An Ascension Manifesto


The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance (Confession). This window depicts a Priest raising his right hand in absolution of a penitent in Confession. James Bradley on Flickr
Photo by Fr James Bradley on Flickr

“‘You see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’”

I have a friend who is a politician -but don’t hold that against him. He is really not like other politicians, at least as you may have read about them in newspapers. For one thing, he’s not actually very good at politics. After twenty years of trying really very hard, he has never yet been elected to Parliament. But he’s still hopeful. His problem, however, is that the place where he lives is a stronghold of one main party and he belongs to the other main party. So the chances of him ever getting elected are really pretty slim. A little while ago, shortly after his latest ballot-box disaster, or as he prefers to describe it “electoral reverse”, we met up in a convenient location not far from here. And I asked him what he would do if he ever was actually elected to power. And I told him that I really didn’t want to hear what was in the party’s manifesto, or what the official party policies were - I wanted to know what he himself would really do if the electorate were ever so foolish as to give him the opportunity. He thought for a moment and then he said: “I would give everything to find out what my constituents really want - what they truly need - and I would give my life to get it for them.”

Like I said, he’s not really like most politicians.

Today we celebrate the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus - his return to the Father - to his position of Power and Kingship. And we hear what he wants for us - his manifesto - the program to which He has given His life and the Gospel that he sends out his disciples to preach - It is this: Repentance for the forgiveness of Sins. He does not preach lower taxes, better schools, more health centres, more Police or a stronger army - he asks Repentance for the forgiveness of Sins. Why is that so important that the Son of God died and rose so that we might have it?

One of the sorrows of being a doctor - as St Luke the physician  probably once knew - is that there are diseases - cancers of the Soul - which no medicine can cure. So many people live lives of quiet desperation. There are truly amazing numbers of people whose lives are blighted by a suffering, a memory, a fear or a guilt which they can never - ever - relinquish. It may be the guilt of an action they have never ceased to regret. Or it may be anger at a crime done to them which they cannot either forgive or forget, or in any other way put behind them. It may be a critical failure in themselves or in someone else which has prevented them from achieving their hopes and deepest desires in life. It is one of the sorrows in the life of a doctor that there is no tablet, no injection which helps people like these. My clinic is full of them.

But it is one of the joys in the life of a priest that frequently people like this do find rest, peace, repentance and forgiveness - even after many years of carrying a burden of guilt, anger, disappointment or whatever - in the love of God and especially in the sacrament of reconciliation. Of all the things I have ever done in life, I have never felt more worthwhile than the time I have spent hearing confessions.

Just recently, I had the privilege of giving a woman of 34 her First Holy Communion. She had been baptised a Christian, but not brought up in any Faith. Her short life had been dominated by drugs, violence and other things I’d rather not talk about. And when I met her, she was dying of AIDS. She asked for Confession and Holy Communion because she wanted to die at one with God, and at peace with herself, her family and friends. We did that for her and then, when everyone else had gone, she whispered to me very quietly, “this is the first good day of my life!”

By then, I had been a priest for some years. But it was only after that I realised why it is that when the Lord at his Ascension, sends out his disciples to bring the Christian Good News to the ends of the Earth, the message he sends is repentance for the forgiveness of Sins. In the End - the real End - the Final End - there is nothing else that matters.

Let us pray that we too may be given the grace to know God’s Peace in our own lives – and to bring it to the very many people in this world who need it so desperately.

Let us this week, profess our Faith in God and in the only things that really matter.

Paul O'Reilly SJ