In the first reading on Ascension Day, as Jesus is taken up into the sky, his disciples are asked: ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing there looking at the sky?’ The same question needs to be asked today. For those of us who would follow Jesus, our eyes should not be focused above on heaven but on the needs of this world, here and now. We are called to find the Jesus who is still here, crucified in our midst, to stand at the foot of that Cross, and to mourn.
There is much to be mournful about: malnutrition is still the main cause of death throughout the world; 30 million people survive on less than £3 a day; 900 million people are illiterate; there are 40 wars going on in the world; refugee numbers are increasing; the worldwide Covid-19 death toll, at the start of June, stands at around 375,000; the world climate is becoming inhospitable to human life.
But there is also much that gives us reason to rejoice. Pope Francis wrote in Gaudete et exsultate: ‘Saint Paul says that what truly counts is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). We are called to make every effort to preserve charity: “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law … for love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom 13:8.10). “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.” (Gal 5:14).
‘In other words, amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two more formulas or two more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenceless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art.’
When a fellow parishioner tells me that I always write the same thing, I reply that there is not really a lot to say – just the challenge of finding new ways to tell the same good news: God loves us. We love God. We love each other. There’s an account elsewhere in June's edition of the Pic that shows one of the ways our diocese is living this commandment of love.