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He Chose the Doubtful

The Ascension of the Lord, Year A

I use this Gospel for when I have baptisms and I always wonder if people are listening close enough to catch the oddity of the first line. The eleven disciples went to Galilee. Not the twelve, but the eleven. The reason it is the eleven disciples is easy enough to figure out when you know that this after the Resurrection: there were twelve apostles but one of them was Judas. The twelve became the eleven, and it wouldn’t be until later on after Pentecost that they selected a new apostle to restore their numbers to twelve. So when the Gospel goes on to say that the eleven saw Jesus, they worshiped, but they doubted… I wonder if they doubted themselves more than they doubted in Christ. And I want to be clear to you that this thought is just my speculation — one of several ways you could hear this Gospel — because the text doesn’t go into detail about their doubt. But in the Gospel of Matthew this takes place before Christ breathes his Spirit upon them and gifts them with the courage and fire of Pentecost. The apostles are still struggling at this point, and I think going to the mountain to meet Christ and to hear his words, like they had done so many times for the past three years of following after him… they must have come to it with a lot of doubt about themselves knowing that it was just the eleven of them, that one of their friends had betrayed Jesus and all the rest of them had abandoned him.

But thankfully for us, Jesus tends to have more confidence in us than we do in ourselves. Jesus selected the twelve apostles knowing that some of them were simple fisherman, knowing that at least one of them was a sinful tax collector, and knowing even that one of them would be his betrayer. And at the end of it all as they both worship and doubt, Jesus trusts them to be the ones who build his Church and to baptize the nations. These eleven doubtful men are quite literally the reason why you and I know who Christ is and call ourselves Christian. As he does so many times in the Scriptures, God chose the weak and the unlikely to do the most important things in his plan for humanity.

So stepping back and looking at ourselves, I think it’s important that we don’t let our own doubts and weaknesses hold us back from the work that God has called us to do in his Church. On your first day of high school or the first day of college you probably had some doubts about how well you were going to make it through the next couple of years. When it was your first day at a new job you probably were nervous in your new setting. When you walked down the aisle on your wedding day or walked out of the hospital with your first child, you probably had some anxiety about what your life was becoming. But guess what? In all those things you survived and are doing alright. Even in your failures, you have learned and you have grown. So hear the words of the Christ and make them your mission despite any hesitation: “Go. Make disciples. Baptism them into my life. Teach them what I have taught you. Go.” The apostles worshiped, they doubted, and then the went out to every nation.

I hope too that when Fr. Peter arrives you gently help him learn what it means to be a priest. I don’t know Fr. Peter but I do know that it takes some time after ordination to find the confidence and the peace that overcomes all the doubts about everything you do. So set aside your evaluation of him and instead walk with him. God is going to do wonderful and unexpected things in your life through his priesthood.

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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone

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