Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: The Presence that Matters
What a huge difference in the two partings of the Lord. The first time He left His disciples was when He died on the cross. They were stunned. They were grief stricken. Their hopes crashed. Their faith waned. They felt abandoned–for 48 to 72 hours. Then He appeared to them in His resurrected body. Shortly after that He left them again. He ascended into heaven. This time the disciples did not grieve. Their hope and faith was stronger than ever. He left them to go to the Father so He and the Father could send them their Holy Spirit. The Presence they needed remained.
The Presence they needed, the Presence we need, is also the only presence that matters. All of us want to lead lives that make a difference in the world. The only way we can do this is to live in the Presence that Matters. Sometimes we are so bogged down in the materialistic aspects of our society that we get tempted to join the lie that having possessions will make a difference in the world. Therefore, we work hard not just to provide for others, but also to have the very best of as much stuff as possible. How many families suffer from an abundance of things but an absence of the presence of one or both parents, and an absence of the Presence that Matter, the spiritual presence? How many other families celebrate their love with far less material things but with a great spiritual presence?
I was thinking about the sad life of t Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme criminal who became a billionaire by stealing from those who trusted in him. Aside from the criminal aspects of his actions, Madoff had already done serious damage to his family by making possessions the goal of his life. I found it poignant that his mansions in New York City, Montauk Point, Long Island, and Florida as well as all the stuff he put into them did not bring his family joy. They were just places of confined rage. The presence his family needed was the presence of a man of truth and love, a man of God. Madoff could not or would not provide that for his family.
You and I have witnessed so many families who are bound together by love not by possessions. These are the families that everyone here works hard to cultivate. You may be able to provide the best possessions for your families, you may not; but you are always able to provide that which your family needs, care, concern, and love that remains after the gifts are opened and stored and forgotten.
The Church gives us saints as examples of how to live in the Presence that Matters. Consider St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Therese or Theresa of Lisieux. She was born Therese Martin, the fifth daughter of two very religious people, Louis and Zelie, who themselves would be canonized. When Therese was four, her mother died of breast cancer. The family remained devout. On Christmas of 1886, when she was 13, Therese felt a deep complete conversion. She was absolutely convinced that she had to give her life for Christ.
That next summer the French newspapers were full of the stories of a Henri Pranzini who had murdered two women and a child. Pranzini represented all that was indecent in life. He showed no remorse for his actions. Theresa prayed fervently for his conversion. Then she read in the newspapers that just before his execution, Pranzini grabbed a crucifix and kissed it three times. Theresa was convinced that prayers had saved him. She wanted to devote herself to praying for others. The next year her family made a pilgrimage to Rome and Therese met the Pope, Pope Leo XIII, and begged him to allow the Discalced Carmelite Nuns to relax the rule that no girl could enter the convent until she was 16. The Swiss Guard carried her off, but eventually, she and the Lord won the battle and she was able to enter the convent in Lisieux.
Therese was only a Carmelite for nine years before her own death in 1897, but during that time, she was a powerhouse of prayer. She prayed for priests, many of whom she came to realize were not the spiritual men that the world needed them to be. Her determination to care for the spiritual lives of priests has resulted in her being named the patroness of vocations. Therese also prayed for the missions. She was overwhelmed by the thought that millions would die without having the opportunity to learn about Jesus. She never left the convent, but she is also recognized as a patroness of foreign missions. Therese’s life filled the world with the Presence that Matters. She is called the Little Flower because her life and her prayers filled the world with the fragrance of God’s love.
Therese wrote about the “Little Way” of doing all things, even the smallest thing, for the glory of God. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul is one of the great spiritual works of the Church, so much so that in 1997 she was named a Doctor of the Church.
Sadly, Bernie Madoff’s life, at least to this point, does not matter. His presence has not changed the world for the better. It has done the opposite. However, Therese’s life does matter. And so can your life. And so can my life. Like Therese, we also can make a difference in the world. We can fill the world with the Presence that Matters. We can and we must unite the world to Jesus Christ through our own union to Jesus Christ. This takes determination. This takes courage. This takes love. We have to have the determination to do everything we can for the Lord. We have to have the courage to be different from those people in the world who have no place for God in their lives. We have to have the courage to be holy. And we have to have a love of God that is so intense that the fire of that love inflames all we meet.
There is no reason for us to look up into the sky. We have the Presence we need. Now we must go out into the world and provide others the Presence that Matters.