Ascension Thurs 13th May 2021

posted 17 May 2021, 05:11 by Parish Office

Homily for the Ascension, Year B (13/5/21)

Can we really believe all that is contained in the Creed? As we know, some people struggle, and there are also those who struggle to believe the very first part: belief in God. In my first parish there was a couple. The wife was a practising Catholic who came to Mass on Sundays, whilst her husband (let’s call him Adam) used to accompany her about once a month or so. One year, on Easter Sunday, I preached a homily which not only spoke about the victory of Christ in the Resurrection, but also ridiculed atheists. He wasn’t too impressed. He saw the good in the people that came to Mass and said that they had something that he didn’t, but, at the time, he found it difficult to believe in God.

Jumping forward in time, at his funeral, they invited a priest-friend to preach, and he told the story of a previous curate from the parish, who went to visit a family to arrange a funeral. One of the children said: “Well, dad wasn’t really a church-goer. In fact, we’re not even sure that he believed in God.” The curate, who had a reputation for being a bit blunt at times, responded with: “He does now”. The joke was made about different times in “Adam”’s life when it seemed that God had been trying to give him the hint that He exists.

Going back in time a week or so, the Parish Priest told me that he had been to visit “Adam” whilst he was dying, and he had given him the Sacrament of the Sick, also called the Sacrament of Anointing. Apparently, it made such a difference to him that he was praising it for a long time and saying how amazing he felt. The Parish Priest said that “Adam” had found his faith again.

On another occasion, I was called to give a lady in the parish the Last Rites. One of the relatives at the bedside told me that the Parish Priest had visited this same lady some time in the past and given her the Sacrament of the Sick, and when he did so, she instantaneously relaxed and became a lot more calm.

“These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.”

This list doesn’t say that everyone who believes will be able to do all of these things, but that these are the things that will be associated with those who believe in the Lord. The ministry of exorcism continues in the Church; in the Charismatic Movement, the gift of tongues is not a rarity, and I have witnessed

it myself; I’ve not seen anyone pick up snakes, but the Acts of the Apostles mentions that St Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake when he arrived in Malta, but he shook it off into the fire and he wasn’t affected by the bite (see Acts 28:1-6); various saints in the past have survived attempts at being poisoned; and today, both through prayer and through the Sacrament of the Sick, people do sometimes recover.

The Lord has gone to heaven, but He has not abandoned us. So now, we too, are called to put our faith in Him and witness to Him. That doesn’t mean that we will be able to go around A&E at the Royal Stoke and cure everyone. But sometimes, you know what, God does actually surprise us. Sometimes, for example, people are given the Last Rites, and then they recover and go home. Last week, someone told me of a man who had cancer. He prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and when he went to see the doctor for a scan before his operation, the cancer was completely gone. His doctor, who was an Anglican, started attending the Sacred Heart Masses at Maryvale in Birmingham. Does our lack of belief at times hold back the miracles of God? We read in Mark 6:5-6: “and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith”.

God doesn’t want our faith to lead to our own glory – perhaps another reason for a lack of miracles. But God does work through the ordinary means as well. In the second reading, St Paul speaks about everyone, with different gifts, building up the Church, the body of Christ. We can use our gifts for the Lord, humble though they may be. There’s the story of a man who was sweeping the stairs of a tenement block in the South Bronx. A well-dressed young man walked past him. Seeing how depressed he looked, he invited him for a cup of coffee. They spoke for about half and hour, and then the young man left. The young man then went and made his first confession in twenty years. He told the priest that he was so depressed that he was going to kill himself, but a man sweeping some stairs had made him a cup of coffee and told him how much Jesus loved him. That was what led him to decide not to take his own life and to make his peace with God.

God has done amazing things, including the Ascension; He continues surprise us today, and has so much more planned for the future. But will we allow Him to act?