The Solemnity of the Ascension
One day in school, a teacher asked his students, “can you think of a way to end unemployment?”
And one student in the back of the class raised his hand and said,” Yes Sir, I can!”
The teacher asked, “What would be your solution?”
“Well,” responded the student, “I’d put all the men on one island and all the women on another.” “And how would that solve the problem of unemployment?”
The boy replied, “they’d all be building boats.”
The Solemnity of the Ascension, which we celebrate today, is kind of like that. God wants us, who are still alive on earth, to connect, in a very real way, to the kingdom of heaven. You see, the Ascension is more than just the rising of Jesus on the clouds to the Father’s right-hand. Quite the contrary, the church teaches that the Ascension didn’t start when Jesus went up on the clouds, but rather, when Jesus was lifted up on the cross. It’s that first lifting up which, in a very real sense, announces his definitive lifting up – his ascension – into heaven.
Before his resurrection, Jesus’ glory remained partly hidden, under his ordinary human appearance. But, at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, his divine glory was exposed, but only reached its fullest expression at the Ascension, when Jesus, in his human body, boldly entered into divine glory.
The Ascension of the Lord reminds me of an ordination to the priesthood of a confrere of mine in Italy. When the mass had concluded, the new priest released balloons filled with helium into the air and each of those balloons had a scrolled message attached to the knot, explaining the reason why the balloons were released and requesting that the finder of the balloon send a reply back to the new priest.
Surprisingly, many responses were received, some from as far away as 20 miles from the church. The returned messages were words of gratitude and blessing and encouragement for the new priest’s life of service to the Lord, begun in baptism and now, further enfleshed by his reception of the presbyteral order.
Jesus did the same sort of thing for his disciples! At his ascension, he promised to return someday to announce the definitive triumph of God’s love over all sin and death. In the meantime, Jesus didn’t want his disciples to keep that message to themselves, but to spread it worldwide!
As we celebrate the Ascension event today, we too, are given the task of living out our baptismal consecration to the full! Indeed, in our second reading from the letter to the Ephesians, we heard, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Baptism is the means whereby we were lifted out of original sin and given a share in the mission of Christ. Our baptism opened up our hearts to embrace God’s call in our lives and to actively live out the faith that was nourished in us by our parents, godparents, and the believing community over the years. It has lifted us up to boldly act to bring God greater honor and glory every time we make this world. a little more like the Kingdom of God!
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles proclaims that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us such boldness to be God’s servants. Jesus says, “You shall be clothed with power from on high, when the Holy Spirit comes to you and you shall be my witnesses throughout the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Yes, the Spirit-from-on-High that we’ve received in baptism isn’t a spirit of cowardice or shyness. It isn’t a Spirit of sadness and lament. It isn’t a Spirit of living a quiet life apart from the problems of the world. It isn’t a Spirit of compromise with worldly values or of an acceptance of evil running unchecked.
No, the Spirit-from-on-high brings power and authority to act in the name of Christ!
The Spirit-from-on-High brings courage and confidence in the Gospel and a willingness to make sacrifices for God’s honor and glory! The Spirit-from-on-High brings joy and constant rejoicing in the hearts of God’s faithful! The Spirit-from-on-High connects all who believe into one body in Christ and empowers each one to act, using the gifts and talents they’ve been given, to bring greater glory to God on earth!
There are many ways we do this as individuals, but the church urges us, in a special way, on the Solemnity of the Ascension, to consider especially how we can utilize the media of social communications to advance the impending reign of God. We’re being challenged to ask: what can we do, as witnesses of the exalted one — to promote, influence, and witness to gospel values in the music, movies, TV programming, and in the social media platforms we use, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and Twitter. The church invites us to consider too, how can we use the latest technologies of social media to further share the joy of Christ, the compassion of Christ, the mercy of Christ, the super abundant love of Christ with persons who have not yet had a personal encounter with our risen and ascended Lord. Our zoomed meetings and ministries and our live-streamed masses, both on our website and on Facebook-Live, have gone a long way to make that happen during this time of pandemic. But we can’t stop there! We’ve much more to do, and many more people with whom to connect!
If we truly believe that, with the Ascension, the glory of the Lord has been fully revealed, then we’re necessarily being called to reflect that glory, as best as we can, to those who have yet come to know the saving message of the gospel and, concomitantly, to rid our world of anything which obscures God’s glory, for others to see. Jesus is at God’s right hand, ever ready to help us in this task, with the power and authority over evil the Father has bestowed upon him. So we have nothing to fear from thoughts that we’re too weak or powerless to overcome the human obstacles others place before us.
Jesus bestows upon us the sheer grace that comes from knowing that God is on our side, despite our weaknesses and insecurities at times, despite our feelings of unworthiness or sinfulness. We’re being invited to let the last forty days, spent in celebration of the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, over two thousand years ago, have a real, lasting impact in the world we live in TODAY by finding ways to communicate that God-given Gospel message to persons, who have never fully heard or accepted the grace that having a lasting relationship with Christ can be, in their lives. In other words, God has given us the challenge of making our Christian faith relevant in our secular world that, often times, is proud of its disdain for things, holy and sacred.
So long as we live, we can’t shirk our God-given baptismal call to invite others to embrace the redemptive value of Christ’s death and lifting-up on the cross. We especially must give our time and turn our attention toward those who feel unloved, unaccepted, unwelcome, and condemned to live in despair, isolation, loneliness, and unacceptance. — Much like the early disciples must have felt when they thought that there was no resurrection, that there was no new life, that their hopes had been dashed by the nails in the flesh of their hoped-for Messiah.
—That is, until, Jesus returned in his full glory and showed his disciples that their hopes and prayers were not in vain, that their desire for a better life and world was not impossible, that their dream of a place freed from corruption, division, sin and death was not an illusion, and that all persons were included in God’s vision of a world of justice, peace, love and joy! My brothers and sisters, we have to keep that hope and vision alive, today more than ever! We have to live, each day, in the Resurrection and the glory of the Ascension! We have to be persons who truly feel clothed with power from on high, as we, both individually and as a church, without compromise, hesitancy, or fear, proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come!
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