"I Am Going Away."

(Sixth Sunday Easter, Year C)

Many of you heard about the scare we had Saturday evening. My mom was in Seattle with her parish faith-sharing group. After dinner she suffered a violent reaction and was rushed to Providence emergency room. Bracing myself for the worst, I put together my sick call kit and went to Providence. By the time I got there she was stable and conscious. Even tho there was no immediate danger to her life, I gave her the anointing of the sick and communion. My older brother Mike and several of my mom's friends were also present. Such an experience makes one aware of how fragile and fleeting our lives are.

In the Gospel Jesus says to us, "I am going away." Those words were spoken at the Last Supper, but they have a new meaning as we prepare for the Ascension. "I am going away." Jesus obviously saw the disciples sad faces. He knew the distress, even the fear, in their hearts. So he said, "Do not be sad. Do not be afraid."

This week I was with a dear friend who is "going away." Many of you have heard me talk about Fr. Mike Holland who last November was diagnosed with incurable cancer of the liver. He was given six months at that time so he has outlasted the orginal prognosis. But now he is losing weight and strength very fast. He was back in the hospital receiving blood transfusions when three other priests and I visited him.

I have to admit Fr. Mike was the calmest person in the room as he described to us how the disease was affecting him. When he finished, he asked, "Do you have any questions?" We were all silent. Then he said what was most on his heart: His concern for the ministry, especially to the Hispanics in Skagit County. He is worried about who would take is place. He did not say if I die, but when I die.

That concern for the future care of his people is in each priest's heart, even if he enjoys good health. I often say that I hope I will be here long enough to see a priest or two ordained from Holy Family Parish. We do have a young man from our parish presently studying at Mt. Angel in Oregon. He is a fine Vietnamese man. I hope to also see someone from our Hispanic community and of course an "Anglo" as well. Now that we are talking about it why not also pray for a vocation to the priesthood from within our Filipino community? Wouldn't it be great if each of our four ethnic communities was represented by a priest from its own numbers!

Jesus likewise was concerned with the future care of his flock. He spent most of his time with the disciples during his public ministry and then during those forty days after his resurrection. He had chosen them to continue on his work, to care for his flock. Today Jesus wants young men who will be formed to carry on Jesus' ministry. That is why we must pray for vocations and encourage our young people.

It is clear the Church is Jesus' presence in time and space. We see that in today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles. They faced a crisis which is perhaps difficult for us to understand: What should they do with all these Gentile (non-Jewish) converts? Should they have to accept the mark of the covenant, namely circumcision? Moreover, should they be required to observe all the dietary laws God gave to Moses? Tough, tough questions with no easy answers. Yet they had to be answered. Otherwise the Church would have forever split into two groups, one lax and one strict. The apostles met, prayed to the Holy Spirit who guided them. They came out with a ruling which is sometimes known as the decree of the Council of Jerusalem. It imposed certain restrictions but not circumcision or the full dietary law.

We need to understand something here. The Jehovah Witnesses point out that one of the restrictions is to abstain from blood. For that reason they not only abstain from certain meats, but refuse to accept blood transfusions. Their logic is clear, but from a Catholic point of view we have to say they missed something important, namely, the authority of the apostles and their successors. Without that the Church would fragment into a myriad of groups. In fact, that is what we see in those Christian churches who have rejected that authority.

Today even in the Catholic Church there are some who want to minimize the authority of the pope and bishops. We cannot do that. We need that authority not just for practical reasons, to keep us all together, but much more important for spiritual motives. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the apostles and their successors. We need that spiritual authority because it has become so clear that today we are involved in a war. It has a bloody, physical dimension, but it is above all spiritual. It is what the Holy Father describes as the battle between the culture of life against the culture of death.

I had an intense experience of that struggle on Saturday morning. Here in Holy Family we celebrated a Mass for the Unborn. I was delighted by the number of people who showed up: young and old, immigrants as well as native born, people from all the main ethnic groups of our parish. We are united in our concern for unborn children and their mothers, especially those young women who are tempted to abortion. After the Mass we went down to an abortion clinic for a peaceful prayer service. About 100 of us walked the seven blocks from the Knights of Columbus Hall to the Aradia Women's Clinic. We prayed the Litany of the Sacred Heart and sang a couple of hymns on the way. We did not carry placards, only a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is Patroness of the Unborn. When we arrived at the clinic, we recited the rosary and sang some hymns in front of it.

I have to say I had mixed emotions. On one side a kind of heaviness because of what the clinic represents and what may have been happening inside it. But in spite of that oppressive feeling, there was some reasons for true hope. A couple of weeks ago a young woman was fifteen minutes away from an abortion. She had seen people praying as she walked in. Instead of taking her baby's life, she stood up and went outside. She is now receiving help for her pregnancy and to have her child.

We can never underestimate the power of prayer. It is our main arm in this struggle against the culture of death. That culture has such formidable weapons--principally the media (television, newspapers, magazines and so on) with their capacity to deceive and seduce. Moreover the culture of death now has the law on its side. Such laws not only legalize, but legitimize abortion, especially when taxes are used to pay for them. Against such formidable power, our main weapon is prayer--and our unity. That is the reason more than ever we need to stand behind the authority of our bishops and pope.

Jesus tells us, "I am going away." But he also promises that he will not leave us orphans. He will send us the Consoler, the Holy Spirit. As we approach Pentecost and especially as we celebrate the year of the Holy Spirit, let's pray for hearts open to receive Him.

From Archives:

From Archives (Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B):

2015: Disciple Makers Week 6: Assurance & Requirement
2012: Love Your Crooked Neighbor
2010 Homily: That the World May Believe (Seventh Sunday readings, but can be used on Sixth Sunday - if Ascension celebrated on Seventh Sunday of Easter)
2009: A Physical Relationship
2006: In This Is Love
2003: God Shows No Partiality
2000: I Am Going Away

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