“You will receive power.

These are some of the last words Jesus says to his disciples before his Ascension into Heaven.

Be ready. Be prepared. Power is coming.

But what kind of power? Let’s start by looking at what this power is NOT…

Fr. Michael Scanlan, the former president of Franciscan University in Steubenville, once warned against what he called “will-power Christianity.”

Will-power Christianity is where we try working really hard to pattern our lives after Jesus Christ — to be faithful to his teachings in the midst of suffering, temptations and difficulty — but we try to do that by our own will-power. With our own elbow-grease. 

Now, it’s certainly true that the Lord does want us to have a disciplined will, and he does want us to exert sincere effort in our pursuit of holiness — but as it turns out, will-power Christianity is actually really exhausting, not to mention ultimately impossible!

You’ve probably experienced this firsthand — you try so hard to grow in some virtue. Maybe it’s patience — you want to have the power to be more patient. Or maybe it’s purity. You want the power to stay chaste. Or maybe you want to grow in prayer — you want the power to commit to a regular prayer routine. And so you make a firm commitment. You start exerting your will — but no matter how hard you try… it’s just never enough. There’s never enough in the tank. You still fall short. You still sin. You still miss the mark.

After a while of this, it may start to feel sort of pointless even to try anymore… You just don’t have the power.

But here’s the good news — There’s another power you can tap into.

Holy Ghost Power!

Anybody here a fan of bluegrass music?

There’s a group of Dominican Friars out there who have a band called the Hillbilly Thomists. They are absolutely fantastic. 

They have an album that I really love called “Holy Ghost Power.”

This is the power we need! And this is the power Jesus offers us! 

Holy Ghost Power!

Here’s the beautiful truth:

Jesus did not die for a powerless Church! He did not leave us as orphans, doomed to try and fail over and over forever. When he ascended into Heaven, he did not abandon us and leave us hopelessly weak — victims of our own passions and desires.

No — Jesus now sits at the right hand of the power of God. And we are seated there with Him! He has promised to clothe us with power!

The Greek word that the New Testament often uses for this power — Holy Ghost Power — is “dunamis.”

The word “dunamis” is meant to communicate a kind of “explosive” power. It has the same root word where we get the word “dynamite” and “dynamic” — there’s a kind of energy, a vibrance, a propulsion, an eruption to this power that God wants to give us — this “dunamis!”

Simply put: When we are filled with Holy Ghost Power, we’re cooking with spiritual dynamite — divine dynamite! It’s an apostolic power. It’s a power that triggers miracles. That fills us with strength to sacrifice of ourselves in service to the Gospel. It’s a power that enables each of us to be radical, vibrant witnesses of Jesus’ love in this anxious, tired, apathetic, selfish, confused world… so that people will be forced to ask: “How is this possible? How are these people living like this? Where did they get this power!?!?!?”

This is what St. Paul was talking about in our second reading today from his letter to the Ephesians when he prays: 

“May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation…that you may know…what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”

But too often, we think of power in worldly terms.

Worldly power is all about control, manipulation, and domination. It’s the “will to power” that Nietsche speaks of — which boils down to the idea that whoever has the most votes and the loudest voice gets to decide what “truth” is. This is tyrannical and ultimately self-destructive.

You might remember the great villain, Sauron, from the Lord of the Rings. In his pride and malice, Sauron forges the One Ring of Power, with which he then forcefully tries to subject all free-peoples to his dictatorship. He is blinded by his lust to control everything and everyone around him — the Power he craves is altogether self-centered and evil!

Clearly this is not the kind of “power” Jesus is speaking of when he says in our Gospel today: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

No…Holy Ghost Power is altogether different. It’s about the superabundant generosity — the overflowing free gift of God’s love!

Holy Ghost Power safeguards freedom and human dignity. It empowers us to do the right thing regardless of the cost. To love our enemies. To forgive those who hurt us. To deny ourselves and take up our cross. To suffer joyfully. To give rather than to grasp. To serve rather than to be served. This is a totally different kind of power than what the media and our politicians fling about so carelessly. It’s the power of the Cross! And that power is not easily swallowed. Most often, it’s laughed at.

But as St. Paul put it so well in his first letter to the Corinthians: “The word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

Yesterday, our bishop ordained two brand new deacons at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond. 

By the grace of Holy Orders, those two men — David and Seth — now have a brand new sacramental power — a power to serve. They have the power to live a celibate life. The power to preach the Gospel in a whole new way.

If the Ascension of our Lord teaches us anything, it is this beautiful and challenging truth:

In “going away,” Jesus has officially turned the keys to the kingdom of Heaven over to us — His Body — the Church. He has given us real responsibility, real authority and real power in His Name. It’s as if Jesus steps aside — enters into the depths of Heaven and sits down at the Right Hand of God — in order to nudge us forward — to encourage us to take up our task:

“Ok, now it’s your turn. You must be my witnesses now. You have to announce and demonstrate the presence of My Kingdom. You need to take new ground for the Gospel now. You need to raise up new disciples — new followers for me! Don’t worry — I’ll still be with you — always! Even to the end of the Age! I will be with you working through you even if you can’t see Me anymore — but you have to step out in faith now. You have to take ownership. You can’t hang back anymore. Step into your identity as my representatives. Be bold! Be EMPOWERED. I am giving you spiritual DYNAMITE.”

Speaking of spiritual dynamite — we now turn to the altar of the Lord. And we lift up the source and summit of Divine Power — the Holy Eucharist.

It’s from the Sacrifice of Jesus that all power flows.

The Eucharist is the powerful, beating heart of the Church — and so as you come forward to receive Communion today, remember that:

You will receive power.