May 28: Be Brave & Strong! (Ascension A)

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20.

On the feast of the Ascension, we listen to Matthew, who brings his gospel to its conclusion, always looking for the spirit of empowerment, and do as Christ commanded, namely to go out onto this world stage.

There are significant vulnerabilities for those who act on behalf of Christ, even Matthew notes, “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” Nonetheless, they were called to do his work.

Let’s examine for a moment, those who suddenly find themselves – thrust into the spotlight, or filling in, and doing the unexpected.

Here I’m thinking of great actors defined by their roles, with entrances and exits on the stage, but most especially those understudies that may be called on – at a moment’s notice.

Perhaps here is a compelling example.

Several years ago, I read a short piece by Glenn Close, the actress whose career spans forty or more years. It detailed her life as an understudy.

She was in films like “The Big Chill,” “The Natural,” “Fatal Attraction.” Ok, you still don’t recall her? How about her role as Cruella de Vil in “101 Dalmations?” She has the most Academy Award nominations (4) for Best Actress in a Lead Role, never having won.

Most recently, she reprised her iconic role as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical drama, “Sunset Boulevard.”

The New York Times has called Close’s performance as “one of the great stage performances of this century.” This play will close in late June.

So where and when was Glenn Close discovered?

Close writes that in the early 1970’s she was hired by a New York repertory company, playing minor roles, working as an understudy on a Thomas Congreve 17th restoration comedy entitled “Love for Love.”

The play starred an older and well-regarded British actress, Mary Ure, who was once the “toast of the London stage.” During the out of town previews, Hal Prince, the director, realized there were too many disagreements with his lead actress, and Miss Ure could not remember her lines.

So after the last matinee and just before the formal opening, Hal Prince fired Mary Ure, replacing her with the understudy, Glenn Close.

Before the evening performance, as Close was being fitted for her costume, in what had been Ure’s dressing room only moments before, Close received a note. It was from Miss Ure.

The note read: “It is a tradition in the English theatre for one leading lady to welcome the next leading lady into her dressing room. I learned this when I was very young and making my debut at the Haymarket. I was surprised to find a letter from Dame Peggy Ashcroft, who had just closed after a long run. I salute you and welcome you. Be brave and strong. Mary Ure.”

To this day, Glenn Close continues this kind gesture. She leaves a letter of welcome and encouragement to those lucky enough to make it to the stage in a leading role.

What does this have to do with Jesus Christ and his people, now set to take the world stage?

Only, that we too need welcome and encouragement – all those talents that you have — can be employed to bring his faith, hope, and love into a world that is so in need of your service.

When you read the gospel, notice how Jesus did not encourage acts of vengeance on his enemies. Instead, he insisted on loving one another, even one’s enemies.

When you read the gospel, notice how Jesus asks for a deep and nourishing faith to inspire our mission.

When you read the gospel, notice how Jesus does not call us apprentices or understudies, but full actors and sharers in his work on behalf of the Father and the Spirit.

We are to go out into the world, baptizing in his name.

In effect, Jesus says, I salute you and welcome you.

Your work is God’s work.

Be brave and strong!

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.


Here, Anthony Breshnican speaks with Steve Hartman on the CBS Evening News (5/26/17) about the enduring legacy of Fred Rogers. These comments are in light of the tragic loss of life in a concert stadium in Manchester, England, and on a school bus “on the road” in Egypt.


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