Feast of the Ascension
4 June 2011
My dear friends,
Many of you will remember the name Lech Walesa. He was a Pole who worked for years as an electrician in the Gdansk shipyards. During those years he and his fellow workers founded the movement which became known as Solidarity. Walesa became its leader. They soon found themselves in open conflict with the communist rulers of the country.
Eventually the workers won out. The communist regime collapsed and democracy returned to Poland. Then on 9 December 1990 something happened which a few years prior to this would have been unthinkable. Walesa, the shipyard worker, was elected first president of a free and democratic Poland.
It was a great honour for Walesa. His fellow-workers were delighted. They too felt honoured because of their association with him. However, this was tinged with sadness because they knew it would change the way they related to him. They were losing him, they knew, in a sense. However, they were hoping that he would not forget them and that he would help them from his new and influential position.
Walesa himself wrote subsequently: The day after my election as President of the country, I went back to the Gdansk shipyard where I had worked. I emerged from the bullet-proof Volvo that was now my official car and went directly to my former workshop. I got choked up when I looked at the small metal locker where I used to store my tools. Workers in overalls, looking embarrassed, congratulated me. I was no longer one of them. But I wanted them to understand that I knew how they felt. Shyly, they said, ‘We hope you will be able to change our lives, Mr. President.’
During the years of his public ministry Jesus ate and drank in the company of the apostles. They had been chosen to continue his ministry when his earthly time with them came to an end. They had listened to and absorbed as best as possible his message. They had watched him cure all kinds of illness, offer forgiveness to all manner of sinner and show them a new way of life. They had been given weighty directions and much assurance that they were not going to be left on their own.
Walter Ciszek was a priest who spent 23 years in Russia. He spent five of these years in the dreaded Lubyanka prison in Moscow, and ten in a harsh Siberian labour camp. He was finally released from Russia in 1963, in exchange for two soviet spies held in the U.S.A. He died in 1984 at the age of 84. After his release, he wrote a book in which he tried to answer the question ‘how did you manage to survive in Russia?’ He says “I was able to endure the inhuman conditions in which I found myself because of the presence of God. I never lost my faith that God was with me even in the worst of circumstances”.
The Gospel of the Mass of the Feast of the Ascension ends with a promise by Jesus to be with his disciples always, right to the end of time. The emphasis is not on his leaving to return to the Father but on his presence everywhere on earth. Returned to the Father, united with God, he is present wherever God is present and that is everywhere. The events of Pentecost were to help the early Christians to come to an understanding that God was still with them, if not in the same way as before. In truth he was relying on them and now on us to make sure that the Gospel was lived and preached.
My dear pilgrims the disciples, after the Ascension of Jesus, went to the upper room to get some space and time to reflect, pray and support one another. You have come to Lough Derg and you have many and varied starting points, modes of travel and goals. You share with the disciples a strong, and at times challenged, belief in God and his gift of his Son to the world and his presence to us in the Holy Spirit. When we leave the upper room of our pilgrimage and return like the disciples to our daily lives and responsibilities we will try to become the body of Christ. Through the power of the Spirit he has sent we will try to make him available with his loving forgiveness to the whole world. We all make up the Church, the body of Christ, and as members of this body we all have our own graced way of helping to make disciples, bringing people to faith and walking with them on their baptismal journey. Christ calls us to do this and we know example is the best method of teaching. We need not be fearful but trusting – Christ promises to be with us to the end of time.
+Liam S. MacDaid
Bishop of Clogher
4 June 2011