Ascension of Our Lord. Jesus spent 40 days spreading his message to his disciples. 40 days in which he taught them, encouraged them, and prepared them for their mission. Then after 40 days, he was changed. He was lifted up before them into heaven and went on to the next leg of his mission. I imagine from the response of the two men in white garments that the Apostles were standing there with their jaws ajar gazing into sky, unable to believe what they had just witnessed. "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?" Why aren't you out instead doing what he instructed you? They were still waiting for that push, that courage that comes from receiving the Holy Spirit.
The thing is, God has left us this amazing blueprint here of what to do once we do get that courage, that joy. He said "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Such a simple plan, with such strong meaning to me. Start here, where you are. Move to where you have been, the places that are familiar to you. Then, spread out in where you are uncomfortable, where you've never been, where no one has. To the ends of the earth... everywhere.
Jerusalem. The city of God. The place where one would expect the message to take root first and foremost... but so much stands in the way. It's the root, the center of the Jewish theological mind. The place where God resides, the home of the temple. God tells us that the temple, the area around it is where we must evangelize first and foremost. Paul lets us know that we are the temple of God. In this great scheme of things, God has charged us with changing our self and our immediate environment first. Bloom where you are planted. We must make the Gospel a part of our immediate lives, not just a superficial thing on the surface, but truly permeating our very existence.
Samaria and Judea. The world in which they have traveled already. Jesus walked with them through this areas teaching them, preparing not just them but all who would listen. To me that speaks of the Church itself, our Christian community. One of our greatest needs is to help evangelize and re-evangelize those who are already a part of the 'flock'. To claim to be Christian and not be a part of the community is to distance yourself from the truth of the Gospel. We must allow our joy to overflow to all of those people who we meet in our own church homes. Our fire will set them on fire. Let them see the Gospel in your participation. "You show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
To the ends of the earth. This is the challenge to go out into the world and spread that message to everyone else. It's not a mandate to beat people over the head, there is such a huge difference in proselytizing (what we are not to do) and evangelizing (what we are to do.) We are not so much trying to convince people, not so much trying to argue them in, as we are introducing them. We are inviting them into a relationship with the living God, with the person who has changed our lives.. with the man/God who we have encountered in our own Jerusalem, who we have loved, worshipped, and shared with our faith community, and now who our hearts are so enamoured with that we cannot hide him... love does not hide and bury, it shouts from the rooftops.. to anyone who will listen.
So where are you? Each of us is at a different stage on the walk, each of us has walked a different length of time, and each of us has a different distance to go... but you gotta start somewhere... It's been 40 days... in 10 more we will celebrate that moment when the Holy Spirit descended on these men who huddled in fear in the upper room, afraid of their own crosses. At that moment these men will burst forth, and all but 1 will go to their own martyrdom. You received that same spirit at your Baptism. Are you ready to rise above all that is holding you back? The Kingdom of Heaven does not have to wait until the end of time. We ourselves can be lifted above all those fears that make us think we can't do this. It's time for us to grasp that sanctifying grace we have received in Baptism and Confirmation.. and which pours out through the Sacraments every time we take advantage of them... to embolden us with joy, determination, and grace of our own to spread the Gospel, even to the ends of the earth.
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."