Summary: We can learn much about our faith from the justaposition of the Ascension feast, Mothers' Day and First Communion.
Ascension Solemnity 2013
Mother’s Day–First Communion
On those Saturdays when I have the privilege of baptizing young children into Christ, I give a blessing to the mothers of those young ones. It begins “God the Father, through his Son, the Virgin Mary’s child, has brought joy to all Christian mothers, as they see the hope of eternal life shine on their children.” Before we pray the Our Father together, I say, “In holy communion this child will share the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice, calling God Father in the midst of the Church.” This is one of those joyful and challenging occasions in the life of every Catholic child and family, a time of tremendous grace and blessing for all. And we all need that grace and blessing, perhaps more than at any time in human history.
As we have throughout this Easter season, we hear the Word of God twice as it was filtered through the community and pen of St. Luke. First we hear of the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and the promise of the Holy Spirit who would fill the hearts of the disciples and enable them to do and say and celebrate as Jesus did. Then we hear the earlier, parallel account from Luke’s Gospel, slightly different but with an emphasis that has been consistent throughout that Gospel. In the first chapters, Luke showed John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, praising God because through John and Jesus, God would give us knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of our sins. And here, that promise would be fulfilled as Jesus prophesies that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Time and again throughout the Gospels Jesus heals the body, but he first heals the human spirit and mind by forgiving sins. Moreover, as St. John records in his Gospel, the first gift of the Spirit, on Easter evening, came when Jesus told the first bishops of the Church “peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain are retained.” All of us, to one extent or another, are sinners. We recognize the existence of sin even in the lives of children barely old enough to make an informed decision. That’s why the Church requires first confession before first communion. But that is not bad news; it is good news. Yes, there is sin, and its power is real, but there is forgiveness and grace and power to repent and do good, and the power of the One who forgives is far greater. What a great Mother’s Day gift to present to any mother–the restoration of baptismal innocence and grace in the young lives of their children. It is the gift of Jesus Christ to mother, to child, to the whole family.
One of the great Ascension Day Scriptures we do not hear at Mass this year is from one of the psalms, repeated in this letter to the Ephesians in chapter 4. Christ, it is said, took captivity captive, and gave gifts to humans. Sin is addictive. Sin is enslaving. Many stories have come down to us about those who have been enslaved by others. The ones that are most confusing reveal that many who are enslaved are reluctant to leave their slavery when they are freed. Why? Some, in a kind of application of the Stockholm syndrome, start to identify with their captors. In the old South, that was interpreted by the masters as the love of the slave for his condition. Some are so dehumanized by slavery that they think themselves unworthy of freedom. Whatever the reason, the application to sinful habits is clear. There is often a pleasure element to sin; you can get addicted to the pleasure, even though, in time, it gives way to boredom. Some sins like pride, if carefully cultivated, can bring us a following that makes us feel important. But whether the sin is use of pornography or self-abuse, excessive use of games or cell phone apps, gossip or petty theft, it begins to wrap us in chains of evil. In time, it warps our consciences so that we begin to think that evil is good and good is evil. That is hell on earth, and a preparation for hell in eternity.
Jesus Christ comes to us in the Holy Eucharist to keep us from that state of sin, and to raise us up in a state of grace. He wants to free us from our attachments that harm us and harm others. What he wants to do is prepare us for life in heaven, where we are never tempted to do evil, and always freed and empowered to do good. Jesus wants to free us to live that life right now.