Both the scripture readings and Fr. Greg Boyle S.J. ‘s talks at Cheverus High School on Tuesday, May 24 focus our attention on the intersection of Church as a holy place set apart and Church as the Holy People of God becoming the presence of Christ in the world.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the first reading on Ascension Thursday, we witness Jesus’ final moments with his disciples as he ascends to heaven. The disciples watch him go and are approached by two figures dressed in white. These angelic figures ask the disciples, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus has been taken from you into heaven.” The question suggests that looking to the sky is not the right place to be looking for Jesus following the ascension. If looking to the sky is not the appropriate place to be looking for Jesus – where do we look?
Luke, who wrote both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles – seems to suggest two places for our attention, prayer and community.
Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the prayer/worship as he tells that the disciples “were continually in the temple praising God” after the Ascension. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, emphasizes finding Christ in the community. The disciples begin to carry on the mission they learned from Jesus as they teach about Jesus crucified and resurrected and they heal the sick. The feast of the Ascension focuses our attention on that intersection between church as a holy place set apart – and church as the people of God becoming the Body of Christ in the world – making Christ present through our words and actions.
In his talks on Tuesday, Fr. Greg Boyle focused our attention in a very similar way as he described his work with Homeboy Industries over the last 40 years. In building Homeboy Industries Fr. Boyle and those he worked with built a structure that allowed everyone to discover their own worth and dignity and to invite others to that discovery of self. Fr. Boyle emphasized the importance of relationship and mutuality by repeatedly saying that the work is not about “me.” Our Christian mission is not about the person alone but the person in relation with the other. Fr. Boyle talked not only about how gang members in Los Angeles experienced transformation but how he – Fr. Boyle himself – experienced that transformation. When we focus our attention on that intersection between holiness set apart and the reality of human existence – we discover the places where we can be a healing presence – healing both the broken places in each one of and healing those around us.
We can see the transformation that occurs in the Apostles during the days between that first Easter Sunday and the feast of Pentecost. “When they had gathered together (after the resurrection), they asked him – Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” We can see that their attention remains narrowly focused on what they see as important – the end of the Roman occupation and the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty – the independent kingdom of Israel.
The early church, guided by the Spirit following Pentecost, refocused their attention to the margins, to places of suffering and oppression. These were the places where many of them came from in the first place. They come with a message of hope for those who are poor; for those who are unjustly accused; for those who are severely punished – even condemned to death. They come with a message of hope because that is where Jesus went. Jesus went to these places when he became poor; when he was unjustly accused; and when he was put to death. If Jesus is present in those places then God is present in those places. God, who is eternal, is eternally present on the margins with the poor and the oppressed because that is where Jesus went. Jesus and the Father are one – where we find one we find the other. Fr. Boyle’s encounters at the margins reminds us of the hope that where others have found God in the past we will find God today.
Our prayer for this day is the same as Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians, “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” We are not looking to the sky for this knowledge but to our experience here and now. Let us be confident that when we look at places of violence and injustice in today’s world we will encounter the Holy Spirit who will guide us to find ways to bring to new life to those places because we are now the body of Christ present in the world carrying out Christ’s mission of prayer, teaching, and healing/reconciliation.
Fr. Brian Conley, SJ