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Look Up!

Fr. Joseph K. Horn
19 May 1996
Feast of The Ascension of our Lord
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, CA

Did you hear about the college student arrested in Florida during Spring Break? It seems that he was disturbing the peace or some such thing, and as they were about to lock him up, he demanded to exercise his right to make one phone call. Half an hour later, a delivery boy arrived and asked, “Who ordered the pizza?”

Clueless. That student was clueless about his situation. He was oblivious to the fact that he was in deep trouble. In his mind, he was still out partying. He gave no thought to the bigger picture.

You know, we’re all a little bit like that. We so easily get into a frame of mind which we carry around with us. Even when the real world around us changes, we remain in our own private little universes.

Sometimes that can be funny. For example, shortly after Al Smith was elected for his first term as governor of New York, he made an inspection tour of Sing Sing, the state prison. He saw that the prisoners’ morale was very low, and he had them assemble, intending to say a few encouraging words to them. Unfortunately, he began to speak like he always did. His first words to the assembled prisoners were: “My fellow citizens.” They all laughed, and he blushed as he realized how foolish that sounded, since convicts lose their citizenship. Dauntless but still clueless, he cleared his throat and tried again: “I mean, my fellow convicts.” They laughed even louder, and he blushed even redder. Totally humiliated, but still speaking as a politician, he then said, “Well, anyhow, I’m glad to see so many of you here today.”

Unfortunately, sometimes being clueless about one’s real situation isn’t funny at all. Sometimes it can result in tragedy. Here’s a real-life example that you may recognize. A certain young man endured six years of medical school just to please his father. But then he couldn’t stand it any more and dropped out. He sold encyclopedias for a while. Hated it. Then he worked as a clerk in a retail store. He then joined the Army, but he couldn’t meet the physical demands and was discharged. He entered a long period of depression and identity crisis, eventually becoming a vagrant and heavy cocaine user. Finally he contracted tuberculosis, and died while still a young man. But before he died, he discovered that one thing he could do well was to write, and that he was meant to be a writer. In the little time left to him, recognizing that his life up to that time had been a waste, he poured out his grief in poetry. His poetry is still studied in colleges, and his crowning work has been called the greatest lyrical poem in the English language. His name was Francis Thompson; his famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”

Thompson’s life was in a downward spiral as long as he was focussed inward, his soul marinating in his own depression, his brain numbed by drugs, his eyes unable to look out at the real world.

Call me crazy, but I think that’s why Jesus ascended to heaven. I mean, he didn’t have to. Jesus is God, and God is everywhere, so to get to heaven he didn’t have to ascend anyplace. So why did he have this dramatic ascension in front of his apostles? I think that the reason Jesus had them watch him ascend into heaven was for precisely that reason: he wanted to make them LOOK UP. They’d been walking around their whole lives looking down, looking at their own little world with their own private worries, and Jesus tried to tell them for years, Hey, people, look up! There is a heaven up there with many mansions and you are going to go there! But they didn’t listen and kept looking down.

You know, I’ll bet that the same is true of most people today. The entire universe for some people is a sphere only a few feet in diameter, with themselves at its center. That’s true for tiny children, of course; we expect that. But as children grow up, their universe expands, as they begin to include other people, then the entire family, then their friends, then their neighborhood. Some people even reach a level of social maturity high enough to expand their mental horizon to include all of California, or even the entire United States. A blessed few can even manage to consider the entire world as their world. Imagine that! What a concept.

Today on the feast of the Ascension we are being invited to go beyond even that. Right now, go ahead: Look up! No, not at me; look UP! What do you see? A lot of hot air? Then you’re still looking at me. Look up! Yes; now look higher; what do you see? A ceiling? Look higher! What’s above the ceiling? More air? What’s above that? The blue sky? The ozone layer? The cold blackness of outer space? The moon? The sun and the planets? The stars in our galaxy? Other galaxies and superclusters? The red-shifted edge of the visible universe? Heaven?

When was the last time you stretched your mind that far? Doesn’t it feel good? It’s good exercise for the mind and soul.

They always tell us that we should stop and smell the roses. Good advice, I suppose, but in order to do that you have to look down. Today I offer you this simple thought: now and then stop and look up. Not while you’re driving or walking down stairs, of course! But once in a while, when it’s safe to do so, stop, look up, look beyond this passing world, and ponder the immensity of the world without end. Amen.

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