( I’m going a little off the grid this morning because we get a double chance to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension with its recurrence this Sunday. So I will leave my scriptural reflection until then.)
For me, the celebration of Ascension will always be on a Thursday – and it will always belong especially to my Dad. Here’s why.
I was already a young nun in the early 1970s when I went home to visit my parents one beautiful May afternoon. We had a day off from school to commemorate the Feast of the Ascension.
My Dad was sitting on the front steps contemplating a patch of pachysandra on our small front lawn, or so I thought. After initial hugs and greetings, Dad said, “I’m worried about something.” Worry bells starting ringing deep in my brain. Where was Mom!?!?
“Joe Brodski just walked by a little while ago”, Dad continued. I paused a moment to consider this seeming non-sequitor.
Now Joe Brodski never walked anywhere. He was our next-door neighbor whose only apparent activity was tumbling out of his house and into his car each morning to go to work. So I began to think that maybe the worry was about Joe Brodski, and not my Mom who had not yet appeared on the front steps.
“So what’s the worry, Dad?”, I asked.
“Well, I asked Joe why he was out walking and he told me he was coming back from church. Ren, I completely forgot it was Thursday – the Ascension – and now all the Masses are over!”
Dad was really distressed by this oversight and it took a little theologizing on my part to allay his concern. Still, his reaction was so sincere that it has stayed with me for nearly fifty years. I never fully appreciated my Dad’s deep spirituality – nor the embedded culture of faith in our home – until I had grown up and moved away.
Many years after that Thursday, I read David Foster Wallace’s famous graduation talk at Kenyan University. He opens the talk like this:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
Wallace goes on to explain, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”
We didn’t talk a lot about faith in my family, we just practiced it. And that practice was like fish swimming in water. We didn’t even realize that faith was the medium soaking our whole lives.
When Dad realized that he had forgotten to go to Mass that day, he felt like the proverbial “fish out of water”. The deep abiding faithfulness of his life had suffered a little fracture.
In Jerusalem, there is an ancient stone on a hillside. People venerate it as the site from which Jesus ascended into heaven. There is a deep indentation in the stone which is believed to be the last footprint of Christ on the earth as He lifted toward heaven. Whether it actually is the site isn’t important. What matters is that the life of Jesus has left an everlasting impression on our hearts and souls – a well of grace which continues to feed our spirits.
My Dad’s unassuming holiness has left the same kind of impression on me. It is a touch point which I visit many times during the year, but especially on Ascension Thursday.
I tell the story today because this Feast might be a good time for all of us to consider the “water” we swim in – that culture of faith which nourishes our life – and the life of our family and loved ones.
You may want to bless the many sources that have inspired and fed your faith over your lifetime – perhaps in your family, and perhaps in others relationships. Doing so can be a recurring source of grace even if the “inspirer” has, like Jesus and like my Dad, made their way back to heaven.
And we all might want to consider who depends on us for the nurturing water of their faith!
Music: My Father’s Faith – Janice Kapp Perry
A father’s faith can bless his little children And help them rise above life’s daily storms. A father works each day to keep his dear ones Ever protected, safe and warm. My father’s praise can send my spirit soaring And help me see the good I may achieve. My father’s trust can fill my soul with courage And help my doubting heart believe. My father’s tears can somehow say, “I love you” When words fall silent in his tender heart. Through daily acts of service and of caring His deepest feelings he imparts. My father’s prayers can call down heaven’s blessings And keep his children walking in the light. His constant strength is steady as a lighthouse That brings me safely through the night. My father’s arms can offer consolation When I, in sorrow, turn my heart toward home. His loving voice resounds within my being To help me know I’m not alone. My father’s eyes can see past faults and failings And still imagine all I may become. And when I fall he’s there to walk beside me To tell me I can overcome. My father’s love will shine through generations – A gentle force that guides me through the years. My father’s faith will be my inspiration And make my path to heaven clear.