Familiarity

Today’s Gospel[1] brings to mind many insights.  But, today, I can’t help but think about a more human aspect; one that directly affects our ability to appreciate our Lord; one that affects our being able to interiorize His message; and because of it can damage society.

In the Gospel today we see Christ enter His own country – the place where He was raised. He had already begun to proclaim the gospel and back His words up with miracles; and now He comes home to do the same.  But the people were of another frame of mind: ‘many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.[2]

They knew Him; many knew Him well. They grew up with Jesus the boy so they couldn’t see or accept the greatness because of the familiarity.  They couldn’t recognize wisdom coming from just another one of them.  They couldn’t elevate past the immanent to the transcendent – the ordinary to the sublime.  They were numb to the importance of Jesus – many were extremely annoyed.

So, as I reflected on this scene I had to ask myself and now all of us – have we done the same? Have we, faithful followers who live a life of prayer and adoration of God, missed the greatness and newness of His message.  Though in an abstract sense, it is easy to gauge the receptivity of God’s message by whether we live the radical life of Christ and His apostles or not. It is hard to apply that metric to ourselves – we are great deniers and sophists.

At least for me, I can see that I have missed the mark in recognizing the importance of this one person I supposedly know so well.  As I take a deep look I fear that my life is not one of surrender to God; I have failed to truly live the radical life that Christ calls His followers to. I sit back and review my inaction in the public discourse when I should have gone forth as the apostles did and proclaim the good news.  I sit back and notice the times I came up with easy justifications for not standing in the public square and discuss a better way, a better idea.  I can see those times that I didn’t practice in public what I believe in my heart.  I can see the damage done by wallowing in the comfort of inaction by looking at the bad decisions made by public figures that might not have been made by them if only I (and every other catholic) had exercised my calling as a Catholic apostle; and my obligation and right as a U.S. citizen to engage in the great public discourse.

This current round of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court has shown what happens when we don’t continually live a life centered in Christ and participate in the public dialog.  The ramifications of the decision concerning marriage haven’t even started to appear – but dark clouds are starting to form. The dark clouds on the horizon are not figments of unrealistic minds, no matter what Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority decision to assure us otherwise.  As was the decision absurd, so was his statement within it assuring us of religious protection[3].  This reflection is not the place to dissect the future. But we now have seen painfully, once again, what happens when we don’t live a life totally centered on Christ; when we view our faith as so familiar that we don’t understand Christ’s message and our responsibilities.

At the end of today’s Gospel we see just what we have just reflected on. Jesus was so affected that: ‘he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.[4] – Christ’s effectiveness was limited by the receptivity of those He ministered to and with. Brothers and sisters let’s not make the same mistake over and over again of allowing our closeness with Christ to cloud our view of the message He gives us. Let’s not withdraw to a familiar and comfortable hole of interiorized faith. The world will be a sicker place if do.

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[1] Mk 6:1-6
[2] Mk 6:2b-3 (RSV)
[3] Obergefell v. Hodges majority opinion. ‘The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage.’ Needless to say, this statement is glaring in its complete omission of what the First Amendment guarantees: the freedom to exercise religion.
[4] Mk 6:5 (RSV)

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Ascension Lessons

Today, we hear Jesus tell his apostles, and us, to ‘“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”[1] And so the apostles did – with great joy. It seems they had heard their master and they understood His desire. It would be ten days later that the Holy Spirit would descend upon them and endow them with the strengths and wisdom needed; but as Christ ascended they knew what they must do.

Two points came to me as I reflected on this question:

  • 1) What type of life do I need to live to follow as a follower of the apostles?
  • 2) What type of apostolic action am I called give?

In the Ascension we are witness to the elevation of humanity to the divine.  Christ not only ascends back to Heaven but takes with Him His body.  This should point out to us that we too are meant for Heaven – completely soul and body; our lives should reflect this fact.  St. Paul reminds us of this when he writes to the Colossians: ‘If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.[2] So, though we are born of this reality and we journey through it – we have another home – we are citizens of another kingdom and it is up to us to live a life as a member of Heaven.  Each of us needs to live our lives as citizens of Heaven – we need to continually turn ourselves from a life lived in the flesh and reach for a life of sanctity.

But along with this important and daunting task is how we are to witness to the gospel during our journey. What type of apostolic action are we to follow.  Living a life of a citizen of heaven has mostly to do with an internal struggle – witnessing to the good news is more an external activity.  At first glance these seem to be two different actions – but are they? By our witness of living a life of a citizen of heaven we are, in fact, fulfilling our commission to proclaim the gospel.  The activities of the heavenly hosts (our fellow citizens) are both adoration and celebration of God; and of constant interaction with us – by intercessory prayer.  Their upward actions of lifting our prayer and submitting them to Jesus, the great intercessor, is also a downward action of passing God’s blessings to us.  We are strengthened by their intercession and their guidance; their looking to us down here brings yet another connection to heaven.  They, in a special way allow Christ to return to us by helping us. To a degree they are putting into action what the angels spoke to those who witnessed the Ascension in Luke: ‘This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.[3]

Now, of course, the angels primarily spoke of the final coming; but they also were speaking of our Lord’s constant and always present help through His Holy Spirit, His Blessed Mother, and the angels and saints – Christ is continually returning to us through them. He is ever present in our proclaiming the Good News.  But just what is this action that we can participate in?  We can better understand this action if we look at the Ascension narrative in Gospel of Luke: ‘Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.[4] Christ left this world; physically left us; with His arms outstretched blessing His followers.  Christ left us in the act of blessing and as the angels told those at the Ascension He will return the same way – blessing.

This is how we are to view our living a life of a citizen of Heaven while journeying through this existence.  By our actions in living a holy life publically we are bringing to those around us the blessing of Christ.  By our embracing the gospel and living a life in and of love we are helping those estranged from joy, happiness, and peace because they can see and hear and almost taste this joy that we have.

Brothers and sisters, we are constantly blessed by the return of Jesus through the actions of the Holy Spirit, Holy Mary, the angels and the saints – we need to pass this forward.  Like our fellow citizens in heaven we need to participate in the same two way interaction. First by accepting the gifts of Christ and pass them to others through helping them receive God’s blessing and second by passing their needs upward through prayer. I don’t know about you but when I meet Christ in judgement and He asks whether I lived a life as a citizen of Heaven or of earth, I don’t want to admit that I hoarded His blessings.

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[1] Mk 15:15
[2] Col 3:1b-2
[3] Acts 1:11
[4] Lk 24:50-41