The Ascension of the Lord
May 8, 2016
This past week, Pope Francis tweaked their consciences in a letter directed to the Bishops of South America. The Holy Father challenged the Church leaders of his “home continent” to reject “clericalism.” That is a term that many pew Catholics might not have heard before, but, unfortunately, may well have experienced. Simply put, “clericalism” is the attitude or belief that the ordained, by virtue of Holy Orders, are a “cut above” lay people in the sense that they are closer to, or know more about, our God.
In his message, the Holy Father echoed Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which The Lord both dramatized and emphasized, by humbling Himself and washing the feet of those gathered at the table. Francis has made the same dramatic gesture each Holy Thursday since he has become the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Each year, he has begun the Triduum by humbling himself and washing the feet of people who might, too many, seem “unworthy.” Through this gesture, Francis not only obeys Jesus’s command, but emphasizes his own belief that pastors and Church leaders should be, first and foremost, the servants of God’s people.
It seems that he has chosen an especially appropriate time of year to raise this issue, which warrants consideration by the baptized worldwide, not just the Church leaders of South America. As we come to the end of this Easter Season and prepare to celebrate The Lord’s Ascension followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, our Readings stress that Jesus’s work here did not end with His return to heaven; quite the contrary. By returning to the Father, the Son has made room for all of us to get involved. For that reason, The Holy Spirit was sent to dwell among us, investing certain gifts within each of us, so that we might put these talents and abilities to good use.
For this reason, Pope Francis spoke of the need for Bishops and priests to put to full use the great treasury of talents and abilities that rest within the Catholic Christian laity, and he cautions us that to disregard the graces of the Holy Spirit bestowed on each Christian at Baptism is to do a great disservice to The Church…The Body of Christ.
While it is the Holy Father who asks the ordained to humbly open themselves to the gifts that are lodged with the non-ordained, it is Scripture which teaches the laity that they have both a right and a duty to respond to the needs of the people of God in a way in which each individual is specially equipped through the gifts of the Spirit. This requires all of the baptized, first and foremost, to respond to the call to service after discerning how they can most effectively serve. In addition, like the ordained, the laity must humble themselves by acknowledging personal limitations and submitting respectfully to the shepherds entrusted with the overall care and protection of the flock.
The world does not know God…searching desperately to find something to believe in, but repeatedly falling into idolatry by elevating and worshipping things that, in the end, fail them. We know God because Jesus has revealed Perfect Love to us. Through our Baptisms, that Perfect Love has come to dwell in us. “As one,” lay and ordained…we are now called to pass on to the rest of the world what has been given to us…so that when Christ returns in glory…there will be a loving people, anxious to greet Him. Then God’s love will be brought to perfection, and “all will be all.”
Last week, after reading the Pope’s remarks mentioned above and reflecting on this Sunday’s Readings, I had three occasions to see words take life. Friday evening, two elders of our Church were recognized by our Diocese for their contributions to their respective parishes; one giving 50 years of service as a catechist, the other through her work in multiple outreach programs. Saturday morning, I was privileged to preside at the funeral Mass for a woman who moved from the classroom of a Catholic school to become the principal at a time when the religious women who worked so hard to establish a Catholic educational system began to fade from the scene. Sunday, I attended the wake service for a theologian, spiritual director, and leader of her religious congregation held at the motherhouse.
Together, these four lives represented almost 400 years of service and discipleship. These celebrations of Christian Baptism lived out in such a brilliant way…to its fullest…were occasions of great joy.
On the other hand, they also raised the concern…who will replace them?