Today is Ascension Thursday, and based on today's first reading from Acts and the Gospel from Matthew, I picture the disciples gathered around Jesus. He gives them almost a final pep talk that in essence says, "Look, I can't stay here with you physically anymore. You need to spread God's message of love. Go everywhere, teach the things I have taught—compassion, love, mercy, healing. You will be OK. God's Spirit will be here in so many ways, and perhaps most especially in one another and the people you will meet." Then Jesus ascends into the sky, and all the disciples are understandably dumbfounded. An angelic presence then surrounds them and again, in my mind says, "Well...what are you waiting for? There is so much work to do! Get Moving!"
I am reflecting on this reading after i just found out that Fr. John Unni's mom passed away. Fr. John is the pastor of St. Cecilia's in Boston. I, like probably about half of Boston, consider John to be a good friend. John left a beautiful tribute to his mother Estelle that can be found here. I really recommend you taking the 15 minutes to watch it. If for no reason, you can be present to John's goodness and his great stories about his mother. Also, though, if you know John, you know he can get going and sometimes, in his words, he struggles a little to "land the plane" in his homilies. In this video, I was so touched about his advice for all of us these days--tell people you love them, be a little kinder, be forgiving, don't worry about being right all the time. I think that is the same message that Jesus was passing along to his disciples.
There are stories in Acts of the Apostles that immediately upon receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples in the upper room went off and baptized an astonishing number of people. They did this despite the fact that their leader had been brutally executed by the government and they could meet the same fate if they followed in his footsteps. I get chills considering that kind of courage.
It takes courage to live today too. It takes courage to continue to love, to be compassionate and forgiving. It takes courage to be merciful and not worry about being right all the time and tell people that we love them. Thanks John for those reminders today. I bet your mother is proud of you.
—Steve Ruemenapp serves as Director of Community Formation. He is a husband and father of four children.