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Pastor’s Perspective by Fr. Buersmeyer

Pastor’s Perspective is Fr. Buersmeyer’s weekly column. It appears in the parish bulletin and in this space.

May 28, 2017

South Oakland Shelter

Each June St. Regis welcomes and hosts up to 30 guests for one week, who find themselves homeless. So much goes into providing the space, the food, the transportation, laundry, companionship and supervision, welcoming and hospitality, and support of these guests. It is wonderful to see how many Catholic parishes participate in such an endeavor. Downriver parishes are part of Christnet; in Macomb County it is called MCREST; here we are part of South Oakland Shelter (SOS). In all of these experiences I’ve found that the parish benefits more than our guests. Yes, we do help them and give them a dignified week of care and service. But in the process volunteers learn the particular journey of each of the guests, which leave one amazed at their courage in the face of struggles. Volunteers end up interacting with parish members they have never seen or known and come away with a stronger sense of community and parish. People take on leadership of one of the committees and experience a satisfaction in bringing together and using the gifts of a number of people.

We need your help the weekend of June 18-26. Whether for a very specific task or for something that needs doing every day, all help is appreciated. Go to stregis.org/sos2017 and look at all the areas that need volunteers and the time commitment connected to them. Pick one or more and join in the fun. Thank you.

Teaching Masses on June 17/18

I have talked about how there is a flow to every Eucharist, which invites all who are present to consciously and actively participate through five movements. Each movement builds on the previous and corresponds to a portion of the rites/prayers at Mass. In my previous columns (I covered the first two movements: 1) the risen Jesus who invites and gathers us (Opening Rites) and 2) Jesus shapes us by his living Word proclaimed at Mass (Liturgy of the Word). The third movement occurs during the Eucharistic Prayer, during which the risen Jesus unites all that we are at that moment to his once-for-all offering of himself for the salvation of the world. We offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, which unites us to the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice of his life through his cross and death. As we remember the plan God has for the world’s salvation (Preface and opening part of the Eucharistic Prayer) and then recount what God has specifically done in and through his Son Jesus, especially at the Last Supper, using the words and actions Jesus gave us (“Take and eat”; “Take and drink” at the Consecration), we know that the saving life of the risen Lord becomes really and truly present, so that, in truth, we can know and call the consecrated bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ and sing out our Great “Amens” at the end of this prayer.

Remember, we don’t do this as individuals. Nor is the priest making the offering, even though much of the prayer is done by the priest alone. It is the whole Body of Christ that is doing the offering, including the whole communion of saints united to Christ as the head. That is why it is not just the gifts of bread and wine that are transformed. We—all who participate—are transformed. As St. Augustine was so fond of saying to his people: “It is your mystery that is on the altar.”  Next week I’ll discuss the fourth movement:   Jesus feeds us with his Body and Blood (Communion).

Feast of the Ascension

Although this is a difficult feast to get a handle on, in terms of its theological understanding, I must say that I find it both fascinating and ultimately a wonderful feast. All but a few of the dioceses of the United States decided to shift its celebration to the Sunday before Pentecost and so no longer to have a holy day called Ascension Thursday. This allows more of the Catholic faithful to hear and reflect on the    Ascension readings and to see it as one of the key tenets of our faith.

In the Apostles’ Creed we pray: “I believe… in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell, on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty…”. Each of these statements are key components in forming a full understanding of who Jesus is (called Christology) and what his significance is for us and for our salvation (soteriology).

But what about the ascension of Jesus? Why separate that from the resurrection? Why a separate feast? Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, lays out a clear timeline of 40 days of appearances and then the Ascension, followed by nine days of waiting in the Upper Room until the experience of Pentecost. It is that timeline that the Church adopted in its liturgical year, placing the feast of the Ascension on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter Sunday and nine days prior to Pentecost Sunday. In that way, those nine days could be seen as the “original novena,” nine days of prayer, a practice adopted over the centuries as a way to be persistent in praying for some intention.

Luke in his gospel, on the other hand, does not have such a timeline. Instead he talks about the resurrection, the appearances to disciples (such as the two on the road to Emmaus) and the ascension into heaven as happening all on the same day. John in his gospel also has the giving of the Holy Spirit (the experience of Pentecost) as happening on Easter. Matthew’s gospel talks about appearances on Easter Sunday and about appearances in Galilee some undefined time later. Paul mentions a number of appearances and considers his own experience of the risen Lord appearing to him to be on the same level as the first ones—and his would have taken place several years later.

Clearly the New Testament is not trying to lock down a specific date and time. The resurrection of Jesus breaks open all time and all space. His resurrection is not the resuscitation of a corpse that will eventually still die. His resurrection is an entry into communion with God that moves beyond all time and space and yet, through that communion in God, can be related to all time and space from that moment forward. Words and stories of appearances are one way to try to help us understand: 1) this is really happening to the disciples and is not simply a figment of their imagination; and 2) it is not able to be summed up in some past historical narrative, because it opens up a new future for all of humanity. It is not an event in history, pure and simple. It is an event that transforms all of history.

Still the question: why the focus on the ascension as a separate element of the whole? John and Luke’s gospel don’t seem to need it. But by the time the Acts of the Apostles was written such a separate focus was needed. And in the developing faith tradition of the Church it is embraced as an important element of the Creed. “Jesus ascended into heave and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father almighty.” All authority of God the Father flows through Jesus and is given to Jesus. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus has been raised from the dead, as awesome as that is. Rather, he has been raised for a purpose: to share eternally in the glory of the Father and to lead all creation to that same unity.

Moreover, by focusing on the ascension we are reminded that the resurrection of Jesus is intimately connected to the community of disciples.  Yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead. But his risen presence is not going to be experienced in the form of special appearances or miraculous interventions from on high. Rather, wherever and whenever the disciples gather in his name, remember him, proclaim him, and live courageously for the sake of the kingdom of God as he did, there the risen Lord becomes present and active.  In Luke 24:50-51 we read: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.” As Jesus is leaving them he is making the disciples his blessing to the world. When they act as his blessing to the world, then and only then will he be present through them.

In that sense, celebrating the feast of the Ascension separately from the resurrection keeps us from taking the presence of the risen Lord as an “automatic thing.” He is risen indeed. But, no, we do not control his presence. He does not come at our beck and call. Rather, when we heed his beck and call and form our lives by his word and actions, then he is in our midst. Now and forever. But for that we need desperately to seek and open ourselves to the gift of the Spirit of God Jesus promises. Only then will we be able to live the life necessary for the Lord’s presence.

Thus the feast of the Ascension acts as a linchpin for all that we proclaim about Jesus Christ and salvation in Christ. It keeps our faith in the resurrection from becoming too taken for granted or too focused on the afterlife alone. The feast helps us recognize that our earthly lives matter as well, whether they will be a source of Christ’s risen presence or not. And so it keeps before us our need for the gift of the Spirit, for we cannot be an instrument of Jesus’ risen presence unless we are open to that Spirit. Let us use this week to pray for the Holy Spirit  to renew and energize our lives and the life of our Church.

Upcoming Celebrations

Thank You and Farewell for Msgr. Timothy Hogan. Next Sunday after the 10:00 a.m. Mass. Msgr. Hogan has been the most consistent weekend help to St. Regis during these past six years. He moves on now to his own parish, St. Fabian in Farmington, beginning in July. We want to thank him, wish him well and send him forth with our blessings.

Recognition of Ministries on June 10/11 in honor of our the Feast of St. Regis. We will recognize everyone who has helped the church, faith formation or school in any way during these past year, as well as draw names of new members for our Council and Commissions. Please remember to nominate yourself or another parish member for the Pastoral Council or one of the Commissions—Worship, Christian Service, Faith Formation.

Fr. Buersmeyer