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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Today we celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven. The meaning of this mystery of faith is easily misunderstood. It is not about the departure of God from the stage of the world. God did not draw close to us with the birth of his Son and then withdraw from us again with the ascension. It’s not a case of ‘now you see him, now you don’t’. With the coming of Christ, God has visited his people and has come to stay. That is why he promises at the end of the Gospel – ‘Know I am with you always, yes to the end of time’. Today, I would like to explore what Jesus meant by his other parting words – ‘Go make disciples of all nations, baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. What exactly is Jesus asking of us here?

Recently I met a parishioner down town who I hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted for a few minutes and during that time, I invited her to a parish event due to take place that week. She said she might come along but told me that she already visited the church regularly to light a candle and pray. I tried to assure her that if she came on Sundays she would be welcome because she is missed when she is absent. The lady seemed pleasantly surprised to hear this and it seemed to strike a chord. For me, it was an opportunity to be a bridge and a guide in helping this woman back to a full relationship with God through the parish community and through the sacraments.

As I thought about it afterwards, meeting this woman was a response to Jesus’ request that we ‘make disciples of all nations and baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. At first glance, Jesus’ words seem daunting and even impossible. How can I make Christians of other people when faith is such a private matter? How can I impose my beliefs on others? How can I baptise anyone? But making disciples of other people does not mean forcing them to come to Church or believe what we do. It is about finding ways of sharing our faith with them that are helpful and inspiring. It is about being a bridge between God and others and helping each other enter into a deeper more authentic relationship with God. This is what baptising others in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit means – helping them to discover that faith is an affair of the heart, a response to a call and a journey of hope shared together on the same road. It is about communicating the message; 'I have a wonderful gift to share with you. I have Good News and I want you to know it too'.

Much of this depends on our confidence that our faith is worth sharing and knowing that all of us are called to be missionaries for the Lord. Being people of mission means seeking to connect others with the power of his presence in the community of the Church. It is giving others a taste of the beauty and peace that we ourselves have found there. So as missionary disciples, let us always seek opportunities to connect, to invite and to share as we become disciples together and point to where a true friendship with God is to be found.

‘Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours’. These words attributed to St Teresa of Avila capture our role as the Church in facilitating an encounter with Christ and his people. It stands or falls on our confidence in connecting people with the Church community that possesses a power greater than our own. If all of us increased our efforts, even a fraction, to connect friends and family to Christ’s Body of the Church, think how our communities would be transformed with vitality and new life!


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