EAB – 12 May 2024

Absence as Presence

Message by: Fr Richard M Healey


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In today’s homily, I reflected on the Feast of the Ascension, a day that can sometimes be met with confusion within our Catholic community. I shared insights into the shifting ways we celebrate this feast and the profound meaning it holds for us. It’s a time to contemplate Jesus’ presence and the role of the Holy Spirit in our Church’s life. As we navigate these changes, let’s embrace the Ascension as an opportunity to deepen our faith and connection with the divine.

(00:00:00) – Yesterday, was a wonderful occasion to be at the Requiem Mass of burial for Bishop Peter Ingham. We call it the Mass of Burial. But in fact, because of the weather and the dampness around the grave at the cathedral, we weren’t able to actually bury the bishop. So after two weeks of waiting since he died to have the Requiem Mass, then we have to put it back into storage for who knows how long until the ground dries out. And it’s an awkward kind of situation to be in – to have a bishop floating around like that. And it kind of asks all kinds of questions around this feast of the Ascension. You know, I don’t know that the church has actually been all that clear about what happens with the Ascension. I think the artwork that we’ve often seen or imagined with this, this feast, has only really led to confusion. When I was a kid, one of the stained glass windows at our church featured this scene of the Ascension, and we had just, you know, a group of disciples looking up.

(00:01:23) – And there above them was a cloud and just one of the feet of Jesus kind of sticking out underneath the cloud. And you know, when you Google for images of the Ascension, that’s one of the ones that kind of pops up there. And so it becomes this feast day of disappearance, a feast day when Jesus kind of vanished from our eyes. And in fact, before the Second Vatican Council on this Sunday, we would extinguish the Paschal candle. And I’ve been in parishes that still have that practice of blowing out the Paschal candle on this Sunday. But no, the church says, you know, the Paschal candle continues through to Pentecost. That’s the celebration and the culmination of this season of Easter, of the 50 days of this whole whole group. And of course, we’ve also moved the date of the Ascension. You know, when I was a kid, it was celebrated as Ascension Thursday, and it was only in 1992, and Australia was actually one of the first places in the world to move it to the nearest Sunday, which is the seventh Sunday of Easter, which is where we celebrate it today.

(00:02:42) – And lots of other English speaking countries, you know, haven’t actually moved it yet. And so it’s it’s in some countries, it’s celebrated in those days in some places and Sunday and the other. So it kind of adds to this whole sense of confusion around what happens on this feast day, which of course, now we are able to at least make sense of. Ascension is the day when Jesus begins to work from home. He’s no longer in the office. He’s back. He’s back home and working from there. But I think, again, that doesn’t really help us. You know, a whole lot of what is actually happening in this moment. Is it about Jesus going somewhere else, Jesus disappearing from our experience, or is it, in fact, a celebration of presence that Jesus is among us now in a way that he could never be present before? Because when he was bound by a human body, bound to just one physical place and location and time, he was bound to one language that he was able to communicate with.

(00:03:53) – I mean, if he was up here preaching in Aramaic, well, I don’t think many of us would be all that helped by that, because we don’t speak Aramaic. We’re not able to understand him. Or even if the disciples were able to interpret that in Hebrew or in Greek, again, languages that we don’t understand. And so it doesn’t offer a way into that. But our celebration tonight in a Scripture passages at least do point the way to the reality of the church and this longing that is there for us to make sense of the way that Jesus can be present to us. And what that presence does is it transforms us, because this feast is about that change that happens when we begin to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The reading from Paul to the Ephesians, this desire, this longing that we might be this one unified. People that we might understand and experience ourselves within the light of what God had done for us. The original purpose and plan for all creation to be caught up in wonder and love within the plan of the father, within that covenant experience of being loved and called into unity.

(00:05:19) – That unity is then able to be revealed and manifested among us, sometimes with the gift of prophecy, sometimes with the gift of teaching. Sometimes those apostles are able to call us into a deeper sense of encounter. But as Jesus gives us the final commission that the gospel of Mark kind of hobbles together from the different gospel accounts, he reminds us that that’s what this is about, to go and proclaim, to go and announce, to go and be that presence, that just as Jesus is now able to be present to us as a church community, no longer bound by space and time, that is able to be that presence that changes us, that transforms us, that allows us to long for the gift of the Holy Spirit that we prepare for next Sunday. This is a transitional feast because it brings us into that deeper sense of the absence that we do have within us, this inability to do the things that we do long to do, to be the church and the people that we want to be, to be that community that is slowly changed by his grace and his goodness, to be his presence in the world.

(00:06:37) – So today, this is a feast of presence, a feast when we can experience the power of God being revealed to us. This power allows us to experience him here and now. Heaven is not a place that is defined or bound geographically or physically, but it’s simply a reality where God’s will is always done, where God is always worshipped. For God’s love is able to be revealed to us without boundaries, without hindrance. God’s love is available to us, and that is one of those places when we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist. This meant to be one of those places that changes us, that transforms us. One of those thin places in Celtic spirituality, one of those places where we’re able to grasp the reality of God being made present among us. So let’s indeed allow the presence of God to be experienced today. Let’s lay aside all those things that prevent that all those doubts, all those confusions, all those concerns, and allow that love and that reality of his presence to be the thing that guides us, that holds us, that sustains us and prepares us to encounter him with the unleashing of His Holy Spirit next weekend.

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