Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
May 8, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today is the solemnity of Ascension of the Lord,
which was celebrated in most of the world last Thursday,
but was moved by the Bishops in our area to today.
The main reason for moving it
was that many Catholics apparently skipped observing it in mid-week
because they didn’t think it was important.
By moving it to Sunday the Bishops are hoping
we can make Catholics more aware just how important it is.
So, why is the Ascension so important?
Most obvious: the reality that Jesus Christ acted in history
and in historical time actually physically rose into heaven
and is now physically seated at the right hand of God the Father.
But there are also many other reasons.
Today I’d like to talk about 3 of then:
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.
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!
Today, of course is Mother’s Day,
and most of us will try to spend time with our moms,
either in person or on the phone.
If not, it would be a source of great sadness and even pain.
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 want to be with Mom all the time:
Mom’s are tremendous, but they’re not everything to us,
we also enjoy being with other people, and not with our moms:
you love your mom, but you don’t want her on your honeymoon.
But Christ is everything to us: 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 in today’s first reading from Acts:
“This Jesus who has been taken up from you
into heaven will return in the same way.”
And elsewhere St. Paul 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 in heaven.
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.
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 so he leaves us his body.
He comes to us his in his real presence, his real body, blood, soul and divinity.
Think: the real day of this feast is a Thursday.
What other Thursday is important in the life of Christ?
The only other important Thursday mentioned in Scripture
is the night before he died, the Last Supper.
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.
Acts 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.
At one extreme we see the bodies as having no significance at all,
and so people ignore what their bodies tell them about who they are
and men pretend to be women, and women pretend to be men.
On the other extreme they see their bodies 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 viewing 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, masturbation and contraception.
And worst of all, we have doctors sworn to heal the human body,
instead attacking the healthy bodies of mothers and their unborn babies
in the barbarism of abortion.
Which has only led to more atrocities against the human body:
manufacturing and experimenting on the bodies of unborn babies,
and harvesting their parts.
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 be ignored as meaningless,
or used 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 was able to communicate his love for us
by speaking to us, and performing miracles,
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 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.