by Father Mark Goldasich
“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
Listen for this sentence from the Acts of the Apostles this Sunday as we celebrate the ascension of Our Lord into heaven. I like these words, spoken by a couple of angels, because they imply that the apostles were a lot like me: much better at theory than practice!
After all, the gawking and talking are easy, fun even. It’s the witnessing, the getting out and living the faith in the actual world, that’s tough.
Last year, I watched a 1932 film, black and white naturally, that stars a great character actor named George Arliss and a young Bette Davis. Arliss plays a rich pianist, a happy-go-lucky guy as the film begins. An ominous note is heard, though, as he reveals that his mother and a couple of other relatives lost their hearing during life. Well, you know what’s coming. One day, as Arliss is giving a concert to a visiting dignitary in Paris, a bomb goes off, intending to assassinate the king. It fails, but the blast causes Arliss to lose not only his hearing, but also his light-hearted attitude . . . and his faith in God.
He moves to New York City and, from his pent- house that overlooks Cen- tral Park, he begins a game, of sorts. Using high-powered binoculars, he focuses on people in the park and tries to read their lips. One day, for instance, he sees a young man seated on a park bench who tells his girlfriend that the doctor has found a spot on his lung and he needs to rest for a year or so to cure it. Obviously, he doesn’t have the means to do this, and all looks hopeless for the young man and this girl he loves. Suddenly, the young man closes his eyes and begins to pray for a way to get the money for a cure. Arliss sends his butler over to deliver an “answer” to that prayer. As he sees the young man’s gratitude, Arliss turns to heaven and laughs in the face of the God that he no longer believes in.
As time goes by, however, Arliss is transformed and once again finds God. Through the game he was playing — answering the needs of others in the park — God becomes real again to him, because God is ultimately a God of service.
Oh, by the way, the name of the film is “The Man Who Played God.”
In a sense, isn’t that what those apostles were in- structed to do at the Ascension? They were to witness to the faith — to “play God,” to act as God to others, especially those in need. Jesus knew, though, how tough this was going to be.
He understood that the idea of being a person of service is often much easier and attractive than actually living that way. That’s why they needed the power of the Holy Spirit, to give them the strength of God to do what they were called to do.
In this issue of The Leaven, we have two stories of people doing just that — folks who have given a few years of their lives to serve in the Peace Corps. One married couple is teaching in Morocco; the other volunteer, a graduate of St. Thom- as Aquinas High School, is a teacher in Macedonia. By “playing God” in ministering to the poor in the world in this practical way, they not only do their country proud, but also make real the love of God for the neediest in the world.
And, as all who truly minister in the name of the Lord, I’m sure they’ll discover what Arliss did in the movie: It’s impossible to “play God” without coming to a deeper faith in him. Try it and see.