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Ascension Sunday Readings for June 5, 2011 (7EasterA)
By Fr. Joseph Pellegrino
Today’s Gospel is the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew, my favorite passage in scripture. I love the last line which is really the theme of the entire Gospel, “Know that I am with you always.”
The Gospel takes place on a mountain, actually more of a hill. The eleven disciples are there. Judas Iscariot had dropped out of school, society and life. His replacement, Matthias had not yet been chosen. So just eleven disciples were there. And Jesus. Jesus was there, but some still doubted.
I find it strangely comforting that some of the disciples doubted. They were with Jesus when He told them He would suffer, die and rise again. They experienced His presence after the resurrection. Yet, some still doubted. I find that strangely comforting because if these people could doubt after all their experiences of the Lord, then there is nothing wrong with me or my faith when I have questions and doubts. I am only acting like a human being.
Every year on the Sunday after Easter, we have the Gospel of Doubting Thomas, and every year I use this as an opportunity to tackle the quandary of doubting, whether it be questioning the statement of beliefs, or the very presence of God in times of trial in our lives. Today I want to focus in on what we do with our doubts.
Many people simply give up. In fact, we are all inclined to do that. We have doubts, and then we are confronted with a choice: do I just give up on God or the Church or do I use this as an occasion to delve deeper into my faith? Let me give you some practical examples: Many times Catholics will hear the anti-Catholic elements of the media, or the pseudo intellectuals in high school or college say that the Church has some position or other which is difficult to comprehend. Usually the people making these statements do not know what they are talking about or what Catholics are called to believe. For example, you will hear them say that the Church is against gays. That is not true. The Catholic Church is not against gays. Nor is it against the rights of people in loving and caring relationships to care for their loved ones in hospitals, etc. The Church is against gay marriage when marriage is seen as a relationship that includes a sexual dimension. There are many chase homosexual men and women caring for others as true Christians. Now, my point is this: A person hears the report in the media, or hears some classmate, teacher or professor say that Catholics are against gays, and then, rightly so, the Catholic has questions or even doubts regarding the faith. How does he or she handle these questions? Sometimes people just give up and dismiss the faith or leave it rather than delve deeper into the answers the particular question presents. But those people who use their doubts to plunge into the depths of the faith actually grow in their faith. They read and study and learn that when the Church speaks about marriage it speaks about the union of body and soul. Therefore the Church would not foster the concept of marriage between homosexuals. But it would encourage gay Catholics to practice their faith and grow in their faith by being loving and supporting to each other. That is quite a bit different than what the pseudo intellectual is saying. If we just dismiss the Church without learning what the teachings really are, we would not come to the deeper meaning of the faith.
In the areas of respect life, most Catholics recognize the right of a baby to be born, not killed inside the mother. Catholics know that the mother does not have a choice to end the unique life within her, regardless of how that life was conceived or her own present condition in life, for example, being a teenager. But some Catholics will drop the faith when they hear that the Church is against capital punishment. Others will drop the faith if they hear that Catholics are against using embryonic stem cells for research. Both are missing an opportunity to grow in the faith. Our firm determination to support life, to respect life, has to be, as the great Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote, a seamless garment applied to life at all stages of existence. Therefore, we cannot say that we respect all life, but support putting someone to death. That doesn’t make any sense. We are not saying that the child killer should ever be free to terrorize society again, but we are saying that a Christian does not reduce himself or herself to the level of the killer by murdering the criminal under the sanitary term capital punishment. So also, we are not against stem cell research or even using stem cells, provided that a life is not eliminated to harvest the stem cells. If you go to the Moffitt Cancer center in Tampa, you will see a stem cell lab. There the stem cells from people whose bone marrow matches someone who is sick with leukemia are prepared to save the patient’s life. This process has resulted in far more people being willing to have their names on the national bone marrow list. The Church is not just in favor of this, it encourages this. It wants us to donate blood, bone marrow, even organs, as acts of charity. What the Church is against is killing a life to harvest its cells in the case of embryonic stem cell research or its organs in the case of human cloning. This is what I mean when I say that doubts can lead to a deeper understanding of the faith.
Catholicism is a deep, yet practical faith. It is such a shame that so many people’s knowledge of their faith is that of the second grader making first holy communion, or even that of the high school freshman making confirmation. We need to learn about our faith, and then take that knowledge to others.
“Men and women of Galilee, why are you looking up?” the angel said in the first reading.” Don’t look in the sky. And stop contemplating your navel. No, get to work. Others need to know about the heights and depths of God’s working in our lives. We need to take God to the schools, to the work places, to our families. The world has questions. Some of these questions are profound. Yes, ultimately, Jesus is the answer. But to understand Jesus means that we have to learn our faith and bring our knowledge to others.
“Know that I am with you always.” The Solemnity of the Ascension is a call for us to tell the world that Jesus is still with us. His presence can be found in the answers to our questions. We are called today to “Tell the World that Jesus Lives.”