The Ascension of the Lord 2015
Gospel: Mark 16:15-20: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Some may remember this feast celebrated as Ascension Thursday; but the Church, recognizing people can’t always get to Mass on a Thursday, and that this feast is important for all of us, moved it to Sunday. We’re also celebrating 25 years of priesthood for Fr. Ron Camarda. You know him well; he has celebrated many Masses here through the years. This 25th anniversary is a big deal for us priests; just as it is for married couples. But we don’t celebrate with our spouse or our children; we celebrate with you, our brothers and sisters. I am Fr. Jeff McGowan; I am the pastor at Queen of Peace in Gainesville. Fr. Al’s first assignment after his ordination was with me at Queen Of Peace. You won’t be surprised to hear that he was the hardest working, most compassionate and generous priest I’ve been blessed to work with. He was hard to keep up with! I want to thank Fr. Al for welcoming me to give the homily. I pray that no matter what I say, you will leave Mass tonight with the message Jesus wants you to receive. I’d like to acknowledge our most highly regarded Bishop John Snyder who ordained Fr. Ron, Fr Al and me. Fr. Mike Lynch, our classmate from Miami and Fr. John Gillespie, pastor of San Sebastian in St. Augustine. Also, Fr. Ron’s family.
When Jesus said, “I am with you always, even until the end of time,” he meant that literally. Jesus is no longer limited by the human body to a set place or time. He reigns in heaven and he remains with us. This is the image of Jesus, “entering the Sanctuary of heaven, like a priest.” Our priests, then, in the person of Christ, step into the sanctuaries of our churches and intercede for us in Jesus’ Name. And when we “ask the Father, saying ‘Jesus,’” we signal, we refer to our intercessor. All this gives God’s people confidence, gives us courage, gives us strength, gives us understanding, and gives us joy.
Some time ago, I read an article by Carolyn Moran. It was titled, “The Nut That Saved My Marriage.” Carolyn introduces the “nut” by telling us that she was enjoying lunch with her husband and their son, who was a Navy helicopter pilot. During lunch, their son was telling them about the helicopters he flew and said, “You know, as complicated as the helicopter is, its whirling motor is held in place by a single hexagonal nut.” Then, he asked his parents, “And what do you suppose they call the nut that holds it all together?” They had no idea. “I give up,” they said, “what do they call the nut that holds it all together?” Their son smiled and said, “They call it the Jesus nut.” His parents immediately saw the connection between Jesus and the nut. As they thought about it after their son left; Carolyn and her husband agreed that Jesus plays the same role in their marriage. I know that we priests would add, our priesthood as well. Marriages and priesthood are at least as complicated as a helicopter, there’s so much that can go wrong. Jesus holds love in marriage or priesthood together just like the hexagonal nut holds the helicopter together.
The Christian knows how to praise and thank God, as the apostles did when they returned from the mountain after the Ascension of the Lord. Fully confident that Jesus is remaining with us.
Jesus promises us that our “grief will become joy.” Our opening prayer for this feast is, “Gladden us with holy joy, Almighty God.” St. Augustine said, “Sing and walk on!” That’s Christian joy: the Christian sings with joy, and walks on, bearing and sharing this joy.
Joy is the gift of those great souls who are above littleness, above meanness, who don’t get involved in those little petty matters that go on in a community. Joy is the virtue of breathing freely; it’s the virtue of always going ahead, going toward the horizon, unafraid, with open minds and with a spirit full of the Holy Spirit. We believe Jesus is with us and we will fly like an eagle, or, if you will, like a helicopter.
So, Fr. Ron: I am sure that you had no idea what you were in for twenty-five years ago. You served our diocese as a pastor and diocesan scout chaplain; you served the handicapped every year at Camp I Am Special. In your younger days you were well known for your athletic back flips. You served Church and Country in the United States Navy in Puerto Rico, with the Marines in Okinawa, and notably in the second battle for Fallujah, Iraq. I remember you telling me that as the battle raged you stayed in the city so a wounded soldier could have your place on the transport back to the camp. Thank God you got another ride. You put your life on the line for us literally, what more could you do?
You weren’t wounded in battle, but you have been wounded as a priest since your return. I witnessed you shocked and hurt by meanness and duplicity and then you would sing and move on. You have been an example of the Christian who sings and moves on joyfully serving the Lord and all of us. In your counseling ministry, you courageously enter into the wounds of our brothers and sisters in need, those who suffer, who are still carrying the cross and have not yet conquered, as Jesus conquered. You are able to give yourself to all with love and kindness. Isn’t it true? Love always goes that way: giving your life, taking life as it comes not as you’d like it to be. Thank you, Fr. Ron, for your love, your courage, your kindness, and your idiosyncrasies. Thank you for being so human as you enter the sanctuary to intercede for us, proclaiming and preaching Jesus Christ with great joy. Your 25 years of priesthood evidence that Jesus meant it when he said he’d be with us always. And that is Good News!