Mary 12, 2024

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
Give Back What God Gave You

The Ascension of the Lord Cycle B

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:15-20

I am a blessed man. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again. God had indeed given me so much in life. But let’s face it: God has not given me everything. As most of you know, I can’t sing worth a hoot. And as for skills in foreign languages, well, when I proclaim the Gospel at a bilingual Mass, I often get English speakers that tell me that they didn’t know I spoke Spanish, while I get Spanish speakers that say “thanks for trying.” Just last fall, I inadvertently insulted my mother-in-law, a Spanish speaker, by using a word that I thought I knew the meaning of, but turns out was not what I thought. I’m still apologizing over that one. While I still try to work on my Spanish, I have accepted the fact that I will never be good at it, that God has not given me that aptitude, at least not in abundance. If you look at professional sports, most of the great players that have tried coaching have made lousy coaches, and the best coaches were never great players. Why? Because the skill set to play a sport and the skill set to lead a team are different, and God generally does not give everyone everything.

This is the point that Saint Paul is trying to make in our second reading today. He is summarizing the point he made at greater length in an earlier letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12), where he compares the Church to a body, with different body parts that all do different tasks and have different abilities but come together to form a functioning whole that can accomplish great tasks. Today he tells the Ephesians, and us, that some people are best at being apostles, others prophets, or evangelists, or pastors, or teachers, but the important thing he is trying to get across is what he said right before that: “grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” [Eph 4:7 NABRE]. All Christians are given gifts that Christ expects us to use with the goal of building the Kingdom of God on earth, and, depending on which gifts we receive, that will determine the manner in which we should accomplish this goal. That is one of the lessons for today as we celebrate the ascension of Jesus. He tells us that, if we follow his teachings and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish great things and will overcome many obstacles.

The problem that we encounter, that we all see in other people but sometimes have trouble seeing in ourselves is figuring out exactly what our true skill set is. We have all been in situations at work, school, even at church where someone thinks that they are good at something but are not. Or maybe they are good, but there are people around them who are much better than they are but aren’t given the opportunity to display their talents. Or maybe some people have a real gift but they use in in situations where it doesn’t really fit, the point of the old adage “to a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

So our challenge is to live up to the mandate that Christ gave the apostles and disciples at his ascension, and that he gives to us today: build the Kingdom of God. As a Christian, this is the ultimate goal: to approach heaven here on earth, to live in a world where all creation loves God and each other. To that end, what talents have we been given – not that we wish we were given, but have actually been given – and based on this, what should we do more of and what should we do less of that would further our Christian vocation? Maybe you’re a good listener and could spend more time helping those who are lonely and need someone to talk to. Maybe you have great empathy with people and can help guide them in times of personal struggle. Maybe you have succeeded in overcoming a problem, such as an addiction or trauma, and can coach and encourage people working through similar situations. Maybe you are in the stage in life where all you can do is pray: that too is important.

Next week is the Feast of Pentecost. Christ promised us in today’s first reading that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide us, and most of us here today have received the sacrament of confirmation. We have received this promised gift. But do we use it? The Holy Spirit will help us if we sincerely ask how we can build the Kingdom of God. Time in prayer, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament in our adoration chapel, will bring this into focus for us. The best praise of thanksgiving that we can give to God is to use the talents we’ve been given to fulfill our mission in life. So ask the Holy Spirit: what talents have I received from God, what should I do more of to utilize them in His service, and what should I do less of to make time available for this?

On a similar topic but in a slightly different vein, I should mention the fact that it is Mother’s Day. Mothers, being human, all have a different assortment of strong points and areas where they aren’t so good. No mother is perfect, just as no dad or child is. But today we recognize that they all try their best to love their children and provide for all their needs to the best of their abilities. They, along with fathers, are our first Christian witnesses, building the domestic church into a small slice of the Kingdom of God. For this we take time out today to recognize this and to thank our mothers for being for us – once again as Saint Paul told us today – one of our first examples of an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. God maybe didn’t give you all the gifts you needed to be great at all of these, but because you mothers did your best anyway, we, your children, are truly grateful.

As we continue with the celebration of the Eucharist, may we be strengthened, on this day of commemoration of Jesus going up to heaven, by this bread of life that he sends back down to us from heaven. May God bless all our mothers for all of the good works that they have done and continue to do. And may the Holy Spirit work within us so that we may use our many gifts to build up the Kingdom of God.

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