Everything has context

Tom Bartolomeo
The Ascension of the Lord C 2013
Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47;
Ephesians 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 46-53
Reproduced with Permission

Context is everything except in God who said, "I am who am", nothing more, nothing less. Everyone one else has context, other things defining them. For example, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy . . . Mom!" You may smile knowing what the mother will say before she actually says, "What!" You suspect that the mother may be physically present but her mind may be off in the clouds somewhere until her daughter or son breaks the spell with "Mommy . . . Mom!" All you moms experienced that in one variation or another. You put it in context.

Last week before returning to the parish I was at a Panera Restaurant in New York where a four year old and her mother where sitting in booth opposite me. The little girl was not sitting but knelling on the seat in front of her mother, face to face. She was intent on being heard. "I want", she said, over and over while mom sat calmly eating her lunch. I left the restaurant without knowing how the little drama ended, but I can guess. It's all in the context.

One evening, in another instance, I saw the New York City Ballet perform at Lincoln Center. Many would say the most accomplished ballet company in the world. I had been a season subscriber before seminary, ordination and my move to Illinois. I had nearly forgotten what an extraordinary experience of grace and beauty an ensemble of dedicated dancers can achieve. Explains why the Church has historically been a patron of the arts, a patron of the higher expressions of human dignity. It was inspiring. Not a single cough or noise was heard through the entire performance, dancers, orchestra and audience were all one.

Through the Easter Season the "Acts" of the Apostles have been played out for us every Sunday, this ensemble of actors of one mind and heart who established the early Church. They were living out the "new commandment" Jesus had given them, "that you love one another as I have loved you", which was all the context they needed after Jesus had promised the Apostles, "I am going away and I will come back to you." (John 14, 23). What would we give to have the Lord say this to each of us? But he has: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (Ibid.) The ensemble of twelve Apostles witnessed Jesus' Ascension and understood that to 'follow' him now they would not only have to keep his 'word', the Gospel, but spread the Gospel to thousands of others as they did.

Before Jesus' Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost the Apostles were like many of us full of trouble and fear, imagined or real. No ballet company or family can perform well in ensemble while distressed, troubled or caught up in the distractions of this world. Before the life-changing events of his Resurrection and Ascension Jesus told his disciples, "I have much to tell you but you can not bear it now". (John 16, 12). His disciples were then a disparate group of men often described as "the Twelve". In the reality of Christ's Ascension and in the Spirit of the Advocate whom the Father had sent them on Pentecost they were changed men and women. We may share these same misgivings about our calling as Catholics looking, perhaps, for signs as did many of the Jews of Jesus' day. The sign Jesus gave his Apostles is the same sign he gives us, "My peace I give you not as the world gives do I give you" which is borne by living in the word, his commandments. Ironically enough, Jesus' followers and Apostles found peace at a time of great personal danger, but they put it all in context. In the beginning Jesus told them, "Follow me" and they witnessed all he did, and for a while he protected them. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested he told his captors to let "these others", his Apostles, "go". After his resurrection and before his Ascension, however, he told Peter and the Apostles, "follow me" in a new way. They, too, would eventually die for love of God which they happily accepted as did Jesus, their Savior. They understood that the greater context of life exists beyond this passing world, as Jesus explained, "A little while you will see me and a little while you will not see me" and "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (John 16, 16-33).