Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ascension Day

Ascension Homily
16 May 2010
Cor Jesu Oratory

The Gospel for today’s Holy Mass begins, “Jesus showed Himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table.” This refers in a significant way to the Eucharistic Mystery, the place and time that Jesus revealed Himself during the forty days after His Resurrection to the disciples, who at Pentecost would become Apostles, in other words, those sent out on mission. And what was this mission? To preach, teach, sanctify and lead the Church. Within the context of the Eucharist, the Lord makes known to them, and today, to us, through the apostolic succession, within the Sacred Liturgy, the truths and mystery He came to bequeath both to them and to us: the saving power of God.

The Ascension of the Lord into heaven is the culmination of His Sacred Passion, Death and Resurrection. In the Roman Canon, directly after the Consecration, these mysteries are mentioned together:

“For this reason, O Lord, we your servants and likewise your holy people remember the blessed suffering of the same Christ, your Son, our Lord. We remember his rising from the abode of the dead and his going up to the glory of heaven. Mindful of all this from among the gifts you gave us we offer to your radiant majesty a victim, pure, holy spotless the sacred bread of life eternal the cup which gives salvation forever.”

The earthly presence of the God-Man Jesus Christ is changed, not ended. His Sacred Humanity ascends to sit at the right hand of the Father. But His mystical and sacramental Presence remains. The symbolism of the Paschal Candle being extinguished after the Gospel is to signify the transition from the Risen Lord's earthly presence before the Ascension to the Eucharistic Presence indicated by our sanctuary lamp, which is always burning whenever the Sacred Species is present in the tabernacle. He leaves, only to remain. The Temple of the Body of Jesus in His earthly reality replaces the Temple of Jerusalem. There was only one temple in the religion of Israel. With this transformation, there is a Temple wherever the Blessed Sacrament is reserved or where the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated. The universal commission, “Go, teach all nations” becomes reality in the countless oratories, chapels, churches, and cathedrals throughout the world. This is the establishment of the dominion of Christ the King, the Lord of All. He reigns on this earth wherever He is present Sacramentally; wherever His grace is dispensed and received with faith; wherever two or three live in charity.

The angel says to the Eleven in the words of our Introit: “Men of Galilee, at what are you amazed, while you look up to heaven?...Just as you saw him going into heaven, so will he come back…” I believe we can see this in two ways: it promises the return of the Lord in His Second Coming when all of human history will be at an end and He will carry out the General Judgment. But it can also indicate that Jesus “returns” with the coming of the Paraclete in the Pentecost event, which makes Apostles out of the disciples, establishes the beginning of the Church and the celebration of the “breaking of the bread”, or the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is mentioned early on in the Acts of the Apostles. The amazement of the disciples experiencing the Ascension of the Lord must become the “Eucharistic amazement” of which Pope John Paul II made great emphasis in his encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, “Ecclesia in Eucharistia”, the Church is born of the Eucharist. This is the great Ascension mystery which is fully revealed in Pentecost. The nine days of waiting between the two events is the “great Novena”, the “original Novena” of prayer. This preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which we will celebrate next Sunday is a time for us to intensify our prayer that we may become His witnesses in a greater and more profound way.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent pilgrimage to Portugal, reminded us of the essential task we have as believers.

We know that she also has quarrelsome and even rebellious sons and daughters, but it is in the saints that the Church recognizes her most characteristic features, it is in them that she tastes her deepest joy. They all share the desire to incarnate the Gospel in their own lives, under the inspiration of the eternal animator of God’s People – the Holy Spirit. Focussing her attention upon her own saints, this local Church has rightly concluded that today’s pastoral priority is to make each Christian man and woman a radiant presence of the Gospel perspective in the midst of the world, in the family, in culture, in the economy, in politics. Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic. Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavour?
In order for this not to happen, it is necessary to proclaim anew with vigour and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and mainstay of our faith, the firm lever of our certainties, the strong wind that sweeps away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation. The resurrection of Christ assures us that no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church. Therefore our faith is well-founded, but this faith needs to come alive in each one of us. A vast effort at every level is required if every Christian is to be transformed into a witness capable of rendering account to all and at all times of the hope that inspires him (cf. 1 Pet 3:15): only Christ can fully satisfy the profound longings of every human heart and give answers to its most pressing questions concerning suffering, injustice and evil, concerning death and the life hereafter
…Christ is always with us and always walks with his Church, accompanies her and guards her, as he has told us: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). Never doubt his presence! Always seek the Lord Jesus, grow in friendship with him, receive him in communion. Learn to listen to his word and also to recognize him in the poor. Live your lives with joy and enthusiasm, sure of his presence and of his unconditional, generous friendship, faithful even to death on the cross. Bear witness to all of the joy that his strong yet gentle presence evokes, starting with your contemporaries. Tell them that it is beautiful to be a friend of Jesus and that it is well worth following him. With your enthusiasm, demonstrate that, among all the different ways of life that the world today seems to offer us – apparently all on the same level – the only way in which we find the true meaning of life and hence true and lasting joy, is by following Jesus.

Our Holy Father is emphasizing here that it is the growth in the interior life, of a life centered upon Jesus and His Way in His Church, that makes saints and is victorious over sin and evil. Even the “darkness” of these times cannot extinguish the Light of Christ if we trust in Him. We must not conform ourselves to the spirit of the world, but be transformed in Him. Our lives do make a difference in these times; our small contribution is essential for the mission of the Lord and of His Church, even if it is hidden and isolated. The early Church is our example of fidelity in the midst of persecution; joy in the midst of trial; courage and constancy in the midst of a society that has lost its moral bearings. The joy of Easter does not end at the final day of the Octave nor of the end of Paschaltide. It begins in earnest on Pentecost Sunday when what we have celebrated and learned becomes a stronger foundation for faith, hope and charity.

With our Lady, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Church let us await the new out-pouring of the Spirit that the Lord is preparing. With Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer and the Universal Protector of the Church, let us avail ourselves to a greater love of Jesus and of His Church. The wondrous Mystery that is enacted before our very eyes at this Altar is the Presence of the One Who died, but lives. May He be praised for ever. Amen.

Image: 16th C. Russian icon;

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