A couple of years ago it became clear to me that I needed to get in a shape other than round and so I decided to get on a health and wellness plan. I was suggested one by a brother priest, who had found it to be effective and spiritually enriching, and decided to go with it. It even came with a couple of books, which made me excited, of course. As I read through the first book the doctor who devised the system encouraged that the motivation for weight loss and optimal health be not a negative one but rather positive, as the negatives tend to lead us to a cycle of ups and downs as the fear and negative feelings fade over time. He suggested that I begin with a list of positive motivating factors to keep me going. So I started my list with serious things: want to see my nieces, nephews, and godchildren grow up, wanting to outlive my parents, wanting to serve God as a priest as long as He desires. Then I added in some that were less noble: wanting to wear my awesome t-shirts that didn’t look so awesome with me in them, wanting to get rid of my ‘bishop belly’ (the bishops photos as the seminary all featured a prominent stomach on which to rest their hands), and that my vestments would fit like they’re supposed to. These and others gave me a positive motivation to work toward my goal of good health. In short, they encompassed what the Scriptures speak to us: perfect love casts out fear.
The martyrs of the faith, following Jesus’ lead, certainly experienced some fear at their trials and during their sufferings and death – but their love for God was even stronger than their fears and made them willing to continue the course.
This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, marking that glorious day when the Lord Jesus ascended into Heaven to claim His throne at the right hand of the Father and to prepare the way for us to follow. While seeing Jesus ascend must surely have been a bit of a saddening experience, the reality is that this feast is one meant to increase in our hearts the theological virtue of hope. There is much darkness in the world with wars, violence, illness, death, and numerous others sufferings mixed in, but the reality is that there is something greater that awaits the righteous. The prayers of the Mass this weekend beautifully remind us that Christ ascended to Heaven not to separate Himself from us, but to prepare the way for us to join Him forever in Heaven: where the Head has gone, the Body is called to follow! He does not abandon us, but is a sign of hope to remind us that we are not to dwell forever in the valley of tears but are called to the place where every tear will be wiped away. What’s more, the Good Lord even gives us the Eucharist to sustain us with His Presence until we are able to be joined forever in the next life.
To aid us in this increase of the virtue of hope, I invite you to join with me in offering a decade of the rosary, meditating on the mystery of the Ascension. Growing in God’s grace need not be accompanied by great acts of piety – the little one done with love are quite effective! Walking to church to hear confessions this weekend I saw a big crow in the yard steadily hoping along the walkway as a little mocking bird swooped down over and over trying to scare him off. And slowly but surely the crow was moving where the mocking bird wanted. Then came a couple more little birds and pretty soon there were three or four little ones and the crow took off. The devil, sin, and despair is much the same. It looks big and difficult to get rid of, but we have a mighty little mocking bird in the Hail Mary and as we string a few of them together incredible things can happen right before our eyes. So let us pray…