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Ascension Thursday, 30 May AD 2019, is a Holy Day of Obligation
The Epistle and Gospel read today provide us a pretty good summary of what we are to do to practice our Catholic Faith. We are to “visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation,” to “keep ourselves unspotted from the world,” and “pray to the Father in Jesus name.” None of these ideas should be new to us.
Saint James speaks of “visiting” the widows and the orphans. Obviously, he is speaking about all of the charitable acts that we ought to perform—all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, burying the dead, teaching the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, and so on. The opportunities for doing good for our neighbors are just about limitless. Even in an affluent nation such as ours there are many ways that we can help those around us. Often enough it won't even cost any money, as there are plenty of people who would benefit from a kind word, a smile, or a little bit of encouragement.
Saint James also speaks about “keeping ourselves unspotted from the world.” Here again, he is including a great many things in this brief phrase. Certainly, he means that we should keep away from all of those “thou shalt nots” that we hear about in the Commandments. But being “unspotted” implies a somewhat greater degree of perfection than merely avoiding the serious sins. It suggests that we should not be caught up in the things of the world. We have to make our way of course; putting a roof over our heads and bread on the table—but the material things in our lives ought to be less important than the spiritual things. They ought to be a means to our salvation, rather than an end in themselves.
The Gospel speaks of prayer. And, perhaps, this element is the most important of the three. It is hard to imagine anyone doing a very good job of loving his neighbor if he has little or no love of God. It is hard to imagine how anyone could be detached from worldly things if he is not attached to heavenly things.
More specifically, the Gospel speaks of prayer in Jesus’ name: “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you.” Now, it shouldn't surprise anyone that praying in Jesus’ name excludes a lot of the things that we might ask for. Surely it excludes anything sinful and anything that would give us some advantage at another person's expense or embarrassment. Praying in Jesus’ name excludes praying for the frivolous and vain things of the world—don't be too surprised if your prayers for a fancy car or pretty clothes are answered with a “no.” In fact, probably the best way to pray in the name of our Lord is simply to ask God that we may humbly accept whatever He wills for us here on earth, in order that we may one day share His happiness in heaven.
Prayer in Jesus’ name ought not to be exclusively self-centered. Of course, we can and should ask God for the things that will make our life on earth reasonably comfortable, and for the things that will bring us to salvation. But prayer must go much farther than that. It should always include adoration—telling God how glorious He is. It should include thanksgiving for the favors He has already granted us. It should beg forgiveness for the bad things we have done in our lives.
And prayer ought to include those around us—we ought to pray for the physical and spiritual well-being of our friends and neighbors, of those in authority in the Church and in the government. We ought to pray, in particular, for those who lack God’s graces; either because they have never been exposed to the Faith or because they have simply rejected it.
And finally, our prayers should always include the dead; friends, relatives, and benefactors again—all the souls in Purgatory—and particularly those who have no one to pray for them. Who knows what souls languish in Purgatory with no one earth to remember them in prayer or at Holy Mass?
So we have, today, this simple summary of what we must do to practice our Catholic Faith: love of neighbor, detachment from the world, and above all, prayer. The “collect” of this Mass expresses it well: “O God, from whom all good things do proceed, grant Thy humble servants, that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are right, and be moved by Thy grace to do them.”
Simply stated, we are to “visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation,” to “keep ourselves unspotted from the world,” and “pray to the Father in Jesus name.”
 Epistle: James i: 22‑27 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=66&ch=1&l=22-#x
 Gospel: John xvi: 23-30 http://www.drbo.org/cgi-bin/d?b=drl&bk=50&ch=16&l=23-#x