Homily for May 28, 2017 The Ascension of the Lord - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Ever try standing in the street or a public place and just stare up into the sky or at the ceiling while people walked by? Maybe shade your eyes with your hands? Sooner or later you’ll get others to stop and look up, trying to see what it is that you find so interesting. That’s when as kids we’d laugh and say, “Ha, ha – made you look.”
I bet that even now, if I just stopped and stared hard at the ceiling and said nothing, some of you would get the irresistible urge to look. In fact, I mentioned this during Mass a couple of years ago and shortly after Mass I received a photo from a family showing their three kids staring at the ceiling in a restaurant. They were surprised at the number of people who would stop and stare with the kids. The kids thought it hilarious.
Why do we do that? We can’t help it - we are curious creatures. We are just dying to see what others see – we don’t want to be left out. In fact, we can get so caught up in trying to see something that we miss what else is going on around us.
That’s the image I get of the Ascension from our first reading from Acts – all of the disciples are standing around, staring at the sky, and they don’t even notice when two men dressed in white come up to them. “Uh, whatcha staring at? There’s nothing there anymore.”
But have you noticed that although we as Church celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, the Gospels themselves say very little about the event itself. Take today’s Gospel from Matthew. It doesn’t say that Jesus ascended; it only says that the disciples go to the mountain to which Jesus ordered them to go, and he gives them their marching orders to continue his work.
St. Mark mentions the Ascension almost as an afterthought: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.”
St. John’s Gospel doesn’t even include the Ascension directly, although he refers to it in depth: first in his Bread of Life discourse, when he tells his disciples that, if they have trouble accepting that one has to eat of the flesh of the Son of Man for eternal life, then “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”. And later, during his Last Supper Discourse, he talks about having to leave them in order to send the Advocate to be with them: “it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you”, which sets the stage for Pentecost next week.
And although we get the most detail about the Ascension from St. Luke’s description in the Acts of the Apostles, his Gospel account makes it sound as if Jesus ascended shortly after his Resurrection.
So why don’t we hear more about the Ascension in the Gospels? Because the Early Church didn’t need it – they already knew it. It was part of the fundamental teaching to those being introduced to Jesus and it was never a question in their minds. We see that in St. Paul’s letters, like the one from Ephesians that we just heard: “[I]n accord with the exercise of [God’s] great might, which He worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens” It was then, and still is, integral to our profession of faith in the Apostles’ Creed: “He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. It has always been core to our beliefs.
But the Ascension is more than just an event where Jesus sails away from us into the clouds. The Ascension is a turning point for our lives today, just as it was for Jesus’ disciples 2000 years ago. It was the signal to prepare for action. For three years prior to His death and Resurrection, Jesus did the heavy lifting of proclaiming the Good News; with the Ascension it became time for his disciples to take over. In today’s readings we just heard St. Mark say that the disciples went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them; St. Paul talked about the different roles that were assigned to the disciples by the Lord; and St. Luke told them that they would be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Marching orders for His disciples.
That’s US. WE’RE His disciples today. It is up to us, as the master composer Puccini said to his students as he was dying, to “complete the opera” that he was working on. We must pick up where Jesus left off, for it is in us and through us that Jesus continues to live.
Now, next week we will celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit. We each have received the Holy Spirit through our baptisms and in Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit continues to work through us. We will be reminded of that next week, as will all those who, in the various parishes around the world, receive the sacrament of Confirmation. We have received our marching orders, now we must act.
One final thought. When Jesus “left” the disciples the first time at his crucifixion, they were left afraid and sad, uncertain about their future. But when Jesus “left” the second time through his Ascension, they were no longer afraid or sad, but joyous and celebratory, even though they had not received the Holy Spirit at that point and, as we hear today, still had their doubts, just like many of us.
The difference? With the Resurrection, they saw that they did not need to fear death, they knew the love of Jesus and it was through that love that their joy was complete. At Pentecost, they were ready for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit then gave them the tools, the skills – the graces – they needed to proclaim the Gospel.
So between now and next Sunday, I encourage you to pray to the Holy Spirit for the gifts and graces that the Spirit, dwelling in you, has already given to you, and for the strength to allow the Spirit to work through you, drawing others to God.
And remember: The secret of evangelization isn’t to tell others that they need to change; it is in living a life that gets them to “look up”.
(based on a homily published May 2015)