25 May 2017Ascension

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Ascension Thursday - Matthew 28:16-20 - A Cycle

A boy was flying a kite that he could not see. He was asked how he could know it was there if it was lost in the clouds. The boy responded, "I feel the tug on the string." We know the invisible and ascended Jesus is still with us today by His tug on our hearts and conscience. The Ascension of Jesus is not a nickel and dime feast. It ranks right up there in the Catholic Hall of Fame with Easter from the beginning of the Church. An ivory plaque of the Ascension by an unknown artist in Italy dates from the late fourth century. The carved image pictures the Christ ascending to Heaven while grasping the right hand of God the Father which is extending from the clouds. The apostles stand about terrified. The image is found in the Bavarian National Museum of Munich, Germany. In the fifth century, St Augustine was living in northern Africa. He wrote that the Ascension is celebrated "in all the world." As a matter of fact, Augustine says the feast dates to the apostles.

Who would care to contradict this giant? There are references to the Ascension in today's Matthew, in Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and in the Acts of the Apostles 1:9. The Acts suggest that the mountain of the Ascension is Mount Olivet, "which is nigh Jerusalem, within a Sabbath's day journey." St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, built the first church on the site in the early fourth century. It was torn down by the Persians in 614 but rebuilt in the eighth century. The church was destroyed again but then resurrected by the Christian Crusaders. However, the Muslims had the last word. They delivered the church its coup de grace. What the pilgrim finds today is a chapel which guards the stone said to contain the imprint of the feet of Christ just prior to the Ascension. This tradition goes back to at least the late fifteenth century as a German woodcut still existing attests. In the Middle Ages, Christians organized festive processions that followed the journey of Jesus with the apostles to Mount Olivet. They ended their festivities with the raising of the statue of Jesus through an opening in the roof of the church.

This of course symbolized the Ascension of the Master to His Father. The Jesus of earth had become the Christ of Heaven. In some places, it was also customary that while the Christ was ascending, an image of the devil was descending. Major artists continued to have a fascination with the Ascension. Giotto in the early 1300s painted a fresco of the Ascension in a chapel in Padua, Italy. Then, in the sixteenth century, the German genius Albrecht Durer left us a pen and ink sketch of the same event. Their interest in the subject reveals the wonderful draw the Ascension held for followers of Christ. Nor have contemporary Christians and their artists abandoned interest. The customs of the Middle Ages have moved into the modern era. In many churches today, the faithful will process outside after the liturgy. They will joyfully release dozens of colorful balloons into the air. They then join hands and dance as they celebrate the Master's Ascension as well as their own approaching ones.

Theirs is the spirit of the high school sophomore who came into the sacristy to speak to me after I preached on Heaven. He told me he was anxious to get there. He wanted to check out the pleasures that Heaven would offer him on his ascension. The boy is, as we should be, an eager Christian astronaut. Space flights are already being regarded as footnotes in human history. But the Ascension of our Leader continues to be celebrated by millions of Christians, as St Augustine put it "in all the world." In Germany and Austria, musicians today climb into church towers to play a variety of instruments to salute the homecoming of Christ as they call it. At Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, trumpets will sound today from the tower of the German Museum located on campus. Why such excitement? Easter promises our immortality. Ascension tells us where we hope to spend it. (Unknown) I have a selfish interest in the Ascension of Christ. Each of us, on average, is given c 26,000 days of human life. I have passed my quota. So, I live on borrowed time. I'm overdue for my own ascension.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Solemnity of the Ascension: Tell the World that Jesus Lives

The disciples climbed the hill in Galilee and saw the Lord being taken up into heaven. But first he gave them a mandate and a promise. The mandate was to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. The promise was that they would not do this alone: Know that I am with you always, until the end of the age. The angels in today's gospel are saying this to us, "Men of Galilee, men of the New Israel, men of the Church why are you looking up? Women of Galilee, women of the New Israel, women of the Church, don't look at the sky. And, all of you, stop contemplating your navels. No, get to work. Others need to know about the heights and depths of God's working in our lives.” And so we are told to tell the world that Jesus lives. "Know that I am with you always.” The Solemnity of the Ascension is a call for us to tell the world that Jesus is still with us. How do we do this? Simply by utilizing the gifts the Lord has given us. Do you make friends easily? Then, befriend those who are alone in the world. Perhaps that loner in school, that elderly man in his apartment, that cousin no one talks to, perhaps they and many others need to know that they are not alone. Your friendship can help them understand their value before the Lord. Do you multitask well?

Are you one of those people who can do three things at once, while texting in the background. Then use your talent to do things for others. How can you say you are too busy? You have the ability to be busy doing the Lord's work while you are still doing your normal projects. Some people can't even go from one thing to another. But you can. Fill your day in giving witness to Jesus. Be loving and caring. Tell the world that Jesus lives. Do you have a particular expertise that can help others? Are you a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse, a paramedic, or one of the many other service professionals? Well, stop seeing people as paying customers and start seeing them as people sent to you so you can use your expertise to help them find God. Perhaps a teacher can tutor a sick child, or the member of a medical profession can volunteer in a clinic, or a lawyer can give advise to the impoverished, all making it very clear that they are treasured by God. That's how you can tell them that Jesus lives. Are you really good with your hands? Does carpentry come easy to you? Well, you have skill. Have you ever considered volunteering for an organization like Habitat for humanity?

How about fixing things? Are you good at that? Do you have any idea how much you are needed by elderly widows trying their best to stay in the homes and not knowing what to do when something breaks. Check in on them. Fix it for free and let them know that Jesus lives. Do you like traveling? Does the thought of going off to exotic lands excite you? Then consider volunteering to help the poor in Haiti, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa or Asia, or, perhaps, traveling here to the poor in Appalachia. Let others know that you are happy to undertake a long journey to them if it helps them take a step closer to God. That's how you can tell the world that Jesus lives. Does your heart go out for the poor? This is a gift. Have you ever thought of volunteering at a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter like Pinellas Hope? Let these people know that you are with them because Jesus Christ cares for them. Perhaps you are convinced that you need to do something that is not all that comfortable for you. Maybe you feel that you are called to jail or prison ministry even though jails and prisons frighten you. But, you think, there are people there who have the time to look closely at their lives and conform their lives not just to society, but to God. Or maybe you have considered spending time with people in the last days of their lives. But the thought of being with a dying person upsets you. Still, you know you can do it, and you have to do it. Remember, the Lord came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He often calls us out of our comfort zone. So, go out and do it! Tell the world that Jesus lives. People are led to the Lord by other people, people who give witness to the living presence of Jesus Christ by their actions. People are led to the Lord by people like us who stop gazing up into the sky and go out to proclaim to the world that Jesus lives.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Ascension of the Lord, Classic
Mark 16: 15-20

Gospel Summary
In the last chapter of Mark’s gospel, we hear the Risen Lord issuing to us a solemn challenge: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." This is not so much a call for proselytizing as it is a reminder that we should want to share the wonderful gift of faith with which we have been endowed. If we realize how important this wisdom of Jesus is for ourselves, we will never tire of offering it to others. The mysterious signs that will accompany those who believe are surely to be interpreted symbolically. The ability to cast out demons, or to speak in new languages, or to be immune to poison, or to heal the sick represent the spiritual effects of a living and dynamic faith. The positive and hopeful witness of the believer will overcome the negative and destructive influence of those forces that represent the dark and chaotic powers that constantly attempt to destroy the harmony and goodness of God’s creation..

Life Implications
When we recognize this symbolic interpretation of the effects of living faith in our lives, we discover that vibrant faith has the power to enable us to make the spiritual journey through life successfully. In biblical times, dangerous serpents often lay along the path of those traveling on foot. Drinking from unfamiliar wells could also lead to a fatal illness, such as a new strain of typhoid to which one had not become immune. On the spiritual journey of faith, these would represent the two most dangerous challenges to face us, namely, cynicism and despair. Our journey to God is especially threatened by a negative and destructive spirit, which contradicts the wisdom of unselfish love and makes fun of those who would live by such wisdom. The reference to healing hands in the present text refers to the comforting and healing presence of believers who offer the ill a witness of hope that transcends all our fears of sickness and mortality. Sometimes the laying on of hands can bring recovery, but this passage refers more likely to a spiritual presence that gives ultimate encouragement to those who are fearful about the uncertainty that their illness brings to their lives. When we offer to the ill a sense of God’s presence and love, we also give them an assurance that no threat in this life can withstand the power of God’s goodness. The ability to deal successfully with all these problems in our fragile lives comes, therefore, from the power of a loving God who can never forget or abandon us. We are told that Jesus was "taken up into heaven," but we also hear that "the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word (of the gospel) through accompanying signs." The clear implication is that the Risen Lord, now seated at the right hand of God, is prepared to help us now more than he ever did in the days of his earthly existence. For this reason we should sing constantly, even if it is at times "in the rain."
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

The Ascension of the Lord, Modern
Lectionary 58, Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20

Why did our Lord depart from us and ascend to the Father? This is a question which I have been asked several times and which Christians from the earliest days of the Church have asked. The question makes sense: after all, if Christ truly loves his people and desires salvation for them, would he not remain with us following his resurrection in order to accompany us? As St. Paul tells us "We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Rom 6:9). Does it not seem natural that believers of all eras would say to him, if they could, what the disciples on the road to Emmaus said the very day of Jesus' resurrection—"Stay with us, Lord!” (Luke 24:29). Given all of that it is important to understand why the Lord departed from us and returned to the Father. He did so first so that his human existence which began with the incarnation might be brought to completion. When a person dies they are no longer physically present to us, though they may be present in spirit. It is true that when Jesus died he did in fact return to his earthly disciples briefly after the resurrection—a unique event in human history—to show himself as risen and to teach them further. But he then departed since it is not the course of human nature to continue on this earth after death; that is the existence of a ghost rather than a human being. His ascension also has a "divine dimension”: returning to the Father was the natural state for the Son who in his human nature is known as Jesus, and so after his earthly life was complete and he had reassured the disciples that he was truly risen it is to be expected by his faithful that the Son should depart: "If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father” (John 14:28).

Going further we can say that Jesus ascended to the Father so that through faith we might freely choose to follow him and thereby come to the fullness of our own human dignity and come to salvation. Saint John addresses this in recording the words of the Lord when he spoke to Thomas: "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). Saint Paul agrees, writing to the Corinthians: "We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:6-7). Using the God given gifts of our intellect and will we can make this free choice, freely doing the will of the Father like Christ, freely becoming more like Christ who perfectly obeys the will of the Father, and freely being transformed into the image and likeness of God in which we were originally made (Gen 1:26-27). Doing so we fulfill the will of our heavenly Father just as Jesus himself fulfilled God's will through the mystery of his incarnation, death, and resurrection. The Ascension of Christ thus brings before us the glorious mystery of Christ's victory over sin and death and his exultation at the right hand of the Father. At the same time it invites us to use the beautiful gift of freedom, itself a reflection of God's nature, to choose to draw ever nearer to the One in whose image we were made and to whose image we are destined to return. Today let us rejoice in the knowledge that Christ is risen and ascended to the Father–the Father to whom we too will return when our human nature is united to his divinity. Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension marks the completion of Christ's work of salvation. Having accomplished his mission on earth Jesus returns to his rightful place at the side of the Father. Even though he no longer lives with us the work of God continues in the world with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles which we celebrate in a week's time. You might think that there is something a bit peculiar about the Ascension, something a bit strange about the image of Christ rising vertically to the heavens. The words used in the Acts of the Apostles are that ‘he was lifted up while they looked on until a cloud took him from their sight.' Even though during his life on earth we know that Jesus could perform miracles and seemingly, after the resurrection, could even appear and disappear at will, the idea of him rising vertically up into the sky is hard to credit. I was once amused at hearing a friend of my father describe the Ascension as, ‘The Feast of the Vertical Take-Off.' I've actually seen rustic sculptures in Bavaria amusingly showing a pair of feet poking out of a cloud in an effort to depict the Ascension.

However it is portrayed, the Ascension of Jesus is a historical fact. Whether Jesus actually made a sort of vertical take-off or whether he disappeared in some other way, he had to return to his rightful place with the Father in heaven. Once his work was accomplished and this included a few post-resurrection appearances, so that there was no mistake that he had actually risen, and some last-minute farewell words, Jesus had to return to the Father. He wasn't going to die again and so there had to be a mechanism which would permit him to return to heaven; and rising through the clouds is as good a way as any. The important thing for us is that Jesus has accomplished the work of salvation and it is now our role to get on with making that salvation a reality for everyone in the world. If we think of the Nativity as marking the beginning of Jesus' work then the Ascension marks its completion and according to me these two feasts ought to be celebrated with an equal amount of joy and feasting. Sadly, in the liturgy, the Feast of the Ascension ends up being treated as a minor event. Some years ago, when it was a Holyday of Obligation, the Ascension was generally one of the worst attended of them all. Today in England and Wales the feast has been transferred to the nearest Sunday so at least it is marked by more people who listen to the account of the Ascension in the scripture readings and have its meaning and purpose explained to them by the priest.

 Nevertheless, the Ascension doesn't seem to be regarded with the same importance as Pentecost or Corpus Christi which generally occur around the same time. In our liturgy today we try to celebrate the Ascension with a certain solemnity and we sing appropriate hymns which draw our attention to the importance of the feast. It is vital to realise that this was a bodily return to heaven. Jesus is not like us who leave a cadaver behind while our souls fly up to God. The significance of the feast is that Jesus returns to the Father with his body intact. We should note that this body is his risen body and although it bears the marks of the Crucifixion in his hands, feet and side it is not exactly the same as our bodies since we know that in this body Jesus was able to appear and disappear at will. The important point here is that Jesus retains his humanity. As we know Jesus is both fully human and fully divine and the biblical account of the Ascension affirms that Jesus holds on to his humanity, it is not something that he adopts at his birth and leaves off at his death. The fact that Jesus returns to the Father with his humanity intact tells us that our own humanity is fit for the Kingdom of God. We realise that heaven is our true destiny and that on that final day of days we too will be reunited with our bodies. At that point, we speak of them as glorified bodies because we will be then living in a new and non-physical spiritual realm, nevertheless we understand that they will be recognisably human, identifiably ourselves.

The disciples were told by the angels who appeared immediately after the Ascension, ‘This same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.' By this we understand that on the Last Day Jesus will return and sit in judgement as a recognisable human person. We will all gather before him on that great day of days in order to face the final and general judgement. What this means is that the Ascension is the ultimate affirmation of the importance of our bodily existence. Christ adopts our human form, he lives with us, he dies and rises from the dead and with this body he returns to the Father. Jesus remains both human and divine ever afterwards. We in our turn, are on the Last Day reunited with our bodies in a glorified form and are enabled to live with God forever in heaven. So, you can see that this lovely Feast of the Ascension is celebrating some important things. What it means has great significance for each one of us.

The events of the first Ascension Day mean that our humanity is fully recognised and sanctified by God. Despite all that has happened, despite the fall of man, regardless of all the sinfulness, we are now redeemed and the way to eternal life is opened up for us. And this eternal life is not just for a spiritual part of ourselves but it is for the whole of us, for our bodies and for our souls. It is also instructive to look at the actions of the disciples as Jesus was withdrawn from them. It says in the text that they were still staring into the sky when the angels came to give them an explanation. I have often heard it said that this is how we should live our lives in the post-Ascension world, with our eyes fixed on heaven. Well, maybe not both our eyes on heaven, as we need one eye to see the things on earth, the things that are in front of us. What we need perhaps is one metaphorical eye still gazing up at heaven while we live out our lives here in this world. We need to keep one eye on our final destination to make sure that we do not lose sight of it. We ought always to make sure that we keep an eye on our final goal. Where Jesus has gone we will surely follow and it is vital for us to keep the desire to attain that goal, to be with him for all eternity, as well as throughout the entirety of our lives here on earth.

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