening, welcoming and living his Gospel.

Nor does this “Spirit of truth” make us “keepers” of the truth, but witnesses. Our task isn’t to argue with, oppose or overthrow adversaries, but to live the truth of the Gospel and “love Jesus, keeping his commands”.

This ‘Spirit of truth’ is within each one of us, defending us from all that can separate us from Jesus. It invites us to open ourselves with simplicity to the mystery of a God who is the Friend of life. Whoever seeks this God with honesty and truth isn’t far off from God.

Jesus said on one occasion: “Everyone who is of the truth, listens to my voice”. That’s both a deep truth and a challenging invitation. This ‘Spirit of truth’ invites us to live in the truth of Jesus in the midst of a society where all too often “Alternative Facts” masquerade as the truth.

How often nowadays are lies justified as strategy, exploitation is called business, irresponsibility is called tolerance, injustice is called status quo, arbitrariness is called freedom, lack of respect is called sincerity….

The fundamental message of Jesus’ moral teaching is that we are obligated to love God and our neighbor. We cannot love one without the other. It is impossible to compartmentalize God and people such that they remain unconnected.

Our dealings with others have implications for our friendship with God. This is how, in practice, we connect love and rules. If we love God, we will keep his commandments. If we love our neighbor, we will not treat him/her unjustly.

Nowadays, many people dismiss moral imperatives as being irrelevant to modern life. They are often viewed negatively because they are judged to be imposing limitations on our freedom. However, that is not so.

Fidelity to Jesus’ commandments enables us to live freely in the presence of God who cares for us. Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of Jesus’ moral demands is to enable us to appreciate the freedom of living according to God’s will.

It is not to make our lives miserable. Faithfulness to his commandments is the benchmark of our love for him and, in fact, for ourselves and our neighbor. The teaching of Jesus offers us clear instructions to enable us to be faithful to God’s will.

It summarizes what is required in order to live a wholesome life that reflects God’s truth and beauty. Its purpose is to rid our lives of selfishness and self-centeredness so that we can learn to put God and other people first, and ourselves last.

When our consciences are formed by Jesus’ teaching, we know the difference between right and wrong. Living according to his teaching ensures genuine happiness in this life and eternal happiness in heaven.

May the Spirit of truth defend and guard us against evil and falsehood.

May the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, empower us to give a prayerful and firm response with our faith so that others will be able to see the reason for the hope that we have.

And let us love the Lord and keep His commandments, and teach others to do the same. That’s what a good education is all about. Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

5th Sunday of Easter, Year A – 17

Acts 6:1-7/ 1 Peter 2:4-9/ John 14:1-12

Today we thank our mothers, pray for them and honor them by celebrating Mother’s Day and by offering our mothers on the altar of God. Today is Mother’s Day.

Today is one of the most beautiful days of the year. Let us consider for a moment the thoughts of two great men about the role their mothers played in their lives.

George Washington once said, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.”

Abraham Lincoln spoke similar words when he said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.” Unfortunately, many people in our society would not agree with these great men who had great mothers.

I wish every one of the Mothers, a very Happy Mother’s Day and God bless you all.

It is not that often that we hear the topic of hell being preached. Yes, we would like to hear some fire-and-brimstone preaching but listening to preaching about hell is not that exciting. Anyway, more or less we know what hell is like.

From what Jesus said, it is a place where “the worms never die and the fire never goes out.” (Mk.9:48) That would give us an idea of what hell is like. But others may have other descriptions of hell.

I think it is Enough of hell. We are supposed to know more about heaven. So, what is heaven like? Going by what we see from religious art, heaven seems to be like a place of light, many angels stand on what look like clouds, and people with halos.

At least, that is the picture we get from cartoons. But what did Jesus say that heaven is like? From today’s gospel, He has this to say: There are many rooms in my Father’s house. So, the picture that we get is that heaven is a place that has many, many rooms.

And from what Jesus said, it seems that each of us has a special room prepared for us. That is quite a nice thought, especially for those of us who don’t have a place to call our own here on earth.

We will certainly look forward to going to heaven and there we can finally rest in this special room of ours, and it will be forever and ever. That is what Jesus promised us and He even urged us to trust in God and trust in Him.

Yes, we have to trust in Jesus and His promise to us, because we can so easily lose grip of that promise. And Jesus warns us about that when He said: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trouble is a dangerous word, and it becomes more dangerous when it creeps into our hearts.

In the 1st reading, we heard how trouble crept into the early Church community. At the time when the disciples were increasing, the Hellenists (the Greek-speaking disciples) made a complaint against the Hebrews, because in the daily distribution, their own widows were being overlooked.

There was unfairness, and there was unhappiness over it. Complaints were made and trouble was brewing. Relationships were strained and the community was in danger of breaking up.

The promises of Jesus seemed to have been forgotten and faded off because of this trouble. But we must realize that this trouble was self-created. And the Apostles realized that and they had recourse to prayer to find a way out of this trouble.

And if the early Church could be afflicted with troubles, so too can be the present Church. And if the disciples could let trouble creep in and make them complain against each other, we too can end up complaining.

But we must realize what the trouble is with us. We must realize what the problem is with us. Essentially, the problem with us is that we create our own troubles.

When our hearts are troubled, we resort to complaining and we lose hold of the promises of Jesus. There is a story of a man who got tired of his wife and wanted a divorce.

However, he was afraid that his young 5-year-old daughter would be traumatized by it, so he told his daughter: Mummy is getting old and not pretty anymore. So, let daddy get a new and pretty mummy for you, ok?

The little girl thought for a while and then she replied: No, I don’t want. Grandma is very old, but you didn’t go and get a new grandma. The little girl was happy with what she had, whereas her daddy was asking for trouble with what he was unhappy about.

People may wish that their marriage is made in heaven. But thunder and lightning also happens in heaven. Similarly, Jesus said that we are made for heaven. But it doesn’t mean that there will be no thunder or lightning or other troubles in our lives.

But even with the thunder and lightning and troubles, let us stay close to Jesus. He is the Way, we must follow Him; He is the Truth, we must believe in Him. And in His heart, He has a special place for each of us.

To stay in His heart and remain there, that is what heaven is all about. That is what our life is all about. Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Thomas had three qualities in his relationship with the Master: 1. Acceptance: He said, let us go and die with him: Thomas accepted the challenge to die with the Master. 2. Dialogue: “Thomas entered in a dialogue with the Master asking the question the way he is going.

  1. Commitment: “Thomas said after experiencing the Risen Lord, “My Lord and My God”.

Jesus’ words bring great comfort to the disciples who were saddened by the revelation that he is going back to his father. They fear at the thought of losing him. He reminded him that the ultimate destination is Father’s house.

Jesus will not abandon his disciples. But will do whatever they ask in his name. Jesus urges his disciples to believe in him and to do the work that he does. The disciples of the Early Church carried out his work and fulfilled his mission.

They were filled with Holy Spirit and were committed to serving others and giving witnessing to Jesus. He, who sees me, sees the Father. These words prove clearly Christ’s consubstantiality, or unity of nature, with the father.

So, we need to accept Jesus as the Way, Truth and the Life. We accept Jesus as the Way by walking the narrow way of loving, humble and sacrificial service.

We accept Jesus the Truth by learning and practicing what he taught as given in the Bible and in the teachings of the Church. We share the Divine life of God by making use of the means Jesus established in his Church. Amen.

4th Sunday of Easter Year A – 17

4th Sunday of Easter Year A – 17

Acts 2:14, 36-41/ 1 Peter 2:20-25/ John 10:1-10

This world is full of sights and sounds. For us who could see and hear, we would use our discretion to see what we want to see and to hear what we want to hear. That is called selective seeing and selective hearing.

But for those who are blind and deaf, they don’t have this option for selection. Simply because they can’t see and they can’t hear. Between blindness and deafness, it is difficult to say which is more inconvenient.

Maybe the chances of overcoming the difficulties of deafness are higher because of the availability of good hearing aids. There is this story of an elderly gentleman who had serious hearing problems for a number of years.

Finally, he went to a doctor who fitted him with a set of hearing aids that allowed him to hear quite well. After about two months, he went back to the doctor for a follow-up and the doctor said, “Your hearing is good. Your family must be pleased that you can hear again.”

The elderly gentleman replied, “Oh I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. And there is something else that they don’t know. And that is I have changed my will three times already.”

This reminds us of the basic principle in life: Be careful what you say, because you don’t know who is listening. Maybe because we think that others are a bit deaf and that they are not listening to us.

Well, another elderly man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So, one day he stood a short distance behind her as she was sitting on the sofa, and he said, “Can you hear me?” There seemed to be no response from her.

He moved closer and said, “Can you hear me?” Still there seemed to be no response. Finally, he moved right behind her and said, “Can you hear me?” And she replied, “For the third time, Yes!”

It goes to show that some have ears that can hear, some have ears that can’t hear, and then some have ears that hear only what they want to hear. In the gospel, Jesus told the famous parable of the Good Shepherd.

The good shepherd calls out to his sheep, and he calls them one by one, and the sheep hears his voice, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

But Jesus also said that the sheep never follow a stranger but run away from him because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. So, what is the difference between the voice of the shepherd and the voice of the stranger?

Certainly, it is more than just the tone or the familiarity. Because the voice of the shepherd speaks the truth with love, it is the voice that cares, it is the voice that has compassion. In the 1st reading, when Peter stood up with the Eleven, he addressed the crowd in a loud voice.

He said, “The whole house of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus who you crucified both Lord and Christ.” That wasn’t very impressive nor eloquent. In fact, it was rather blunt. But when the people heard it, they were cut to the heart.

What the people heard was more than the voice of Peter. They heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, they heard the voice of truth, the voice of love, the voice of salvation.

We surely are fortunate to belong to the sheepfold of Christ—His Church. We surely are blessed to have the Son of God as our Shepherd, who came among us in order to lead us to heaven. Do we fully appreciate our privileged position?

Do we always live up to our heavenly vocation? We know His voice, we know what He asks of us, but do we always listen to that voice, do we always do what He asks of us?

There are many among us today who foolishly think they need no shepherd. They think they know all the facts of life while they are in total ignorance of the most basic fact of all, namely, the very purpose of life.

Not that the thought of it does not arise disturbingly before their minds time and time again. But they try to smother that thought and ease their consciences by immersing themselves deeper and deeper in the affairs and the passing pleasures of this temporary life.

Alas for them, a day of reckoning lies ahead, a day that is much nearer than they would like to believe. What will be their fate when they meet Christ the Judge, whom they had refused to follow and acknowledge during their days on earth?

This is a misfortune that could happen to any one of us, unless we think often of our purpose and our end in life. We have a few short years, but short though they be, we can earn for ourselves an eternity of happiness during this life.

Let the straying sheep boast of their false freedom and of the passing joys they may get in this life—this freedom and these joys are mixed with much sorrow, and will end very soon.

We know that if we follow the shepherd of our souls, we are on the way to the true life, the perfect life, the unending life which will have no admixture of sorrow, regret or pain. Where Christ is, there perfect happiness is, and there with God’s grace we hope and trust to be.

Yes, the voice of the Good Shepherd can be heard everywhere, from mothers, from teachers, from young poor students. It is a voice that speaks of truth and of love, a voice that cares and has compassion, a voice that gives life and life to the full.

Let us listen to this voice, and may the voice of the Good Shepherd fill our hearts, so that we too will be the voice of the Good Shepherd for others.