We priests take over where Jesus left off
As a priest, I do my share of heavy lifting. I don’t mean breaking down concrete walls, repaving the parking lot or remodeling the church. Instead, I stand at the altar in the church and raise my arms in prayer. I lift parishioners’ needs to God. I raise the hurts and indifferences of the world to heaven. I stand on earth, lifting hardship, worry and uncertainty.
I bear the division and hatred that separates loved ones and nations to God’s unitive love. I endure the weight of people’s hunger at the altar. With my arms covered in vesture, I elevate my arms out from my body with palms open. I stand at the altar of God witnessing to the needs of people in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
On the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we hear in the Gospel from Luke 24:46-53: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them, he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” We take over from where Jesus left off. We stand in his stead, it seems. We lift, we bless, we bear the love and joy of his eternal presence among us. We stand vulnerable at his altar, knowing well that he is still within us.
As a priest, I cannot neglect this matter. I cannot take this posture for granted. I cannot mindlessly pray at our altar. I cannot forget the heavy burdens people face daily. I never ignore the weighty matter of praying the Eucharist for the hunger of people. The more I realize this posture of love, the more I feel the saints, the angels, our ancestors who prayed in an exact manner. I also realize within me that God receives what I carry. I lift heaviness in love.
This posture heals me. No matter politics or opinions, I lift high people’s struggles. No matter if I agree with outcomes or conversations, it is my job to give back to God. I don’t need to agree with factions or frustrations, I just need to show up to my place on our wooden floor. I lift when I am exhausted. I carry when I am weary. I pray even though my heart may not feel the importance of a stranger’s request. My place, my opportunity, is to lift high worldly needs.
I let God receive. I entrust to heaven everything on earth.
At the conclusion of the Easter season, we know that everything is new in Christ. Our prayer is God’s initiative from the dying and rising of Christ Jesus. Jesus invites us to recognize our vocations within the weeks of Easter. We live it all year. We renew our place at the altar within these great celebrations in May. Here we imitate what we believe. Jesus raised his hands, so as to heal, bless and bear witness to the Father’s love for all eternity.
Also, in Luke’s text for the Ascension, “They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” Most of us have remained at our altars for decades. We may have grown numb to why we are there. The motions of Mass daze us. We may have lost joy in our daily routines. We may have even grown resentful in our daily prayer.
Perhaps our heavy lifting will help us realize that God carries the full weight of our burdens. We meet God halfway. Even when we have grown joyless at the altar, Jesus helps us carry everything to the Kingdom, all that is lost within us. When I feel such stress, I feel even more the weight of my responsibility to show up at the altar.
Jesus left this world in the posture of raising his hands in blessing. Our heavy lifting becomes hope for God’s people. This posture helps me understand the needs of our world. I must have my heart broken by what people endure. I must listen. I must read and pray. I don’t have to argue with those needs. I don’t have to agree with people’s actions, choices, decisions or politics. I don’t have to judge their hunger. I don’t have to change people or fix them. This is heavy lifting because it is not my work to change hearts or heal grief. I only know one thing. I have work to do today. I have heavy lifting to perform at the altar of God, where we all are fed and healed.
FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, Colorado.