Sunday, June 5, is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. In the archdioceses and dioceses of the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington, this is Ascension Sunday.
On June 4 and 5, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Croatia for the National Day of Croatian Catholic Families and other events. This is the Holy Father’s first Croatian visit, though he visited twice as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Seventh Easter Sunday: Acts 1:12-14; Psalm 27:1, 4, 7-8; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11
Ascension Sunday: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20
Whether your readings are from the Ascension or the Sunday after the Ascension, the message is the same: Christ is no longer in the world. We are. And we are to act in his place.
There was a beautiful story in the news recently about Paul Carris, a newly ordained deacon (as of May 22, 2011).
Judith Toppin said Carris was sent to her from God to lead her to safety from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
At the ordination ceremony, “she thanked him again for saving her from death at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks,” reported New Jersey’s The Record.
He shook his head and said: “You saved me.”
Toppin has since lost 156 pounds and has seen some improvement in her debilitating heart and lung condition. But when she saw the smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center tower above her 10 years ago, she was sure it was the last day of her life. She was on the 71st floor, and she couldn’t walk more than a few steps without exhaustion.
Her account of what happened that day, “Angels Walk Among Us,” was a popular e-mail forward in the wake of 9/11. In it she remembers praying, “God, if this is the way you wish me to die, then thy will be done; but please, no pain.”
Immediately, Carris approached her and said, “Stay calm, and get up. We are going to walk out of this building together.”
She said Toppin patiently led her down the stairs, pausing many times for her as people rushed around them, including a woman she knew who was badly burned. On the 20th floor, firemen began shouting with new urgency for everyone to hurry.
“I saw the glimmer of gold on Paul’s left hand as he reached over to shield me from people rushing past us, and I realized for the first time that he was wearing a wedding band,” wrote Toppin. “I asked him to leave me behind and save himself since he had a family and I was moving much too slowly. My words fell on deaf ears.”
She said the saddest moment was watching fellow victims turn left at the building’s concourse. Those people died. “Paul urged us to the right, leading us out onto West Street,” she said.
The building began its collapse just as the two found safety.
Carris said God allowed him to do what he did and then built on that experience to call him to service in the Church. He told The Record how “he listened to a silence inside him that he now says was the voice of God … a confident silence he says he first noticed as he walked Toppin down the stairs in the north tower, but did not realize at the time what it meant.”
“What Judith wrote about me triggered this journey” to holy orders, Carris is quoted saying. “I didn't know it at the time. But God puts us where we need to be. I served that purpose for Judith. And he put me there for myself. I now can look at her and say, ‘You changed my life.’”
The Ascension readings and the readings for the Sunday after tell us to listen for the “confident silence” of the Holy Spirit and be ready to act in Christ’s place.
In this, Carris has led the way.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.