Sunday, June 1, 2014

Made for Heaven

Fr. Joshua Johnson
Readings for Sunday, June 1/ Ascension Sunday:
Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

I don’t know about you, but this weekend has been an incredible one from my experience. Yesterday morning I had the joy of concelebrating at the Rite of Ordination of Priests at Sacred Heart Church in Baton Rouge. Deacon Joshua Johnson walked in at 10am and Father Joshua Johnson walked out just around noon changed, a priest of Jesus Christ. The experience, as every ordination I’ve been to, was one of incredible joy and hope. The diocesan choir and gospel choir present were both beautiful and lifted our hearts to the Lord in ways that rarely happen, the bishop preached an inspiring and challenging homily, and each of us priests was filled with thoughts and sentiments of our own days of ordination. The joy was palpable and not a single person that walked out the church did so without a smile on their face and a sense of awe at what had just taken place. In the midst of it all I simply tried to soak up the moment because days like that are few and far between.

Our vocation as Christian, Pope Francis continually reminds us, is to be a people of joy, hope, and life that reach out into the world that shine with the radiant Light of Christ. But you know as well as I that we don’t have to look very far to find things going on that try to steal that joy, hope, and life from us and replace them with sorrow, frustration, and despair. The torrential downpour that left many in our community – including some of you present today – with water in your homes, the expected or unexpected death of loved ones, illness that changes your daily life drastically, or just a whole slew of little things that seem to keep going wrong. These and others are ways that the evil one wants to quench the fire of hope in our hearts. But how do we fight back? How do we keep hope when things seem so difficult for us? Heaven. Remember that you and I were not made for this life. We were made for Heaven.

The feast of the Ascension, which we celebrate today, has two main points to it. First, it is about the Lord Jesus reclaiming the glory that is rightly His. The second point is that He doesn’t go to reclaim that glory alone, but to draw us into the glory of the Trinity with Him. The feast of the Ascension is celebrated because the Lord first humbled Himself and descended to be with us, draws us to Himself like a great magnet, and hoist us back up into Heaven with Him.  In short, the Ascension reminds us of that reality that Heaven awaits us and that it is our ultimate goal. The Collect for the Mass today spoke it such a wonderful theological and visual manner: where the Head has gone in glory, we the body are called to follow. Christ wants us to be with Him in Heaven because there alone we can find our fulfillment. There alone will we know true joy. In Heaven, the joy of our hearts will be so great that the greatest thing we experience in this life will seem as very little and the worst day here will seem as though it never even existed. Heaven is a place of such great glory that we can’t even comprehend it or conceive of an idea that comes close. And that is what we were made for.

The problem that I have personally is that while I know all of this in my head, it is often difficult for me to put it into action in my daily life. So as I was preparing for this homily I focused on three ways that I myself could try to re-orient my focus to Heaven. They are to simplify, reconcile, and pray.

Simplify. I’ve mentioned before that I love books. I don’t have that many valuable possessions or possessions at all for that matter, but I do have a good number of books. It’s funny because I always buy books. I don’t read them necessarily, but I buy them to have them in case I get to read them. I keep amassing this pile of books and the reality is that while all of those books are good and holy – mostly about Christ, the Church, the Mass, and other theological things – they are things that keep me focused on earth rather than Heaven. They enable me to do exactly what they are trying to prevent me from doing! And that’s not all. I fill up my time with all sorts of various activities and other things that complicate my life rather than letting things remain simple, permitting me to lift my mind to Heaven. To simplify is to remind myself that I don’t belong here. My treasure should be elsewhere.

Reconcile. In Heaven, every person will be perfectly united with God. They will have passed through purgatory and had cast aside all that separates them from the Blessed Trinity. And if every person is perfectly united to God, then that means every person is necessarily perfectly united to one another. And you and I both know that is not how this life works, unfortunately. I see in my own life that there are people with whom I am not completely reconciled. There is still room for forgiveness, increased unity, and a willingness to set aside past hurts, pre-conceived notions, biases, and all that other junk that divides me from others in order to build up here on earth what is going to be the reality of all eternity. To reconcile with others is to build up the body of Christ here and to prepare for the joy of true unity in the life come.

Pray. My vocation is primarily to pray and secondarily to serve the people of God. That sounds rather self-centered, but if I fail to spend the necessary time in prayer then my ministry among you will not be filled with the Holy Spirit but will be filled with the spirit of Fr. Brent Maher and whatever I feel like doing, and that is not what God wants. I recognize in myself that there are times that I pray well and am grateful for it, but there are also times where I fail to pray as well as I could. It’s easy to pop in the rosary while riding the roads and simply say the words but not give my mind to the mysteries and mark of my “pray the rosary” on the spiritual checklist. It’s easy to say the words of the psalms and readings for my obligatory priestly prayers each day and check that off too. But that is not what I am called to do. I am called to enter into real prayer that changes the way that I live my life. When I really pray, when I give myself time to enter into the presence of the God of Heaven, I interact with others differently, I interact with the Lord differently, my experience of life is approached differently. Everything changes because I was with the Lord and lifted up into Heaven.

It’s not about doing grand things. It’s about being willing to do regular things, but for the Lord. I was struck by a quote from St. Jean Vianney that I read the other day. It says this: “If we would only do as much for God as we do for the world we should all be saints.” How easy it is to get caught up in the things of this life! But when we do so we set ourselves up for sorrow, frustration, and despair because we were not made for this. We were made for Heaven. Let us pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be with us to help lift our eyes to the place that awaits us and be filled with the joy that comes from God, knowing that what awaits us is even greater.