My homily for the Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension 2017

Is it wrong to question your faith? Or to put it another way, if I have doubts does that mean my faith is weak? I ask this in the context of today’s feast, the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. Let’s look again at the first lines of the gospel, ‘The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.’ Notice that: ‘some doubted’. We are talking about the chosen disciples of Christ. Was their faith weak? Surely not, it’s just that they found it hard to believe what their eyes were seeing.

Here was a man, someone they had known for about three years, someone they had given up everything to follow, a great man, a leader, the promised messiah, in fact. But in the end, it all went terribly wrong; there was no revolution, the man they believed was the messiah was arrested, tortured and then crucified on a cross. They had seen this. They saw him die. It was horrible to watch. They were powerless to do anything. Yet, now, standing before them, was this same man?! Can’t you see why they would doubt? Was it possible? Could it really be him?

We know from history that eventually they all came to believe, and they did what Jesus asked them to do: they went and made disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and the son and the holy spirit. That was 2,000 years ago. Some six centuries later Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries to England, and these men made disciples in England. It all began in Kent. A diocese was established in Canterbury. And we know they they were successful in their efforts because christianity spread throughout the whole of England.

What about today, 2,000 years after the first disciples, and 1400 years after St Augustine of Canterbury was sent here? Do we have disciples today to spread the good news of God’s kingdom. And, of course, we do. We have priests, nuns, missionaries who have given their lives to this end. However, as we all know only too well, the number of priests and nuns and missionaries is diminishing. So now God is turning to the laity, to you, to spread the good news of his Kingdom.

In the past, especially in Jesus time and in the early Church, there were many miracles performed, particularly of the healing kind. People were won over to the faith when they saw these things. Today, there aren’t many miracles. So, how does God expect you to win people over? Simply by your faith, your conviction. Which brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning: if I have doubts about my faith is does it mean that my faith is weak? I would answer no to that question. It is not wrong to doubt? It is certainly not wrong to ask questions. This is how we learn. When you listen to the word of God it will often raise issues you may have problems with. Sometimes the teaching of the Church raises issues for you? But it is not a sign of a weak faith when you question; it can often be the contrary. To question can be a sign of intelligence.

Now all this is important, because if we are to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of our generation, then you will do so more easily if you are convinced of the good news yourself. If your faith is lukewarm it will be obvious to those who listen to you. However, if we live our lives with conviction of the gospel truths then others will notice that. We will not have to preach, to lecture people,we just have to live it.

The temptation is to preach. I’ll give you a couple of examples from my own family. My niece announced she is getting married next year. Good news. But wait, she lives and works in Dubai; so she has decided to get married in January on a beach in Dubai! She is a little torn about this, because it will mean her grandmother, who is not well, won’t be able to come. And this, even though she has an uncle, me, who is a priest and can marry her in England and in a church, and with her beloved grandmother present. Her sister, who married a few years ago, though not on a beach, gave birth to a child over a year ago, and it is still not baptized.

These kind of situations are no uncommon in families today. But we must resist the temptation to preach. Because there is a way of convincing others of the good news of Jesus Christ, it is a very good way, it is by being convinced yourself of the good news. Being convinced and living it. People today reject those who preach but they do listen to people who are authentic.

So, pray to God for a deeper faith in him and in the good news of his son Jesus Christ. Don’t worry if you have doubts. They can be overcome. The missionaries of today will be people who live their faith in a way that is transparent. We may not have instant conversions like in the past, but over the years you will change peoples hearts and minds; beginning with people you know and love.

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