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Homily for Sunday, May 12, 2024

Ascension of the Lord |


[Father Paul]


Did the disciples know what they were getting into when they started following Jesus? Last year, I was honoured to lead a small group of brave pilgrims to the Holy Land. Many moments stand out, and I mention two of them here. First, I vividly remember our time around the Sea of Galilee. As you know, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and brought up in Nazareth, but he spent most of his active ministry on and around the Sea of Galilee, particularly in Capernaum, where he lived for a time. His followers left everything to follow him. But I wonder if they had any idea what they were getting into.


We took a short excursion on a boat into the Sea of Galilee, and I just can't help but be struck by the sense of it all, how much fun they were having together. They were making new friends and discussing new ideas that made sense because they were true, and they had a new leader they could trust.


Then came Jerusalem. I am still moved by the dungeon at Caiaphas's house. It was, in fact, a cistern, a kind of lower basement. After Jesus was arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken to the house of Caiaphas and questioned and beaten. We saw the stone where they would have hung the leather laces to hold his hands and arms so they could whip him. And then they just tossed him down into this basement of basements - cold, dark, probably 2 feet of water (you could see the waterlines and the blood stains from His back.) While in that room, I read from Psalm 88—the prayer of a very sick person.


They surround me all the day like a flood, they assail me all together. Friend and neighbour you have taken away: my one companion is darkness.

Are there any sadder words in scripture? I wonder if this psalm crossed his mind while he was sitting in that awful place, alone and afraid. We've all been there at one time or another.


But the ascension today that we celebrate is about redemption, the realization that God is always with us and that discipleship is so worth it. Even though the decision to follow Jesus may shake us to the very core, as Kahlil Gibrain states so eloquently about love:


When love beckons to you, follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold, you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

Did the disciples know what they were getting into? No, of course, they didn't. But something in them was awakened, which can be awakened in us any time we make the decision to follow our hearts and trust our goodness.


Since this is Mother’s Day, I would like to conclude with a little story I came across a few years ago about motherhood. I think it perfectly captures the reality, joy, and pain of discipleship, and there is perhaps no greater love than a mother for her child.


 

“We are sitting at lunch when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of “starting a family.” “We’re taking a survey,” she says, half-joking. “Do you think I should have a baby?”


“It will change your life,” I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral. “I know,” she says, “no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations….”


But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but that becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable.


I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking “What if that had been MY child?” That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.


I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub.

That an urgent call of “Mom!” will cause her to drop a souffle or her best crystal without a moment’s hesitation.


I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood.


She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby’s sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of her discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.


I want my daughter to know that everyday decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy’s desire to go to the men’s room rather than the women’s at McDonald’s will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom.


However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.


Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years — not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.


I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor. My daughter’s relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.


I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving.


I hope she will understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children’s future.


I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or a cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real, it actually hurts.


My daughter’s quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. “You’ll never regret it,” I finally say. Then I reach across the table, squeeze my daughter’s hand and offer a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings. This blessed gift from God . . . that of being a Mother.


Pete & Angie Colovas

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