The readings this week are preparing us for the Ascension. Jesus tells His disciples pointedly: “I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28). But don’t take that the wrong way! The key lesson of the Ascension isn’t so much that Jesus is leaving as that He’s changing how He will be present to His disciples.
We also hear this week about St. Paul’s time in Athens, and his subsequent trip to Corinth. In Athens, he gave a highly sophisticated presentation of the Gospel, perfectly designed to appeal to the prevailing culture. It bore little fruit. By contrast, to the Corinthians he proclaimed Christ crucified. That message won many converts.
In the Ascension, Jesus changed the way He’s present to us. In Corinth, St. Paul changed the way he proclaimed the Gospel. Those have really been two of the great lessons of the past two months, haven’t they?
As followers of Jesus, we’ve had to become accustomed to new ways of letting Him be present to us. So, for example, many people have learned to make a spiritual communion because they couldn’t be present at Mass to receive sacramental communion.
And, as proclaimers of Jesus, we’ve had to get creative about how we reach out to people with the Gospel. One of the most amazing things of the past two months has been seeing the enormous creativity that’s been unleashed by priests, parishes and Catholic organizations around the country. We’ve done a much better job bringing the Gospel into people’s homes. I suspect — and hope! — we’ve learned an enduring lesson there, and won’t simply go back to the status quo afterward.
But I want to ask you a question, too, about the changes. One of the things I’ve heard from families these days is that, in its own way, the general shutdown has been a relief. Most days parents and children were rushing off to a schedule bristling with activities; the fruit was a lot of stress and little connection with each other. These past two months put a stop to the frenetic schedule. More time together has brought a greater sense of peace and more connection with each other. Is the Holy Spirit teaching us a lesson in these fruits — and is that a lesson we want to forget when things go back to normal?
If you look through salvation history you’ll discover that God often tries to make a transition with His people, drawing them to a place of deeper relationship. You’ll also find the people often lagging behind God’s initiative. It usually takes something dramatic — like the Exodus or the Exile or Pentecost — to get them to accept God’s invitation.
There’s an invitation in our experience of the last two months. God is inviting us to pay deeper attention to the different ways He can and wants to be present to us, showing us the fruit of exercising greater creativity in how we proclaim the Good News to the world. The readings for this week tell us these kinds of changes have happened before. I hope we accept God’s invitation today.