Friday Night, I got a text message from several friends.  The first one caught my attention.  “Bro, you really stepped on a land mine, huh?” I quickly responded, “What did I do now?” because I couldn’t have imagined anything that would’ve warranted this random message from a good friend whom I hadn’t heard from in a few weeks.  And then he sent me a screenshot of my Facebook page.  Even then, I didn’t connect all the dots, so I logged on and saw that an article I had shared had devolved in the comments section.  What was so surprising was that it wasn’t about anything political, cultural wars, events happening around the world, or debates in the Church.  It was about Taylor Swift. (you can read it here )

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD  May 12, 2024.  I appreciate your sharing this 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- Father Jim

In short, I shared an article from a Catholic website written by a lay-woman, who pointed out was a peer of hers being about the same age, and is a self-described Taylor Swift fan who has followed her entire career (which is evidenced by how she was able to cite numerous songs of hers) and opined how the tone of so many of them in recent years had turned somewhat from idealistic youth to angst and unsettled as her fame and popularity has grown.  The author offered her own perspective on why that is why it’s a cautionary tale for so many who look up to her and conclude with the author’s care and hopes for Swift’s happiness and peace.  Knowing how many students I work with who are fans of Swift – heck, even my nieces are enormous fans, it was an interesting perspective I hoped they would reflect on.

In any event, that didn’t happen.  But what was somewhat surprising was how passionate some came to defending their fandom and Swift herself – on, of all places, the Facebook page of a priest I’m fairly certain Taylor Swift never heard of posting an article that, at its heart, really did care about her well-being.

But this isn’t meant to be about Taylor Swift – but what gets people that reactionary.  If I just said the names of different presidential candidates there would be instant spikes in heart rates for some.  There are countless antidotes about how debates over everything from wars in the Middle East or Ukraine to vaccines to the environment have resulted in family members not speaking to one another to an individual being uninvited to speak at a University’s commencement exercises.

That could be a part of our brokenness as human beings.  This is why all this came to mind as I re-read the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles today.  It’s unique that much of the main action surrounding a major Solemnity of the Church can be found in the first reading more than in the Gospel.  But that’s what we see today when we celebrate 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; after numerous appearances, meals, and conversations the Risen Jesus had with his apostles and hundreds of other disciples, he ascended into heaven.  The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was written by one of the Gospel writers, St. Luke.  So it’s not surprising this reading would feature so prominently for this Solemnity – it’s just out of the ordinary.

But one of the lines in that reading is shocking.  They have just received instructions from Jesus about what’s to come next – what they should do – stay in Jerusalem and wait for “the promise of the Father…[where they will receive the] Holy Spirit” at Pentecost.  So they recognize that Jesus is preparing to physically leave them.  And their next question is, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

After everything that has happened, they return to focusing on their immediate, temporal, and political concerns:  The Romans occupying the Jewish homeland and oppressing their people.  Their expectations that the Messiah would conquer the enemies of God by forces even more extraordinary than Egypt experienced with the 10 plagues.  You might have thought those thoughts would be far from their minds after Holy Week.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the excitement and the crowds welcomed and cheered partly because they thought that was precisely what would happen.  By Friday, that same Jesus who had been welcomed and cheered was humiliated, tortured, and left for dead on a cross, in part because of the betrayal of one of his closest followers and resulting in the others closest to him cowering in fear and desolation seemed to extinguish any of those expectations.  Yet even with the unprecedented, universe, history-altering news of Jesus being risen from the dead, there’s this sense among some of them, “Okay, so now is it going to happen?”

Which is an ongoing temptation and tension to this very day.  People are trying to use their Catholic Christian faith and insert it into different political agendas, talking points, and cultural debates.  That’s not to say that being a Catholic Christian shouldn’t impact how we vote, what we do in public life, who or what we listen to, and give our most valuable commodity – our time and attention.  Our faith in Jesus Christ, our belief in His Church, and our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters are meant to be the things we’re most passionate about and the most focused on.

That’s how Jesus gently redirected his apostles.  The Ascension isn’t Jesus’ goodbye address and now saying, “Okay, let’s see what you can do now.” Jesus is telling them that now that His earthly mission is accomplished, now that He has suffered and died for our sins, now that the Father has raised Him from the dead – the “ruler of this world” has been defeated – meaning Satan.  The power, and authority of Satan has been broken as creation itself now had been transformed by the Resurrection of Jesus, with the greatest of gifts being God’s reconciliation offered to humanity by being baptized… and where the love of the Father and the Son, in the third person of the Holy Spirit will not just pass through this earth like a dove flying around and leaving – but will burn within the hearts and souls of all who believe in Jesus Christ… enabling us to become what we receive in the Eucharist – to actually become the Body of Christ.

We can quickly become reactionary and focus on immediate, temporal, and political concerns.  However, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, we’re called to remember that our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t just shape how we approach every aspect of our lives, including our political and cultural views, but seeks to transform us into God’s beloved sons and daughters.  As we wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost, let us strive to be more patient and discerning, seeking to understand and love others with the same care and concern that God has for us.