Destination – Pastor’s Reflection
During these days of pandemic I have realized how firmly destination sits in the human gut. Listen for it in conversation, spot it in the privacy of your own thoughts. Everyone wants to know when it will end and what things will be like when it does. What conditions will obtain; socially, financially, liturgically? As of this writing these questions have obscured the major election facing us in November, and that destination topic would have otherwise been everywhere.
Destination matters to me because I want to be prepared and not taken by surprise. I also want to get on the ground floor of a new life and find stability for me and mine in a new context. For places in the new order there will be competition and I want a head start in that race. In the end, destination motivates me, giving energy and focus to my thoughts and content to every tête-à-tête.
Experts and leaders receive a mandate to do destination work on our behalf. They face the graphs, charts, and models and try to help us all get ready. For this we owe great thanks, especially to those who, in these days, have shown us the potential of a commitment to public service and to good governance. For these women and men destination work pertains to the common good and they have motivated us to sustain the privations of lockdown as the narrow way to the destination of public health and safety.
That said, often destination thinking does not produce good fruit. People OD on punditry and scare themselves half to death. Apocalyptic visions of the aftermath mirror the denial of this crisis at either end of the spectrum, and both leave their adherents exhausted and disconnected. One group plans for the end of civilization and the other for the return of the status quo ante. Too much planning!
All of my life I tried to be a planner, but now I do not plan beyond night prayer and the days are full and meaningful. All through the weeks of this tragedy, while trying to keep aware of the suffering around me, I have been busy on the outside and peaceful on the inside. My serenity owes nothing to any fortitude or resourcefulness of mine, but I hope it bespeaks the power in this week’s great mystery of the Lord’s Ascension, which has come to supply my destination, even in daily life.
Worry consumed a lot of my youth. I gave countless hours to fretting about the direction of things, my affairs and those of the world. Freedom came when I began to realize that all affairs end in Christ and he is at the end of affairs. Mine is a daily struggle to meet my obligations, avoid my sins, and fulfill my potential, but the place where all human potential finds fulfillment is already occupied, by him for me. Not only is he where I want to be and shall be, but he is at work closing the distance between us.
What is the ground of this hope? First, I receive the Easter Peace he conferred upon Thomas and the other Apostles in the Upper Room, believing that he lives, and accompanies me by the gift of his Spirit. I recognize that he interacts with me in the sacraments and as my good shepherd works with me in the complexity of my inner and outer life. Put more simply, because I live the Eucharistic life I am confident that one of the many dwellings in the Father’s house has my name on it, and I am now on the way to it. In the light of my destination I see work, my struggles, and my identity enabling forward movement. The present then becomes a constantly fresh beginning, (If you have been following Parish Study in recent weeks you recognize the mystagogy here.)
In the mystery of his Ascension Christ taps into the human need for a destination and meets it. His glorification is not simply a return home after a job well done. He ascends as God and man, placing our human nature in the very happiness that humans truly desire. He is there but he is always with me. If I perceive the sacraments I perceive this truth. It appears succinctly in the collect (opening prayer) for the Seventh Sunday of Easter; “Graciously hear our supplications, O Lord, so that we, who believe that the Savior of the human race is with you in your glory, may experience, as he promised, until the end of the world, his abiding presence among us…” His presence with me propels me toward to that place of happiness he has gained. He begets in me a desire for it and urges me to reach out for it.
From this teaching I derive the assurance that if I truly inhabit the present moment I am truly on the way. Living in pandemic, with my three Brothers at St. Catherine’s, and ministering to my virtual parish, connects me to the whole Christ, present to the Father, and present to me in the Holy Spirit. In this connection lies the forward movement of my life.
So if you follow Jesus in the life of the Church, his Ascension tells you a lot about who you will be and about who you are. You are a person planted in the world with a home in eternity… These two truths about you are totally different but not separate at all. In your destination lies your freedom.
P.S. Usually I need to tell you that the Ascension is a holy day of obligation. Of course this year there is no such thing. But I do hope you will check in for a streamed Mass on that day, and so connect with your eternal self.
Published in our bulletin May 17, 2020