Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 20, 2012: Ascension of Our Lord

Click to hear audio homily

On Friday, I celebrated mass at the nursing home, and I took out a twenty-dollar bill and asked a couple of question to the residents starting with, “When did you graduate from high school?” I heard, “1940, 50, 58...” I then asked, “How much did it cost to go see movies?” Some replied, “25 cents.” How much was popcorn and soda, I asked. “10 cents.” I asked the same questions to the graduating class of 2012 at the baccalaureate mass this week. When I asked, “Can you take your date to the movies with $20,” they all laughed. A ticket to a 3D movie costs $12 per person and with the popcorn at $6 a bucket, you can’t even get yourself a movie ticket, popcorn, and coke for $20, let alone the same for your date. (Pictured below: Grand Theater, Donaldsonville)

Standing before the 2012 Ascension Catholic School graduates, their parents, and friends, I held out the $20 bill and asked them the following question. “If I were to rip, stomp, crumple, and spit upon this $20 bill, I bet that I can still take it to a local grocery store and redeem it for $20 worth of stuff. Who stands behind the value and worth of this $20 bill?” “US Government,” one of the students answered. Then I asked, “Who stands behind your worth and your dignity?” “God?” a student answered. “That’s right”, I replied, “each of you is worth so much that God himself redeemed you by sacrificing His very own life...Look at who is sitting behind you, your parents, grandparents, your family and friends. You don’t stand alone. Backing each of you is the love and sacrifice of all your family, but most of all, God’s got your back.”
We heard in the first reading today two angels asked a profound question to the disciples who stood dumbfounded as Jesus ascended into the clouds. “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” The first part of this profound question is, “Why are you standing?” Why are you here on earth? Our answer is that we are here on earth because God has put us here as the crowning work of his creation. He gave us the dignity of being children of God and the gift of immortality. We know that man went astray, misused the gift of freedom and said “No” to God, thus condemning himself to a life marked by evil, sin, suffering and death. We also know that God was not resigned to this situation and so after seeing the sad situation of His children on Earth, Our Heavenly Father, out of His great love for us, sent His Son into the world. And His Son’s love for us was so great that He died for all of us. Where do we get our dignity and worth?  Our dignity and worth comes from the infinite love that the Father and the Son have for us.  This infinite love is demonstrated every day on the altars throughout the world. Jesus left us the greatest gift, himself in the Eucharist to be our nourishment on our way home to the Father.
How do we react to this love? If we are honest, we know that at times we react coldly to this love. At times, we admit that we never notice this love and are ungrateful for this love. I told the high school graduates that after graduating high school, I took my parents’ love and sacrifice for granted. They paid for my college and living expenses while I was in Austin, Texas, but my gratefulness for them was so meager. What’s more, I pretended that I graduated from religion as well; I seldom attended church in my first year of college. I forgot who ‘had my back.’ After enjoying my freedom and living apart from the love of my parents and the love that God has for me, I ended up feeling empty. I was asking myself, “Is this all there is? Is this my final destiny?”

 We need to turn to the second part of the biblical question: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” The disciples looked up to heaven because they looked to Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, raised up on high. Here on earth, we are called to look up to heaven, to turn our minds and hearts to the inexpressible mystery of God. We are called to look towards this divine reality, to which we have been directed from our creation. For there we find life’s ultimate meaning. Jesus showed us how to ascend to the Father: we must love. At times, we may fall into the trap of measuring our worth by how many $20 bills we can accumulate, but we must remember that our worth is measured by the greatest sacrifice that God made for us. There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. Just as our family and God back us up, we must do the same for one another.