|The Forgotten Virtue.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter.
Lessons from the tertiary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 7: 55-60.
• Psalm 97: 1-2, 6-7, 9.
• Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20.
• John 17: 20-26.
Where the Ascension is observed today:*
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
Lessons from the tertiary proper,** according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 1: 1-11.
• Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-9.
• Ephesians 1: 17-23; or, Hebrews 9: 24-28; 10: 19-23.
• Luke 24: 46-53.
The Sunday after the Ascension.***
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Peter 4: 7-11.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• John 15: 26-27; 16: 1-4.
The Sunday of the Fathers at the First Nicean Council; a Postfestive Day of the Ascension; the Feast of the Holy Apostle & Evangelist John the Theologian; the Feast of Our Venerable Father Arsenius the Great; and, the Feast of Our Blessed Mother Miriam Theresa Demjanovich.
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:†
• Acts 20: 16-18, 28-36.
• I John 1: 1-7.
• John 17: 1-13.
• John 19: 25-27; 21: 24-25.
8:42 AM 5/8/2016 — Last Thursday, when we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Blessed Lord—and I know for a fact that every single one of you was at Holy Mass that day somewhere because it was a Holy Day of Obligation—I shared with those here some reflections on an image of the Risen Christ I had seen in a church out in the mid-west, in the middle of what we call the “farm belt”; it's a bronze statue of our Blessed Lord rising out of an ear of corn. The church where I found it was one of those architectural monstrosities so common in the early '70s, when everyone presumed that Vatican II meant that the past was evil and that the whole Catholic religion had to be reinvented from scratch. The artist, consistent with the mentality of those unfortunate times, crafted an image of our Lord that he felt would be relevant to those who worshiped there. The obvious fact of human nature that the artist totally forgot was that the familiar, while certainly relevant, is not uplifting. To a corn farmer who has spent his whole week in the hot sun wading among ears of corn, the last thing in the world he wants to see when he walks into church is another ear of corn, especially when the ear of corn is pretending to be his God. It's relevant, certainly, but in the wrong way.
This was the lesson I had offered to those present for Holy Mass on Ascension Thursday: that no matter how hard we try to make our faith practical and down-to-earth, the simple fact is that to be a Christian means to live in hope of another life which is very different from this one. That's why I like to call the feast of the Ascension the feast of the virtue of Hope; but, how many of us question how well we cultivate the virtue of Hope? That's why I often refer to the virtue of Hope as the forgotten virtue: we're all acutely aware when we fail to act in Charity, we all know we need to pray for an increase in Faith, but how many of us stop to consider whether we have cultivated the virtue of Hope?
But, that being said, we live in a world of practical concerns, where the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity seem like the subjects of a theological seminar rather than something that pertains to our daily life. In point of fact, both today's first lesson from Saint Luke's Acts of the Apostles, and the second from Saint John's Book of Revelation, throw the whole subject of martyrdom back in our faces, just like it was thrust before us right after Easter. They stand as stark reminders that, when push comes to shove, and the world presents to us a choice between following our Lord and taking care of ourselves, a decision has to be made, and that decision will have effects both spiritual and pragmatic. It might be hard for some of us to understand that, given how successful we've been in our society of compartmentalizing our lives: religion is something we do for an hour on Sunday, then it's forgotten for the rest of the week until we have to do it again. But what would we do if, suddenly, we were forced to trade places with those who are living under the yoke of militant Islam? When we hear in the news about a mother burned alive along with her children because she refuses to renounce the Gospel, or of someone in an Islamic state being tried for apostasy and sentenced to death for the crime of converting to Christianity, or of whole villages full of Christian people being slaughtered because they decided to stay in the place where their people have lived for a thousand years rather than surrender and flee, we have to have the courage to ask ourselves what we would do if suddenly we were compelled to trade places with them. And suddenly the virtues of Faith and Hope cease to be the subjects of a seminar and become something very real.
Which brings us back to the feast of the Ascension, and that forgotten virtue, the virtue of Hope. We happen to be blessed—or cursed, however you choose to look at it—to live in a very tumultuous and confusing time, perhaps even more so than the '70s were. Some of us, I know, are often confused and perplexed by things we think are said or done by the Holy Father; and, I know we're all distressed by the wholesale persecution of the Church going on in the Middle East and even, to an extent, here at home, with the government trying to take away the rights of believers in almost every sphere of American life. But all of this is nothing more than a test of how well—or how poorly—we have cultivated the virtue of Hope. Jesus ascends into the heaven from which He came in the first place, and there he sits, at the right hand of the Father, ready to plead our cause on the day of judgment. And there he is in heaven with a room waiting just for us, one with our name on it. Of course, all of us would like to live a happy and carefree life, and we'll probably never stop striving to make that happen, which is why we're always looking to improve our situation, searching for just the right job, just the right spouse, just the right place to live; but, the Christian must always be on guard against making the pursuit of the most perfect life possible an obsession, because our life on earth, compared to heaven, is like a second compared to a million years; and, whether we are able to achieve perfect happiness in these external things is not nearly as important as securing our eternal salvation.
Now, in saying that, I'm not trying to trivialize the hardships of life. Simply knowing that life is short and that heaven is our destiny doesn't necessarily cause us to accept all our sufferings here on earth joyfully and without complaining. It would if we were saints, but most of us aren't. So, we complain, and we worry, and we convince ourselves that life isn't fair. That's part of who we are. If we are ever called upon to choose between our safety and our faith like those living on the other side of the world, that will become clear to us. In the mean time, Christ ascends into heaven leaving a path for us to follow. He sends the Holy Spirit to help make sure we stay on the path. He established the Church through which the Holy Spirit acts on this earth, and He appointed the Apostles through which the Spirit teaches us what we need to know.
In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus, just before ascending into heaven, prays to His Father, summing up His entire life on this earth, and why He came:
This, Father, is my desire, that all those whom thou hast entrusted to me may be with me where I am, so as to see my glory, thy gift made to me, in that love which thou didst bestow upon me before the foundation of the world (John 17: 24 Knox).
He didn't take on flesh and come to earth as a social teacher with a blueprint for us to create some earthly utopia of perfect justice and peace and harmony; he didn't come as some kind of spiritual guru to show us how to get in touch with our feelings and purge ourselves of all anxiety. He came as a Savior to die on a cross in payment for our sins, and to leave us sacraments of Grace to help us find our way to heaven. Our one purpose for being on this earth is to work out our salvation; everything else is just window dressing.
Between now and the time that each of us is judged by God as worthy or unworthy of heaven, we will have a lot to occupy our minds and our time. What's important is that we never lose sight of the ultimate destination, and how we must live in order to get there. As the Scriptures say so many times, heaven is our true home. As long as we're on this earth we are simply on a journey. And the best part of any journey is arriving home.
* In the ordinary form, in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark (which includes the Diocese of Metuchen), Omaha and Philadelphia, the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on its proper day on the Roman Calendar, the Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter, and the obligation is retained. Everywhere else throughout the United States, the Solemnity is transfered to—and replaces—the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
Regardless of whether Ascension Thursday is observed on its proper day or transfered to the Seventh Sunday, the Easter season continues after Ascension, concluding with the celebration of Vespers on the evening of Pentecost Sunday, when the Paschal Candle will be extinguished; thus, the ferial days from Ascension to Pentecost will all be ferias of the Easter season, the Ascension Season having been suppressed.
** On the Ascension in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, the first lesson and the psalm are always the same, with the other lessons variable according to the current dominical cycle.
*** In the extraordinary form of the
Roman Rite, the Easter season ended with the celebration of None last Wednesday, with Vespers on
the Vigil of the Ascension beginning the Ascension Season, the Paschal Candle having already been extinguished. Thus, today is designated the Sunday after the Ascension, and the ferial days surrounding it are all designated as ferias of the Ascension Season, which ends with None on the Vigil of Pentecost.
The Gradual Psalm continues to be omitted through the end of the Octave of Pentecost, but resumes during the rest of the Pentecost Season.
† The lessons from the pentecostarion are for the Sunday, those from the menaion are for the Apostle. There are no lessons for the other saints.