Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension
Traditionally, the Feast of the Ascension takes place forty days after Easter. But, out of convenience for the faithful, the Bishops of the United States (except in a few locations) have moved the feast to the following Sunday, which is why we celebrate it this weekend.
The Ascension is the final moment in the earthly life of Jesus, the moment in which His victory over sin and death is preserved in Heaven for ever. He ascends and returns to the house of the Father as the living sacrifice who will continue to be the bridge between God and humanity until the end of time. He returns to that Heavenly realm, taking His place at the Father’s right hand. As we hear in the Responsorial Psalm, it is the moment when the Risen Lord mounts His throne, solidifying forever His Kingship over Heaven and Earth, fulfilling all of the prophecies foretold about the Messiah. It is when the Father crowned Jesus with the glory that was owed to Him because of what His Passion, Death, and Resurrection accomplished for all humanity.
It is one of the most important moments in the life of the Church and in the life of every Christian disciple. Because of that, we have to pay attention to the words that Jesus speaks as He is taken up into Heaven. What does He say to His apostles?
First, He sums up the entire message of salvation. In the Gospel, before Jesus even takes the apostles out to Bethany, He reminds them of why He stepped down from Heaven in the first place. He basically recaps His entire life, sharing with His closest friends that it was His mission to preach salvation, to remind humanity that God the Father wanted to be in relationship with them, that He wanted to spend Eternity with them. His purpose was to make that promise a reality by His suffering, death, and resurrection. It is only because of Christ’s preaching and Passion that it is possible for us to experience salvation from sin; because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can discover and enjoy the peace of soul that we yearn for. We are given the greatest gift – victory over death.
But more importantly than just summing up the reason for His coming, Jesus’ words accomplish something else. In this final moment with His apostles, He gives His followers a responsibility, He gives them their mission. He calls on them to be witness of these incredible things that have taken place, He tells them to share the exact same message of salvation with the whole world. But Jesus also says that they will not be able to carry out this mission by themselves. They will need the Holy Spirit. And so, He promises that He will send the Spirit upon them, even telling them to not leave Jerusalem until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit. Only after that are they then to go to “all the nations” as Christ’s witnesses. And that is the exact same mission that we receive.
“In the Ascension of our Lord, we come face to face with the core of the entire Gospel: Christ’s saving message being transmitted to all people through the witness of the Church.” It sums up Christian discipleship. It gives us our mission and our purpose. In a different account of the Ascension from the Gospel of Matthew, that mission is given to us in the very final words that Jesus speaks: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 16: 19-20).
Giving witness to Christ, telling others about His message, sharing with them how the Lord has personally changed our lives: this is our primary mission on earth. Before He ascended, Jesus didn’t say, “Go have a good time; go do whatever you want, go ‘find yourselves’.” No! He said, “Go be my witnesses to all the nations.” That is the mission we have been entrusted with. That is what we are supposed to do. But the beauty of the life of Christian discipleship is that God calls each one of us to accomplish that mission in different ways. This is where specific vocations come in.
God calls some of us to witness to His life, death, and resurrection as priests or deacons. He calls some to consecrate their lives as religious brothers or sisters, dedicating their lives to service of the Church in those roles. Others he calls to be full-time missionaries, going out to the various corners of the earth to actively tell others about Jesus and what He did for us. Still others are called to transform the culture of the world from within, sharing Christ in their actions in the workplace, leading their families to Jesus, or bringing others to an encounter with Christ in the volunteer work they do. Every single one of us has been called by God to bear witness to Christ in the sincerity, faithfulness, and loving kindness with which we live out our normal responsibilities and relationships.
He calls us to go to different places and different people to share about all the good things the Lord has done. We’re not called to stay in one place or to share to the same people over and over. Our mission is to go out. Had the disciples not left Jerusalem after receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, would the rest of the world have gotten to know about Jesus? Absolutely not.
And that brings me to my next point. Sometimes, as a priest, embracing this vocation of going out to others to proclaim the Gospel means that there are times that I will be asked to go various places, experiencing life at different parishes and leading other people to an encounter with Jesus. I’m not called to stay in one place forever.
On May 16th, I received a phone call from Bishop Noonan. In God’s perfect timing, I had just sat down for my monthly meeting with my spiritual director. Bishop was calling to inform me that he was making some changes to priest assignments in the Diocese and needed me to go to a new parish. Effective July 1st, I will be reassigned as Parochial Vicar of Holy Family Catholic Church in Orlando. Of course, this is something that I was hoping I wouldn’t have to hear for at least another year, but in God’s providence, I know that this is the place where He needs me to go. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to say farewell to each other over the next few weeks…and I’m glad about that because leaving this place and leaving all of you is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I remember something my spiritual director in seminary once told me: as a priest, my life is not my own and I have to go where the Holy Spirit is calling me. And as much as I would love to stay at Holy Name forever, I know that the Lord is now calling me to go to another parish to share the Gospel.
That is my mission. That is my purpose. That is my vocation. But it’s something that all of us are called to do embrace as well.
This week, as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost, let’s ask the Holy Spirit for a special outpouring of grace into our hearts that we might heed the Lord’s invitation to go out and share with others about all that Jesus has done for us. The world needs to see our joy. It needs to see our love for God and for neighbor. It needs to hear the message of salvation. Will we be the ones to take that message out to others or will we sit back and wait for someone else to take it to the world? I pray that each of us will respond to that invitation with an attitude of positivity and courage, not being afraid to go to all the corners of Melbourne, of Indialantic, of Satellite Beach, of Indian Harbour Beach, and (for me soon) of Orlando and proclaiming the Gospel to all creatures.
Painting: Ascension, John Singleton Copley (1775). Used under Public Domain, Wikicommons.