Monday, May 21, 2012

Ascension Sunday Homily by Fr. Matthias Neuman, OSB

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 4:1-7, 11-13; Mk 16:15-20

The Physics course in my junior year of high school was one of the worst courses I’ve ever had. One day the professor brought in an instrument, which he said was an altimeter used to measure height above the ground. If you lift it up, the needle indicates the change in altitude. He raised it up; nothing happened. A second time, again nothing. Frustrated, he said he was taking it back to the store. A couple days later he told us that the reason the altimeter appeared not to work was that each one of the lines on the measurement list represented one hundred feet. In that same course I learned the difference between centrifugal force (a force impelling outward) and centripetal force (impelling toward the center). In nature the two forces often complement each other; at other times they compete with each other. The Physics teacher did a lot better on that subject.

Types of both of those forces are also represented in today’s scriptural reading, especially the Letter to the Ephesians. They concern the dynamics of forces in the Church. The centrifugal force is the explosion of ministries caused by the Paschal Mystery of Jesus; that explosion creates apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors and all sorts of other ministries of service. The Ascension of Jesus is part of that outward explosion of service and love. Perhaps it’s too irreverent, but I imagine the Ascension like the lifting-off of a rocket. You see the rocket going up, but around its base there’s a great explosion of fire and smoke from all the energy being released. Life in the early Church was like that; ministries abounded everywhere. On the other hand the centripetal force impels toward unity in the Church, as the author of Ephesians writes: "strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through one bond of peace: one body and one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." Through all this diversification of spiritual energy in many forms, never forget the unity. At the same time that the Church spreads out in ministry, there is also the continual work toward oneness in the Church.

In the ideal setting life proceeds best when the two kinds of forces are evenly balanced. That’s as true of institutions as it is of individuals. There are times when we are doing things, actively engaged with others, giving of ourselves in service—this is energy flowing outward. But all that needs to be balanced with times when we pull ourselves together, work for some inner unity and peace. That’s what events like the annual retreat and your desert days are about. The outward and inward forces need to be balanced for each to support and strengthen each other.

Alas, we know that most of the time that doesn’t happen in life; emphasis usually tips in one direction or the other. We can get so caught up in activity, that we can almost completely neglect unifying issues. On the other hand, we can get so fixated on ourselves or on our own issues, that we give of ourselves meagerly. We always need to be looking for more balance. That’s good to remember on a feast like the Ascension of Jesus today. This feast is so outward looking, buoyed by that marvelous command of Jesus in the Gospel: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." In the very same breath let’s also remember the words: "strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through one bond of peace: one body and one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." And as Benedictines who love moderation we want to see a good balance between the two forces in the Church and in our own lives.

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