Solemnity of the Ascension
Ascension / year C
May 7-8, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
This liturgical year, we hear about the ascension of Jesus from both Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which were both written by the same author. Both emphasize being a witness to Jesus after his ascension. The apostles did this, as all of them except died as martyrs of the faith. They were convinced of something. I think of our present day martyrs in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and elsewhere, who are being killed because they refuse to renounce Jesus. This makes some of our church conversation seem a bit petty.
When we think of being a witness, we might think of a criminal trial, where we are on the stand and say, "I saw it. It is true." But Luke's sense of being a witness is much deeper. It is more like saying, "I saw him, and he changed my life."
This week I have been thinking about people I have known in various parishes I have served who have been witnesses of Jesus to me. I think of a married couple who raised a large family on a small farm, and trusted that God would provide. Or those who approach their own death full of gratitude instead of bitterness. I think of people who are generous to an unreasonable degree, who choose less comfort and more joy. Or Educators who invest themselves in students year after year, without benefit of immediate gratification.
When I think of witnesses of Jesus, I think of firefighters, police, EMT and those who serve in the military who risk their own lives for people they do not even know. Or business leaders who treat their employees well, who pay a just wage, and put people over profits. I think of women religious sisters who are some of the most unselfish people the world has ever known. Or medical professionals who treat their patients not as numbers but as people.
When I think of witnesses of Jesus, I think of construction workers and engineers who work with honesty, competence and pride. Or farmers who care for the land because they know God owns the land, and who are proud of feeding the world's hungry. I think of people who have truly forgiven the drunk driver who killed their loved one. Or researchers who daily dedicate themselves to advances that contribute to human dignity.
When I think of witnesses of Jesus, I think of our Iowa State University graduates, not only who graduated yesterday but for the last 69 years have been touched by Jesus in their time with us, and now literally are sent to all the nations. And finally, I think of mothers who we honor today, who somehow give and give and give 24/7.
Christians like these do all this not out of some secular sense of doing good or to feel good. Their motivation is to witness to Jesus. Their lives point not to their own goodness, but to the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
A famous quote by Cardinal Suhard in 1949 captures well what it means to witness to Jesus. He says, "To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."
The author of Luke and Acts tells us Jesus' final words to us before he ascended into heaven: "You are to be my witness to all the nations." We do this best by living lives that make no sense whatsoever, unless God exists.
To be a witness is not being called to the stand in a criminal trial, and saying "I saw it. It is true." No, it is much deeper than that. It is to say, "I saw him. I met him. And he changed my life."