Tuesday night, some friends from Missouri reached out to share some sad news.  A 23-year-old friend of theirs, who was a paramedic, after finishing her shift around 2 am went for an early morning workout at a local gym.   She was the only one there and must have suffered some sort of horrible accident while working out with one of the weight machines.  Her body was discovered an hour later when the next patron arrived at the gym and came upon the scene.  This young lady was one of 7 children and had recently been named Paramedic of the Year…  All the pictures of her and testimonies of friends and relatives talked about her joy, her selflessness, and the unimaginable grief they were plunged into with this shocking incident.  My friends shared links to news reports and stories about this horrible incident, their own grief about this young woman who had so much life ahead of her…  Someone who had her priorities straight, thinking of others ahead of herself.  You could hear the sadness they were experiencing, the seeming helplessness of the moment where they were already anxiously anticipating the funeral rites, and the questions of “what can I do, what do I even say?” to this family suffering such a tragic loss.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD -May 29, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

I never met this young woman. I don’t know this family. There’s more than enough sad news in families I do know, so why did I need to hear another sad story?  These friends of mine reached out to me not looking to gossip, process this loss, or ask for tips on what to do.  They were reaching out asking for my prayers.

Being young parents themselves of 5 children (with another on the way) and devout Catholics, they can’t (and don’t want to) imagine the unimaginable loss that these parents and siblings are experiencing.  They feel the inadequacy of being able to do or say anything that we as human beings experience when we come face to face with the effects of evil when a tragedy has visited and caused such pain and loss.  Because there’s nothing they can say, nothing they can do that will make this all better for this family.  This is why they turn to prayer and were reaching out and asking others to join them:   Appealing to God to bring His comfort, and His healing when no one and nothing else seems to be able to provide comfort or healing.  Looking for the Lord to reveal His presence in and through and with them as they are experiencing their own Good Fridays – wanting their hopes in Easter Sunday not to be shaken or forgotten.  They were praying and calling others to pray because they are in a relationship with God. They know how He has worked in and through their lives in the past, and at this time, in this space when these faithful people know and love God and know that He knows and loves them, they’re overwhelmed by understandable human emotions and want others to join them in their cries to heaven.  That’s why they were asking for prayers.

It’s why prayers matter.

On this feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, we celebrate how 40 days after His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday, Jesus was taken up into the heavens. It’s kind of unique for us to hear two accounts of this event as we did in today’s scriptures – both in the Gospel and in that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  For 40 days, the Apostles have seen and experienced Jesus in His resurrected, glorious body, multiple times, continuing to work miracles… not the least of which was the healing and transformation of their hearts.  Where they went from men who had failed miserably and abandoned Jesus in the hours of his passion and death to experiencing His forgiveness in a profound way personally.  They got to experience what a transformational gift that is to experience God’s mercy in the face of abject human weakness, failure, and sinfulness.  They are still trying to piece everything together – all that Jesus had said, done, all they had experienced, all their hopes, dreams, and expectations.

In that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives a fuller explanation of the Ascension:  as they’ve gathered together with Jesus, they point-blank ask him – Jesus this Kingdom you’ve promised – this Kingdom of peace, of justice, of love – this Kingdom of God you’ve been promising – the fulfillment of the hopes of not just Israel but deep within the hearts of all humanity – are you going to restore it now?   Jesus’ answer of “it’s not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority” makes it sound somewhat dismissive like we’re not to ask that question.  But that’s why we have to keep listening, as Jesus continues and says “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” 

          Jesus is making it clear that it’s not a question of when – but how that will happen, and he turns it around saying that the Kingdom will come about through us – through the Church.  But not that we’re just set off on our own to come up with a plan in our own imaginations and our own image.  That’s a recipe for disaster whenever God’s people have done that in the past.   No, Jesus makes it clear that the Kingdom will come about when we are like these first apostles, the first disciples, and are men and women who are dedicated to prayer – meaning we continue to have our hearts, our minds our lives shaped by Jesus.  That we who received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation when we continue to yield to the Holy Spirit’s inspirations and promptings… That we who receive His body and blood in the Eucharist when we desire to become what we eat to become Jesus for this world…  when we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a place to confront our sins, repent, and receive His forgiveness.  That’s how we are people who are dedicated to authentic genuine prayer and desire to have our hearts, minds, and lives shaped by Jesus with that vision in mind of working with God to help this world become His Kingdom.

In short, we don’t look to prayer as just asking God to do something – but rather asking where are you Lord in this place, in this time … what are we to do, how are we to do it…

As a nation that has seen yet another horrific scene of violence, death, and destruction this past week in Uvalde Texas, understandably people are frightened and scared, people are angry.  The death of children in school at the hands of someone who was practically a child as well as an evil that is beyond words.  If we ever needed evidence of the brokenness of humanity, it’s hard to imagine needing to look any further than this most recent horrific scene.  Yet the fact that we even have to refer to this as “this most recent” means that there were others that preceded this – whether just a few weeks ago in Buffalo NY at a Supermarket, just a few months ago in the subways of NYC is equally disturbing…  Like so many other things, we’re overwhelmed by the headlines, and the stories that keep popping up, we’re presented with images and videos and we can’t process it all.  People become almost numbed into inaction.  We can let the horror recede from our memories and just move on with our lives.

This is where some of the anger that some people have directed towards the response that people are “praying” for the victims and their families.  For those who aren’t people of faith, that can sound like a trite saying meant to dismiss or deflect a painful reality and just lay it at the feet of a God who may or may not exist.

This is why it’s important for those of us who know Jesus, who love Jesus, who receive Jesus to truly reflect on the power of prayer and invoking prayers.  I know in my own life, for example, when my Father died – there were some who just hearing and seeing the news added their “thoughts and prayers” to the hundreds of others posting that as a message on social media.  It was different from those who had Masses offered for my father, those who performed other acts of kindness, charity, and thoughtfulness at a time of great loss that was very sudden and unexpected.  It was different from those who came to the wake, prayed with us at the funeral Mass, or prayed during and after who I could actually feel those prayers supporting me as I presided at one of the hardest funerals personally.  I don’t mean to sound dismissive or judging to those who might have simply written those words, “thoughts and prayers” – but anyone who’s had similar experiences knows the difference between someone just saying something, and someone actually doing it.

Prayers matter.  Prayer is important and urgent.

This is why those words of scripture stood out for me today.  Because while I get that people are angry and confused right now as we try to respond to this horrific incident.  Because we can agree that as a society, we need to hold people accountable, we need to do all we can to keep people safe, especially innocent children…  But the thing is, it’s more than just a political issue or mental health issue, or safety issue, or whatever other category on the litany of things people are debating about.

At its core, this is a spiritual issue, and we are talking about some really diabolical evil going on when you have a kid killing children.  And it’s the height of arrogance and pride for us to think this is something we can fix on our own simply by some legislation where you have extremes fighting with one another arguing that it if people just did things the way they believed that would take care of the problem.  This is a battle of good and evil.  And at His Ascension, Jesus commissions us as His disciples to be His witnesses of how He has conquered death and sin.  In order to do that, we have to get back to basics and recognize our dignity as made in the image and likeness of God – and teach that to those who have never known that or forgotten that.  We need to let go of that pride and ego that dismissively believes we know the answers, and in humility recognize our brokenness our need for God, and turn towards Him for His guidance, His direction. Recognizing that prayer isn’t about God doing things for us, but us asking God to do something to us – to change our hearts, to inspire our minds, to move us to purge all that is evil in our lives so that we can help to confront it in the world around us.

If we do that, then we will be committed faithful people whose thoughts and prayers are not angrily dismissed but are genuine and authentic and transformational.