Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, June 7, 2015

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi

June 7, 2015

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Imagine that you’re sitting at dinner with your best friends.

Suddenly one stands up takes a piece of food and says: “This is my body, eat it.”

I don’t care how good a friend he is,

all of us would think he was either kidding or crazy.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened one night to the 12 apostles,

as they sat at supper with their dear friend Jesus.

He took a piece of bread and a cup of wine and said

“Take and eat this, this is my body…take and drink this, this is my blood…”

But instead of thinking he had gone mad, and trying to get him under control,

they quietly took the bread and the cup and ate and drank.


Did  the apostles understand what Jesus  was doing?

They may not have known exactly what he meant,

but they knew that this was the same man

who had fed the thousands of people with a few loaves of bread

—on 2 different occasions;

who had walked across the water and calmed the storm at sea;

who had raised 3 people, including their friend Lazarus from the dead;

who was transfigured standing with Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor;

and who had said “I have come… to bear witness to the truth.”


They might not have known exactly what Jesus meant,

but they remembered all he had done,

that they had come to believe in him.

And so they took it and ate and drank.


This was a night of remembering: it was the night of the Passover.

The apostles remembered how God had saved Israel from slavery

on that 1st Passover

by the blood of the sacrificed lamb  that they sprinkled on their doors.

They remembered how at the base of Mt. Sinai

God and his people entered a covenant

sealed by a sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling

of the blood of the sacrifice on the people,

as Moses said: “This is the blood of the covenant.”

They remembered all this as they heard  the  Son of God say to them:

“This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant.”


They also remembered how during that Exodus out of Egypt

God gave his people bread from heaven –manna.

And they remembered that just a few months before Jesus had said:

I am the living bread come down from heaven….

The bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world. ”

They remembered how so many of his disciples had left him that day, saying:

“This is a hard saying who can listen to it.”

And they remembered that in response Jesus didn’t chase after them saying,

“no, no, you misunderstood me: I was just speaking symbolically…..”

But instead he simply turned to the apostles and asked them:

“will you also leave me?”

And they remembered the sublime words of faith of St. Peter, in response:

“Lord,…You have the words of eternal life;

we have come to know and to believe,

that you are the Holy One of God.”

They remembered all this as they heard  the  Messiah say: “This is my body.”


They heard him, they may not have completely understood,

but they believed because he said it.

And they ate and drank as he commanded.


And beginning with the fundamental faith in the words

“this is my body…this is my blood”

and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit,

remembering the words and actions of the Old Covenant,

and all Jesus had said and done

during his life, death and resurrection,

especially his great love for us,

a love so great he reminded them at the last supper:

“no greater love has a man than this,

to lay down his life for his friends”,

a love so great he promised as he ascended to heaven:

“behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.”

…remembering all this they very quickly began to understand

the profound meaning of the Eucharist.

The belief that the under appearance of bread and wine

the sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us

in the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ

truly, substantially and really present to us,

even until the end of time.


How deeply do we believe our Lord’s words, “this is my body”?

Well, think, how do you prepare before Mass?

For example, a little thing: how do you dress for Mass?

If you were going to the White House to meet the President,

I guarantee you that you wouldn’t come in shorts and a tee shirt.

Now, nobody look around—

there are lots of good reasons someone

might be dressing down a bit at Mass.

But how many times do we not have a good reason?


Or when you’re at Mass, how do you prepare before Communion?

Do you examine your conscience to see if you’ve committed a mortal sin that

the Church teaches you must confess before you receive Communion?

Are you living a life style, or publicly promoting teachings

that are gravely contrary to the teachings of the Church?

How can you receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion,

when you’re not in Communion with the Body-of-Christ-the-Church,

or the Pope?


And how do you come up to receive Holy Communion?

Do you do you rush up, looking around,

letting yourself be distracted the whole time,

or do you come up with love for your God, Jesus,

focusing on him and nothing but him,

receiving him with reverence and profound humility,

rejoicing that the all-powerful God

who died on the cross for love of you,

is coming now personally to you.


Another strong self-test of our belief in the real presence

of Christ in the Eucharist

is found in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament

outside of the celebration of Mass

–as his body is reserved in the Tabernacle,

or exposed on the altar for adoration.

Some people tell me that it’s not so important to adore Christ in the Eucharist,

as much as it is to serve Christ in one another.

But while it’s important and true that we should see and serve Christ in others,

you have to admit Christ

is present in a way completely different and unique in the Eucharist.


If Jesus came down from heaven right now, and walked right into this room,

the difference between his real presence in this room

versus his presence in any one of us

would not only be obvious, it would be overwhelming,

and would compel us to fall to our knees.

The reverence due to God himself is always different than

that we  give to any creature–even an angel.

In the book of Revelation St. John tells us

that when he fell down on his knees before the angel,

the angel scolded him:

“You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you….

Worship God.”

Yet over and over again St. John tells us in that same Book

that in heaven everyone falls down on their faces

to worship the Lamb that was slain, Jesus Christ.


I said this a few years ago to another congregation,

and someone came up to me after Mass and said:

“you know if Jesus walked into the room right now

I’d go up and give him a big hug

…and I don’t think he’d be mad at me for that.”

All I could say was: “No, Jesus wouldn’t be mad, but he’d be disappointed.

Because you think you’re better than St. John the Apostle,

and all the saints and angels in heaven

who all fall on their faces to adore him.”

This is what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast,

do not sit down in a place of honor….

But go and sit in the lowest place,

so that when your host comes he may say to you,

‘Friend, go up higher’….

For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,

and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”



Sometimes people tell me that since the Eucharist is food,

that it’s meant to be eaten, not worshipped.

But as St. Augustine  wrote in the 4th century:

No one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . .

and not only do we not sin in thus adoring it,

but we would sin if we did not do so.”



And so the Church strongly recommends that all of us

regularly spend time praying before the Eucharist.


Our parish is blessed to be able to leave our church doors open

for over 14 hours every day

so that anyone who wants to can come and pray before and adore

Christ in the Tabernacle.

And every Wednesday and Friday we expose the Body of Christ on the altar,

from 8:30am until 7:00pm on Wednesday and 3pm on Friday.

And while many people do take advantage of these opportunities,

it amazes and saddens me, that so many, the vast majority of us, don’t.

It reminds me of what a Protestant friend once told me:

“Father, if you Catholics really believed Jesus

is really physically there in the Eucharist,

why aren’t Catholic Churches packed day and night

—why don’t Catholics act like Jesus is there?”

Indeed; why don’t we?



Still many very good Catholics wonder:

“what do I do when I pray before our Lord in the Eucharist.”

Do what you would do if Christ walked into the room right now!

Fall down in adoration as John did in his vision recorded in Revelation.

Fall down on your faces as Peter, James and John did at the Transfiguration,

–worshipping in praise and thanksgiving his magnificent glory.

Fall down at his feet like Mary Magdalene so often did

–in repentance of your sins.

Or, simply sit at his feet quietly as Magdalene did in her home in Bethany

–listening to every word he has to say to you.


Kneel or if you want, sit there,

pray any prayer you want, the rosary or prayers form the heart;

read the Bible or a spiritual book

–all the time in the loving presence of our Lord

–talking to him or listening to him.

And by meditating and praying before the Blessed Sacrament,

you’ll be drawn right back to the sacrificial meal of the Mass

because you’ll develop a deeper, more sincere hunger

to worthily receive in Holy Communion the Lamb who was slain.

Not only to receive him in our mouth,

but in doing that receive him with our hearts.


Today and every day the Church calls us to go before Christ

and humble ourselves by kneeling in front of what looks like

a little piece of Bread.

To some this seems irrational and foolish; but not to us.

Because while difficult to understand,

it is nevertheless eminently reasonable to us.

Because we remember and make our own the words of St. Peter:

“Lord, …You have the words of eternal life…”

So, for us it would be irrational and foolish not to believe,

as we remember and believe in the words of Jesus himself:


Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, May 31, 2015

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, May 31, 2015

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday.

It is wonderful day,

celebrating a magnificent mystery of God and of our Catholic Faith.

But it’s also a day that intimidates a lot of priests.

Because it’s one of the hardest Sundays to preach:

I mean, who can explain the Trinity?

Have you ever tried to?


It’s really next to impossible to adequately explain the Trinity,

to try to explain the very essence of God Himself—his inner most being.

After all who can explain the inner most being of another human being,

much less the inner most being

of the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe?

To say the least, it is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand.


First of all, what does this dogma of the Trinity hold?

We believe there is one God, who is three persons.

They share the same divine nature,

but each is God, whole and entire.

They are really distinct from one another—not simply different modes of being

–you can’t say we call God “Father” when he’s creating the world,

but we call him “the Son” when he’s on the Cross,

and we call him “the Spirit” when he dwells in us.

No: God the Son is a different person than God the Father

who is a different person than God the Holy Spirit

—but they are still one God.

In particular they are seen in relationship to one another:

relating as Father to Son, a son who is eternally begotten from the Father,

and the Spirit of the two that proceeds forth from them both,

some say the personification the love between the Father and Son.

Still, one God, three persons.


So all that’s clear.

No—it’s still difficult to explain and to understand.

And it always has been.

2000 years ago it was hard for the Jews believe.

After all, the central dogma of Old Testament Judaism

is that there is only one God.

As we read in today’s first reading:

“Fix in your heart, that the LORD is God…

and that there is no other.”

But they kept hearing Jesus say things like: “the Father and I are one”

–so they called him a blasphemer and tried to kill him,

and eventually succeeded.


And it was hard for many wannabe Christians in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries,

heretics like the Gnostics: they couldn’t and didn’t believe it.


And it was hard for the rich Arab merchant who searched for the true God

and apparently found Him in Christianity, but rejected Him

because he could not accept the truth

that God is one, but 3 persons.

And so Muhammad made up his own religion, to suit his unbelief.


It is very difficult to understand, and, so, difficult to believe.

And yet we do believe.

But why?


Very simple: because we believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the one sent by God.”

And Jesus taught us the dogma of the Trinity.

For example, on the one hand,

Jesus himself proclaimed the central dogma of Judaism:

“The LORD our God is one.”

And yet, he called God his “Father,” and says:

“the Father and I are one.”

Now, some might say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically,

but as we read in John, chapter 10,

when the Jews accused him of “making himself God”

and tried to stone him,

instead of saying, ‘no no, you misunderstood,’

he said to them:

“I am the Son of God….

know and understand

that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”


And he kept on insisting on this.

Who can forget the last supper,

when he went on and on about his unity with the Father.

Particularly in his rebuke of St. Philip, who asked “show us the father”.

Jesus responds:

“Have I been with you so long,

and still you do not know me…?

He who has seen me has seen the Father;

how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?

Do you not believe that

I am in the Father and the Father in me?”


And not only did Jesus insist that he was one God with his father,

he insisted that the Holy Spirit was one God with them also.

He promised his apostles:

I shall send to you …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”

but also promises:

“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”

Both the Father and the Son send the Spirit.

And why?

Because while Jesus calls him: “the spirit of the father”

St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit not only

“the Spirit of God” but also “the spirit of Jesus Christ”,

All the while insisting “there is one Spirit.”


We believe, because Jesus said it,

and because the apostles taught it

and handed it down from generation to generation,

both in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition.

And so the Church has always accepted it

as not simply an interesting bit of trivia,

but as the first tenet of the Christian Faith:

if you do not believe in the Trinity,

you are NOT a Christian.


This has been so important to the Church

that the earliest summaries of the Christian faith, like the Apostles Creed,

which some say the apostles themselves wrote at the first Pentecost,

are centered around the Trinity.

And at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD,

when all the bishops of the world could all come together

for the first time since the death of the apostles,

the most important thing they did was give us

a more elaborate formulation of the Trinitarian Creed:

the Creed we say at every Sunday Mass—the Nicene Creed:

“I believe in one God, the Father….the Son… the Holy Spirit.”


The Trinity is the First Dogma of Christianity,

because the whole Church comes out of,

revolves around and moves toward this mystery.

Heaven is sharing in the communion of life and love of the Trinity.

The whole incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Christ are Trinitarian:

the Father gives his Son, the Son offers himself to the Father.

The Pentecost is Trinitarian:

the Father and Son send the Spirit so they can dwell in us,

and we can be one with them.


The Sacraments are Trinitarian:

in Baptism we are baptized

“in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,”

and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls,

and where the Holy Spirit is there also are the Father and Son,

and so we begin our sharing in life of the Trinity.

And in the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit

Christ makes us one with him and presents us to His Father.

[We see this reflected in the whole Mass: the Mass itself is Trinitarian:

we begin and end the Mass in the name of

“the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”;

and throughout the Mass, listen carefully to the triple repetitions:

“Holy, Holy, Holy,”

“through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,”

the triple “Agnus Dei,”

“this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim.”

the triple ringing of the bells at the consecration,

the three candles on each side of the altar….]


The Church itself is Trinitarian:

it is one, because the Trinity is one,

and it is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Spirit to praise the Father.

Creation itself is Trinitarian:

God created man in his own image so he could invite us

to live and love in the life and love of the Trinity.


This is what we believe.

Still, all this is difficult to understand.


Does this make us stupid, or naïve or irrational?

No, because it would be stupid, naïve, irrational and the height of arrogance

to think that we could ever really understand everything about God

—especially about his inner most being.


Do you understand how God created the universe?

No; but you believe it, and it is very rational to do so.

Do you understand how God can love each one of us uniquely and totally,

even though you and I are like mere specks of dust in this huge universe?

Do you understand how God could become a man and die on the Cross,

and still be completely God?

Do you understand how God could truly come to us,

body, blood, soul and divinity,

under the appearance of a piece of bread we could eat?

No; you have some inkling of an understanding of these things,

but you don’t understand any of them completely.

But still, you believe them.


Think about it: It would be so much easier for the Church

to proclaim the Gospel without the Trinity

—who would make something so difficult to understand

the central tenet of their religion?

But some things we don’t understand,

we still believe because Jesus has revealed them to us.

These are what we call mysteries of the faith.

And by that we don’t mean just accepting it blindly and without understanding.

But rather, mysteries are truths that are hidden in God,

things too big or magnificent for us to understand,

and which we could never begin to know anything about,

unless they are revealed by God.


As Scripture reminds us:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

…and weighed the mountains in scales? …” like God has.


And if we can’t understand something like creation, or the incarnation,

how can we really hope to ever completely fathom

the dogma of the Trinity.

After all, this dogma is a peek into the very inner most life

of the eternal boundless God.

To believe this dogma is not to be foolish, but to accept a wondrous gift

—to know God in his deepest self,

to know something of the boundless and eternal

intimate love and life that the Three Divine Persons

share so perfectly and completely,

and of an invitation to us to share in that

relationship of divine, eternal and boundless love and life,

imperfectly in this world

and perfectly and forever in the next.


As I said at the beginning of this homily, like many priests,

I am intimidated by the prospect of preaching on this Sunday

because the Trinity is impossible to explain.

And yet, I also love this Sunday,

because if I can even in some small way help others to understand

the wondrous truth of our Triune God,

the intimacy and awesomeness of his eternal life and love,

what a great thing to preach about.


As we continue with this Holy Mass,

let us turn to the Trinitarian mystery of the Eucharist,

the sacrifice of the Son to His Father

made present by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And by these sacred mysteries

may we now be lifted up

into the wondrous and intimate mystery of

the eternal life and boundless love that is the Holy Communion

of the Most Holy Trinity.

Solemnity of Pentecost, May 24, 2015

Solemnity of Pentecost, May 24, 2015

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today, as at every Sunday Mass, right after this homily

we’ll all join together to make our Profession of Faith

by praying the “Creed.”

By saying the Creed we proclaim publicly to the world

the very basic truths we believe about God.

Near the end of the Creed, after we’ve professed our belief

in God the Father and God the Son—Jesus

–we begin our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit.

Most of us have probably said these words hundreds or even thousands of times.

But how many times have we stopped to think about the meaning behind these words?

In particular, what does it mean when we say:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”


Sacred Scripture is full of wonderful and mysterious surprises

–like a treasure chest full of precious jewels and gems.

And one of these gems is found as we consider the small word “Spirit.”

The English word “spirit” is used to translate the original Hebrew word “ruah“,

which primarily means “wind” or “breath”.

And so whenever we see references in Scripture to “wind” or “breath”

we see the subtle connection to the “Spirit”.

And this connection isn’t accidental because it’s the Holy Spirit himself

who is truly the author of every word of Scripture.


This symbolism of breath and wind appears throughout Scripture, sort of a code,

or sign to indicate the activity of the Spirit in the history of Salvation.

For example, in the first reading today we see that on the first Christian Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with a loud gust of wind,

and in the Gospel we hear that Jesus

breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture

is one which often goes unnoticed.

It comes in the second verse of the Bible, in Genesis 1’s story of creation:

“the earth was a formless wasteland…while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”

Soon thereafter, as God creates man,

he forms man from the dust of the earth and then blows

“into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”

So here, right “in the beginning” of Scripture it is revealed to us

that it is the Spirit, the ruah, who is “the Lord, the giver of life.”


In the New Testament the Holy Spirit continues his life-giving work.

The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary

“by the Spirit.”

So, the human life of Jesus Christ himself, is the gift of the Spirit.

But this natural human life which the Spirit gives

is only the beginning of his life-giving work with Jesus.

In a key passage of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that unless a man be born again,

of water and the spirit,  he cannot have eternal life.

In that same passage, Jesus also reveals the mysterious connection

between his being “lifted up” on the Cross and man’s rebirth into “eternal life”.

This mystery only becomes understandable

as we come to Calvary and Christ’s very last moments on the Cross.

As St. Luke tells us: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice,

`Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;’

and when he had said this he breathed  his last.”


With these and many other symbolic references to the Spirit,

Scripture tells us of a wonderful mystery.

In the beginning, he gave natural life to man.

In the fullness of time, he acted in History giving natural human life

to the Eternal God the Son.


Then as Christ gives up his spirit and breathes his last,

the life-giving Spirit is active even still in Christ’s death.

For in his death Christ gives up the natural human life

the Spirit gave him in the womb of Mary,

in order that he might rise again and send the Holy Spirit to brings us eternal life

–the life of God himself.


In the 2nd chapter of Genesis

it tells us that God created Adam by first building a physical human body.

And today’s second reading reminds us that the Church is the body of Christ.

When Christ was in the world he prepared a physical body for his Church.

Just like God created a physical body for Adam

that had all the various parts to do different tasks,

Jesus also created a body that had various members

who would do different tasks.

And just like Adam’s body which was  made out of the common dust of the earth,

the body Jesus built for his Church was made out of

the most common of human beings–fishermen, tax collectors, sinners.

And just like Adam’s lifeless body,

the disciples that gathered on that Pentecost day gathered as the body of Christ

–but as a lifeless body.

They were still afraid and hiding, waiting for God to do something.

For only God can turn a group of weak and frightened sinners

into the living Body of Christ.

Only God can give life!


And God does give life!

God created the human race by breathing the life-giving Spirit

into the lifeless body of Adam.

Once again, at the Pentecost, we read

that: “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind.”

The ruah, the breath of God blows the life-giving Spirit

into the house where the disciples are gathered in waiting,

and changes these frightened disciples

into the vigorous living mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

As the psalm tells us today:

“If you take their breath they perish,

but send forth your spirit and they are created!”



At that 1st Christian Pentecost the Church was created

by the breath of the Holy Spirit within her.

But there are some believers today who try to separate the Spirit from the Church.

They claim that if the Spirit is acting in you, you don’t need the Church.

But as we see in today’s

Scriptures, you can’t separate the Spirit from the Church.

When Christ sends the Spirit into the world

he sends Him for his expressed purpose to give life to his Body the Church.


Others would claim that the Church

is merely the assembly of those who believe in Christ,

and so the most important thing about the Church are its members.

But while the members are very important, the most important thing about the Church

is that it is the Body of Christ given life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As today’s second reading points out,

there are many gifts and ministries, but only one Spirit.

And the gifts and ministries given each person

are for the common good of the one Body.

There is one Body given one divine life by the one Spirit.



The Holy Spirit blew into that room on Pentecost

and in a dramatically active way gave life to the Church.

That same Spirit remains actively giving and sustaining this life in the Church

even to this day.

We see this activity as we read Sacred Scripture.

We see it in the Sacred Tradition of the Church

which the Spirit has sustained and kept free from error.

We see it in the various gifts he gives to the various members of the Body.

We see it in prayer as he draws us ever deeper into sharing the life of God.

And we see it in the Magisterium and apostolic hierarchy

–as St. John reminds us in today’s Gospel,

when Jesus appeared to the apostles on Easter he

breathed on them and said:

`Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them;

if you hold them bound, they are held bound.'”


But this life-giving and life-sustaining activity of the Holy Spirit

is encountered most dramatically in the Sacramental life of the Church.

For example, in Baptism, where we are recreated into the new life in Christ

as members of his Church by the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls.

Or in Penance, where, by the power of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles on Easter,

the priest forgives men’s sins, the Spirit acting to restore them to life in Christ.

Or in Confirmation where we receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit

so that we can imitate the Church at Pentecost

and bravely proclaim Christ to all the world.


But most especially we encounter this life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit

in the Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In today’s Mass, and in every Mass celebrated around the world

we invoke the action of the Holy Spirit.

In particular in the Eucharistic Prayer

–at the Epiclesis, when he extends his hands,

the priest recalls and requests the action of the Holy Spirit

to transform ordinary bread and wine

into the real life-giving Body and Blood of Christ

–the very same  Body which received life in the womb of Mary

by the action of the Holy Spirit

and gave up that life on the Cross

in order to give us eternal life through the Holy Spirit.


In a few moments we will pray the Creed.

Today, on the Feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit,

we remember that it’s through the Holy Spirit that

all natural life comes into creation.

And through that same Spirit, as he blows into the heart of the Church

and the hearts of its members,

human beings are given a share in the supernatural divine life of God himself.

And we proclaim with renewed fervor and love:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, May 17, 2015

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, May 17, 2015

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today is the solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Some are disappointed on its move from Thursday,

for lots of reasons we don’t have to go into.

But one reason given for the move

was that many Catholics apparently skipped observing in mid-week

–interesting, because not a problem with Christmas

–perhaps there is a need for a renewal of

the understanding of the importance of the Ascension

By moving it to Sunday more Catholics may be able to be made aware

of that importance.


So, why is it so important?

The most obvious reason is the reality that Jesus Christ acted in history

and in historical time actually rose into heaven

and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father.

But there are also many other reasons: today I’d like to focus on 3 of these:

1st: It is a pledge of future glory to us:

if we love him someday we too will follow Christ into heaven.

2nd: It is a promise that Christ is truly & fully alive and still with us,

and “will be with us always.”

3rd: It is a revelation of the great dignity of human body.

I guess I really have 3 homilies here, but I promise to try to keep them brief.


First consider the Ascension as the pledge of future glory.

Today’s 2nd reading from Ephesians:

“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,

that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,

what are the riches of glory

in his inheritance among the holy ones,

for us who believe.”

This is speaking about the glory of the ascended Christ,

but also it speaks of our “hope”

–this is the promise to us!


All of us have experienced holidays when we couldn’t get home

to celebrate with our families.

Maybe because of school, or work,

or maybe because a member of our family has died, or is ill.

In any case, we know how miserable it can be

to be away from the ones you love on special days.


That’s the way it is when you really love someone: you truly long to be with them.

And not just on the phone, but in person, in the flesh, in the body.


Now, most of us probably don’t feel the need to be with our families all the time:

parents are great, but they’re not everything to us:

you love your parents,

but you probably wouldn’t take them on your honeymoon.

But with Christ things are different, He is everything to us: or should be.

As St. Paul says:

“Christ is all, and in all” and

“all things were created through him and for him.”

So for Christians, we can only truly be happy when we’re with Jesus.

And Jesus promises us this: with him we will have

“life in abundance”, and that our “joy will be complete.”


So St. Luke tells us today’s first reading from Acts:

“This Jesus who has been taken up from you

into heaven will return in the same way.”

And St. Paul elsewhere, tells us when Jesus comes again:

“we who are alive, …shall be caught up together …in the clouds

to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

And St. John tells us:

“we know that when he appears we shall be like him.”

For those who love Jesus, the Ascension is a promise

that he will come back for us, and we will be with him forever.



This brings us to our 2nd important reason for this feast:

as much as we may love Jesus, he loves us even more.

So He tells us: “behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

And so, even as he tells his apostles:

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me”,

the all-powerful Jesus makes it possible that even

as he sits at his father’s right hand in heaven,

he can still be with us here and now.

And so, before he ascends into heaven he tells his apostles:

“in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

That Holy Spirit came down just nine days later at Pentecost,

and the power of Jesus remained with his Church ever since.

[Both in the Church as a whole,

and in the indwelling of Holy Spirit inside of each Christian.]


But Jesus is not just spirit, and he does not want to be with us just in spirit:

he wants to be here in person, in the flesh, in his body.

And even as he ascends bodily into heaven

he also stays in his body with us on earth.

He comes to us in his real bodily presence, in the Eucharist.


Think about this: the real day of this feast is a Thursday.

—Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, but he ascended into heaven 39 days later on Ascension Thursday.


What other Thursday is important in the life of Christ?

The only other Thursday mentioned in Scripture is the night before he died,

the Last supper on Holy Thursday.

And on that night, as at the Ascension, he gathered only his apostles with him.

And where at the Ascension he told them:

“teac[h] them to observe all that I have commanded you”,

at the Last Supper he commanded them

“do this in memory of me.”

At the Ascension, the apostles watched in amazement

as he took his body into heaven,

and at the last supper they also watched in amazement

as he gave them his body to eat.


Today’s 1st reading tells us that at the Ascension: “he was lifted up”

and that the apostles “were looking intently at” him.

At this Mass, he will also be bodily lifted up,

and all here present will also look intently at him.


The Gospel tells us that when he came to them at the Ascension,

“When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”

Today when you see him, you will worship, but some will also doubt him.

At the Ascension he ascends into heaven, body, blood, soul and divinity;

at the consecration today he descends down from heaven,

body, blood, soul and divinity.

Ascension Thursday points to Holy Thursday,

and the Ascension points us to the Eucharist,

where Christ’s promise to be “with us always” is fulfilled.



Finally, the 3rd important point: the dignity of the human body.

In the days when Jesus and his apostles walked the earth,

there was a very popular philosophy

—according to the teachings of Plato

and other Greek philosophers—

that maintained that the essence of the person was his soul,

and that his body was like a prison, keeping his soul from freedom.

Today we’ve sort of returned to this kind of Platonic view of the body;

we tend to see it as a machine,

a thing apart from us to be manipulated and even manufactured.


All sorts of anti-human evils arise when we start to do this.

We see live human bodies being experimented on

—usually in the form of small embryonic babies.

Or we see scientist bragging how they will create designer bodies for babies

—like they’re manufacturing a car for the soul to drive around in.


At the other extreme we see the bodies we have being treated

as something to be used and abused by one another

without any consequence to our souls or our eternal salvation.

Look at the rise of pornography—especially on the internet:

what is that but to view the body of women as a thing to be manipulated.

And the acceptance of Christians,

of all sorts of abuses of the gift of the sexuality of the human body

accepting and celebrating the perverted abuses of

sodomy, oral sex, and contraception

–all of which are actually harmful to the human body.

And we have public officials trying to force us to ignore the natural and beautiful

complementarity of the male and female human bodies,

including how their natural and healthy union is biologically ordered

to bear fruit and create new human life.

First by mandating

that marriage isn’t a union of male and female ordered to procreation,

and now they even try to tell us, as we saw in the school board last week,

that people with male bodies aren’t really males

and people with female bodies aren’t really females.

All as if the body means nothing.



And then….you have the Ascension—Christ takes his body into heaven.

His body is not a shell to shed at death, a prison to be freed from in heaven.

Not something to use for amusement or experimentation.

His body is sacred and part of him, a gift from His Father.

And so is ours.

In his body, born of the body of his beloved Mother, Mary,

Christ communicated his love for us

by the words of his mouth,

by the miracles wrought by laying his hands on the sick,

and ultimately giving and laying down his life

through his bodily death on the Cross.

And in his body he promises us new and eternal life

in his bodily resurrection and ascension.


Our bodies were made to be part of us for ever

—the perfect joy of life in heaven is only perfect

when our bodies are perfected in the resurrection and ascension

of our bodies on the last day.

Our bodies are created for heavenly glory, not for earthly degradation.



I could go on and on.

But all this serves to reminded us that this day of the Ascension

is truly one of the most important days in the history of the world

and as such demands our attention,

and our devout and solemn celebration.

I pray that some day—

when it has returned to its proper place

in the hearts and minds of Catholics—

it will also be returned to its proper day of the week.

But until then, as we come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist,

let us remember Christ’s promise that he will be with us always.

His pledge that if we love him in this life,

we will be with him completely and perfectly in the next.

And his command that if we love him,

we must recognize and honor the gift of the human body

—his, ours and our neighbors’.


Let us go now, and cast our eyes up to heaven,

and from heaven to the altar of Jesus Christ,

as Christ descends from his heavenly throne to be with us

now and always, even to the end of the age.