Ascension of Our Lord

Ascension Day

FIRST READING: Acts 1:1-11

In my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and I taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. 'It is' he had said 'what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.'

Now having met together, they asked him, 'Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' He replied, 'It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth'.

As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, 'Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.'

GOSPEL: Mark 16:15-20
Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them, 'Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. 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.'

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

40 days have now passed since the Lord's resurrection at Easter and the Novena of Prayer to the Holy Spirit begins.

The Lord Jesus returns to the Father. His work is accomplished and now His work continues through us in the Church. Where he has gone we hope to follow some day.

Angels appear to spur them and us not to spend all our time staring into the sky. There is work to be done, a mission to be fulfilled.


Recently I had reason to go to a local airport. It is so small that one only has to take a few short steps from departures to arrivals.

The demeanour of departing passengers, the body language, the sense of anticipation, the queuing and the farewells, the weigh-in, the boarding passes and security are all things we see there.

I suppose it is the closest we can come to in a comparison to heaven. At an international airport there is a heightened sense of  anticipation and excitement at both ends.

Departure scenes are often quite moving.  

One feels drawn for an instant but one looks away as one is invading people's privacy as they say goodbye to one another, especially if there are tears shed, and the uncertainty whether the parties will ever set eyes on each other again. There is a direct comparison to departures from our sight. And yet the one gone from our sight is in the company of others. They are being cared for and they are not alone. They have a definite and pre-planned journey and a set destination. We who remain must somehow continue without them until some day we are all re-united. We too have tasks to return to. The ones who have gone are not forgotten.

At arrivals there is an air of expectation, excitement, and gathering for the eagerly awaited passengers who have made a long journey -there is much catching up to do, and hopefully rest and refreshment. They are welcome home.


Jesus has departed but will return to take us with Him - one at a time and at an appointed time not of our choosing.

Our immediate task now this week is that of PRAYER for the grace of the Holy Spirit and a renewal and reminder of the gifts that we have received - a sense of being re-commissioned as we will return to Ordinary Time and ordinary tasks now that the joyful season of Easter is drawing to a close. The next few days are the origin of the first Novena. We can pray each day for each gift to be strenghthened in each one of us for the coming year.

They are: wisdom, understanding, wonder and awe, right judgement, knowledge, courage, and reverence.

Come, Holy Spirit!

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sunday 13 May 2012

Readings at Mass


Second reading

1 John 4:7-10

My dear people,

let us love one another

since love comes from God

and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

Anyone who fails to love can never have known God,

because God is love.

God’s love for us was revealed

when God sent into the world his only Son

so that we could have life through him;

this is the love I mean:

not our love for God,

but God’s love for us when he sent his Son

to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.



John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘As the Father has loved me,

so I have loved you.

Remain in my love.

If you keep my commandments

you will remain in my love,

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments

and remain in his love.

I have told you this

so that my own joy may be in you

and your joy be complete.

This is my commandment:

love one another, as I have loved you.

A man can have no greater love

than to lay down his life for his friends.

You are my friends,

if you do what I command you.

I shall not call you servants any more,

because a servant does not know

his master’s business;

I call you friends,

because I have made known to you

everything I have learnt from my Father.

You did not choose me:

no, I chose you;

and I commissioned you

to go out and to bear fruit,

fruit that will last;

and then the Father will give you

anything you ask him in my name.

What I command you

is to love one another.’


It is very clear that Jesus command to us today to ‘love one another’ means a sacrificial not a superficial love.

‘We can’t choose our family but we can choose our friends’ the old saying goes.

Jesus, speaking at the last Supper chooses us to be His friends. What have we done to deserve such an honour? Nothing. But that is his desire. And this sort of carefree choice of friends should guide us too. The conditions or characteristics of being a friend of Jesus, simply put, is to follow His commandments, and to go and bear fruit. These are the proofs of love. What fruits (like the vine and the branches in last Sunday’s Gospel) are we producing?

To be a (paid) servant by way of contrast is to have fewer rights, to be at the bidding of the Master or Mistress, to stand and wait, to be fully at the mercy and disposal of the will of another. It can be a form of surrender of freedom. Yet Jesus instead invites us to sit at the table with Him. He treats us as equals. His concerns are ours, and vice-versa.

Jesus is about to prove His care and compassion by the ultimate sacrifice – by dying for us. There can be ‘no greater love’ than to die for love. We are moved to tears by the stories, even myths and legends of lovers who die for one another rather than see harm come to the loved one (the beloved) – but Jesus has and is ‘the greatest love of all.’

We are called to imitate this love in everyday occurrences - to ‘love one another’. This is easy for us to do when our kindness is returned, when there is a ‘quid pro quo’. But what are we to do when others ignore us, are insensitive, even to the point of being indifferent or insulting! Now there’s the challenge to love! To love those who have hurt us, injured us, ignored us or were perhaps even deliberately uncaring, bad-mannered, ignorant, or unfeeling. Yes, we can all think of things and people that have hurt us. Can we forgive?  That is a fruit that Jesus wants us to cultivate. It does not come easily. A measure of our love is our willingness to excuse, making allowances for others’ failings, even failings they may not even be aware of. No matter where or who we are there will always be tension, and we may even be the source of it, unknown to ourselves!

Jesus’ words to ‘love one another’ are among His last – they are, if you will, His last will and testament. It is said likewise of John the Apostle, who lay on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper and who heard these words uttered from the heart of Jesus, that in his elder days, all he could keep saying, even on his own deathbed, was ‘love one another’ to his own followers.

Many books, plays and films have been produced depicting a death scene. If you ever see a movie or play with one – usually towards the end of the movie, the whole audience is reduced to silence, even tears. It does not happen too often but we can remember leaving a performance lost in the drama of it all. Words fail us. It takes time to recover normality.

What would YOU say if you were on your deathbed, to those around you?
 What in contrast, would you have a loved one say to YOU?
 No doubt you would want to utter, or hear uttered, the word ‘love’.

How would you prove it afterwards? How would you give evidence of it? How would you honour the memory of the one you loved? What would make them proud? Let us ask the Lord to help us prove that we love Him – in those around us – in our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions. Let us be living sermons of our love for one another – and then we will truly be what He wants us to be – not just disciples, but friends.  And 'our joy will be complete'.

In memory of my father.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

GOSPEL John 15:10
Jesus said to his disciples:

'I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away
- he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
an,d you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.'

‘I am the vine and you are the branches

This time of the year we celebrate Confirmation ceremonies all over the country. As a school chaplain preparing children each year, I must say I am always enriched by the experience and learn more about the beauty and importance of the sacrament and am reminded of, and challenged in particular by, the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, trustfulness, self-control – see St Paul : 1 Corinthians 12:4-13).  I must ask myself to what extent they are evident in my attitudes, actions and conversations on a daily basis.

In the Gospel today – we are the fruit bearers and not only the fruit! We must, as branches, know our place in the growth process in God's Kingdom, the Church.
One of the surprising things about this beautiful passage is the necessity of pruning. Pruning is a seemingly drastic and needless procedure that is damaging to the integrity of the plant, but the vinedresser is experienced and caring in his attention to detail. Much more fruit will result in the long-term, but the effects are in the short term seemingly catastrophic. The plant, however, exists to produce fruit over the long term and not in a single season. Gardeners and horticulturalists will tell you that pruning not only gives shape to a plant or tree, but also RENEWED VIGOUR and growth.

The pruning is the work of the Father-vinedresser. We are pruned as a result of producing first-fruits. The Father sees our potential to bear fruit, and what happens is that all the good we presently possess or our progress to date - all our capacity - is cut out from under us. Suffering is a pruning of our gains. Often this entails the bruising of our pride, our ego, our seeming self-sufficiency, and the temptation to believe that the good that we have thus far accomplished is the result of our own efforts (alone) , that gets in the way of the harvest. It  must be shorn, to remind us who is at work here and whose work we are doing and who ultimately is in control. We are not the centre of activity, even though our role is indispensable.

We are pruned firstly by means of the Word, a double edged sword. The Word of God, especially the words of our Lord Jesus Himself, must take greater priority as the source of our meditation and inspiration - and by implication, effectiveness.
Pruning of our efforts takes many forms, resulting in a seeming fruitlessness lasts for a time follows immediately after pruning to remind us who it is who is the source of all fruitfulness – and it is not us.  Christ is the source of the flow of spiritual life in us and others.

The metaphor of the flow of sap between the vine and the branches is worth a closer look. That nourishing sap in plants must run through veins in branches containing vessels known as xylem for carrying water principally, and phloem for carrying food nutrients. These vessels also carry mineral salts and hormones respectively, to nourish the branches and leaves and then the fruit in due course.

The sap comes from the vine, and it is us alignment with the centre that causes unimpeded free-flow of the necessary water and nutrients for the fruit and ourselves. The fruit then flourishes only in the measure that the branch does its job effectively in being a conduit from the vine to the fruit at the tips. The fruitfulness from the vine - Christ - is dear to the Father/vinedresser, but it is a patient work of art to produce fruit (us and others) for the harvest. The water can correspond to the grace of our baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit, and the nutrients correspond to the frequent, even daily, reception of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist as well as the nourishment we receive from the Word of God and prayer.  This is what the Lord Jesus means when He wants us ‘to make your home in Me’. The water can also correspond to the water from Christ’s side, the flow of sanctifying and actual grace and the growth in divine love if we are to have any life in us. We cannot, after all, give to others what we do not possess ourselves. We cannot be convincing if we lack conviction.

Life in general and the mission of the Church specifically is not only about us, though we have an indispensable place, as ‘apart from Me you can do nothing.’ We have a role in a higher plan that is beyond our control. We cannot attempt to usurp our role or take the place of the vinedresser or the vine for that matter.
The Lord wants us to bear fruit, fruit that will last. That fruit is the souls of others oriented toward God through repentance as well as an increase in charity and a sense of mission to witness, both in them and us. The fruit is meant to last – forever. The fruit is also ourselves – and in our own lives we must produce the fruits of repentance, charitable works, as well as righting wrongs, correcting injustices, reparation for our neglects, a fuller application of our talents and resourcefulness in the service of others, examination of conscience, mental prayer, charity in speech, and forgiveness of hurts.

Our pruning, the work of God, is ongoing – and necessary. More long-term fruitfulness is to be gained by proper careful pruning. In the end, abundantly more fruit will be harvested but we have to sacrifice ourselves – stripped of what was important to us, pruned back for new and more abundant growth. Let us trust God that He knows what He is doing with us, even though the pruning can be a quite painful, and sometimes public, stripping as well as being deeply personal to each of us.

Contradiction, anger, temptations, criticism, and humiliation – all these forms of suffering puncture our resilient weed of pride which bounces back for more again and again for more of the same.  We have to be re-shaped to be effective in God’s designs. We must also learn to prune ourselves in self-denial, by humility, acceptance of duty, willingness to ask others’ pardon and be prepared to admit that we are wrong and face the consequences to our pride.

Let us then all accept with painful peaceful surrender and resignation the implications of this pruning in the many forms of suffering, sometimes self-inflicted, we experience on a daily basis. It is for the Kingdom, for souls and ultimately God’s greater glory – fruit that will last.