May 16, 2010
I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. – Lk 24: 49
When Paul had his dramatic encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus , Jesus did not ask him, “Why are you persecuting my followers?” Instead, He asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” In other words, there is a connection, a bond, an intimacy, an enduring presence of Jesus in us. His departure to be with the Father was not a break, but the establishment of a new phase of their relationship with each other. There is a close unbreakable bond between Jesus & His followers.
It is because of this presence that the Church has endured throughout the centuries, i.e., the Church is not just another institution. It has survived the onslaughts of emperors, kings, heretics, wars, famines, & diseases. It has even survived its own internal corruptions, prejudices, sins, scandals & misjudgments.
Today, as we well know, the Church continues on its bumpy road. It has shrunk to a pinpoint in secular Europe, & it has lost considerable ground here in secular America where books on atheism flourish & only 26 percent of Catholics go to church regularly. To put this in perspective, we need to remember that American Catholics represent only 6 percent of the global Catholic population. If Rome sometimes seems to us to act slowly, it may well be because it has the other 94 percent of the Catholic world to think about.
But the real truth that needs to be absorbed lies in this reality check: while Catholicism is losing ground in the northern hemisphere, it is flowering in the southern hemisphere. In Africa the Catholic population went from 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a growth rate of over 6,000 percent. This is the most rapid expansion of Catholicism in a single continent in church history. 37 percent of all baptisms in Africa today are of adults.
But what about us, where affluence & secularism have muted the presence of God in this part of the world? All is not yet entirely lost. History has shown us, that even in our worst moments, our Lord’s ever-present Spirit can break through & raise up saints who turn things around & call us back to the Gospel. This should give us hope.
A Francis of Assisi pops up out of the moral mess of the 12th century. Maximilian Kolbe steps forward from the Nazi madness to die as a martyr. Thomas Merton emerges from the nihilism of Greenwich Village .
Ascension & Pentecost together tell us that God is still present, still speaks, still sends disciples out to make a difference, still calls – not just the Mertons & Kolbes, but you & me. What He said to his disciples on Ascension Day still remains valid & invaluable: “You are witnesses of these things.” We should remember that. AMEN!