In the summer of 2012 I had the extreme privilege of living in Calcutta, India and working with now St. Mother Teresa’s Missionary of Charity Sisters. One of the places that I volunteered at was a home for needy children called Daya Dan. Here about 70 boys with a various range of functioning were cared for, feed, and educated by the sisters. Everyday felt like a wedding because along with our morning exercises we always danced the YMCA twice and the Macarena twice, the electric slide hasn’t quite made its way over to India just yet. It was here where I met Justice. Justice was a 13 year old boy on the higher range of mental and physical functioning. Justice and I did a lot of projects together, but he loved to color and he loved to sing. Justice’s favorite song to sing was the classic John Denver, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River—Country Road take me to home to the place where I belong West Virginia Mountain Momma, take me home.” You want to sing it too don’t you? I can honestly say I’ve never thought of the state who’s one time motto was “Open for Business” as almost heaven, but when Justice sang his heart out it felt like we had lifted off from our small Indian hovel to a more glorious way of being.
Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Ascension where Jesus is taken up into heaven, but this is hardly a curtain call where the activity of the Lord is now competed on earth, but in a real way heaven is made possible on earth. St. Augustine says it this way, “While in heaven Jesus is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power, and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, BUT IN HIM, we can be there by love.” This is why the greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves because it puts us in communion with eternity. The gap between what is and what is to come is all but erased when we live in union with our Lord now.
Pope Emeritus Benedict says, “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension is that man has found an everlasting place in God and that we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. Heaven is a person: “Jesus himself is what we call heaven.” If what attracts us about heaven is that it is place of comfort and peace filled with lawn chairs and perfect weather, a place where all our dogs go than I’m sorry to say we’ve totally missed the point. Heaven is much more about an unending hunger to do the will of God, that is finally satisfied as He says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The question is how do we become that dedicated follower of Jesus or rather what is his will for us here and now? It will be personal and particular to each of us individually but for all us it will involve a response to the call of our Gospel today to, “Go and make disciples”. Our Lord wants us to actively engage in relationships where we are talking about the faith, inspiring one another to live the faith, and bringing others to the great fullness that we share here in our church.
Are we doing that? If not let us begin together, I invite you this next week to have one intentional conversation with someone about heaven. Not the John Denver song, but about the person of Jesus. It can begin simply by sharing about this Sunday, about the Ascension and let the Spirit lead you from there. It’s hardest to start, but once you do it gets a lot easier. Just imagine what we can do together if we follow the lead of the Lord, He will provide, but we have to step out in faith, and when we embrace our call together we’ll say this place, St. Peter is almost heaven…