Ascension Day - 'True spirituality is grounded in reality'
Posted: Wed, 12 May 2021 10:38
On Thursday 13 May, we come together today to celebrate Ascension Day—the day of homecoming for Jesus. This year it falls on the feast of St Mary Mazzarello, who founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Salesian Sisters, with Don Bosco. She is very much in the school of hands-on saints who heeded the words of the angels in our first reading, 'why ... are you looking up into the sky?' (Acts 1: 1-11)
She had the wisdom to see that true spirituality was grounded in reality. The apostles came to the Mount of Ascension fully aware of the excitement of their past three years with Jesus. They had seen glory and pain, joy and suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus asks these first disciples to be his 'witnesses ... to the ends of the earth', as he leaves them to return home to loving embrace of the Trinity.
Like these witnesses, Mary Mazzarello listens to Jesus' call to 'go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news' The Good News is that at a particular time in human history, the love of God was made visible in Jesus of Nazareth. This new message of the Love of the Father-God: Jesus was killed, but the same love of the Father embraced Jesus and raised him from the dead.
Today, we are commissioned to respond to this Good News, to live it, and to proclaim it. In her simple, unaffected way, Mary Mazzarello brought the glory of God to the ordinary, even in a simple act of sewing. I love the story of how she treated her sisters with late night ice cream—after their Salesian chaplain has retired for the night! It shows that she was aware that her ministry was grounded in reality, and that she had a deep concern for her sisters . She is an obvious example of a witness who willingly shared good news.
In these difficult times, I hope that you have a witness in your life who can share a late night treat with you—one who will always wish you well; one who has your best interests at heart; one who is there for you. Sharing the good news of Jesus will not always be about preaching on a Sunday; it will be cry of 'have a nice day' or 'drive carefully' or 'yes, have an extra cake'! Sharing the good news of Jesus involves being positive and optimistic, even in pandemic times.
The readings today offer two simple choices:
*are you going to stand and look upwards into the sky?
*are you going to be involved in the world?
Sadly, some people treat religion as a chance just to gaze upwards: they gauge their faith through attendance in church and prayer. The message from the angels and Jesus is that we have to be involved and not become so self-absorbed that we become spiritual narcissists. The Final Judgement is all about how we feed the hungry, welcome strangers, and care for those who are ill. Mary Mazzarello offers the Salesian family the gift of a living contemplation in the midst of active ministry; her gift to the church can be appreciated even more in these times, when we have come to have a deeper understanding and need for reflective prayer, as it helps us to process the demands of a global pandemic.
As a Church, our mission is to preach GOOD news; today we remember the importance of all those involved in media. We pray especially for journalists and all those working in media houses to use their profession and skills to advance the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a world where the media has become powerful and projects all kinds of images and ideas into our homes and heads. In these last few months, we have seen that media can be abused to spread misinformation, lies, conspiracy theories and 'alternative facts'. We have witnessed, to our horror, the reality that if you repeat the lie often enough, it will be believed, especially if you subscribe to a media source that does not challenge you. The Gospel has to challenge us. Our children and future generations are exposed to all kinds of deceptive and misleading doctrine through the media's power. The Church must speak up against the toxic media and politics that seem to have been amplified during these pandemic times.
On this feast of Ascension we are invited to be bearers of the good news of Jesus; the fruits of Ascension saw the apostles 'going out' to preach, 'confirming the word by the signs that accompany it.' The next time you meet some 'holier than thou' Christian asking if you are saved, look for their signs of authenticity to accompany their words. Mary Mazzarello shows us the way to authenticity, as she wisely guides us
Have love in your hearts but repress the tendency to appear devout
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image of the Ascension from the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, usually dated to the 6th century: Dsmdgold, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons