Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Sunday May 13, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven,
meaning the real historical fact that 2000 years ago Jesus,
who was born in Bethlehem,
and was Crucified and Rose from the dead in Jerusalem,
at the end of 40 days after the Resurrection,
physically rose in His body up in the air,
and went up into the sky into heaven.
It really happened.
But it’s more than historic fact—it didn’t just happen and it’s over.
Rather it happened 2000 years ago, but it continues to happen now,
in the sense that Jesus is still in heaven, in His body,
seated, in some way, on His throne next to God the Father
ruling over the universe.
This is all, of course, very hard to understand.
How did Jesus, in effect, fly up to heaven in His body?
And where is heaven, and is it a physical place, and is it a physical throne?
—it must be somehow, someway, since His real body is there.
Even so, we don’t understand how.
But the thing is, it’s not terribly important whether we understand how,
as long as He understands how.
What it is important for us to understand, however, is why.
Now, with God, we never understand every reason why He does what He does.
There are so many mysteries
—divine truths we know about and understand somewhat,
because Jesus has told us,
but at the same time things we can never understand completely,
because they are so profound, so complicated.
After all, they come from the mind and life of God, not man.
This is the way with the mystery of the Ascension
—it has so many meanings, and ramifications,
most of which we only begin to scratch the surface of understanding.
But let’s try.
To begin with, very simply put,
Jesus Ascended into heaven because that’s where He belongs.
Remember how the Gospels tell us that
God the Father “sent His only Son into the world,”
and that Jesus said repeated that He had “come down from heaven.”
God the Son belongs in heaven because that’s where He is from.
The unusual thing is that He was on earth at all!
It was a great blessing for us to have Him for as long as we did,
but He came to redeem us, and when He had accomplished that,
He returned to His place beside His Father.
Again, it is fitting, because that is where He is from and where He belongs.
But it is also fitting because from there He can rule over the whole universe,
not sitting at a campfire in Judea ruling over 12 apostles,
or even in a huge stadium ruling over 100,000 people.
But in heaven looking over all of us, guiding and protecting us,
and being worshipped and adored
by all the angels and saints and all believers.
And that leads to another reason for the Ascension
God the Son returns to heaven WITH His human nature.
As amazing as it is that God came down to earth,
more amazing still is that he was here as one of us:
God the Son became a man
—keeping His divinity, but united it to our humanity;
the Creator of all things became one of His creatures.
God entered into the nitty gritty of every part of everyday human life,
including sin–ours not His own.
This is the mystery of the Incarnation,
and what we sometimes call the hypostatic union:
that God the Son united His divine nature to a human nature,
so that He was one person with two natures,
completely God and completely Man.
Again, we don’t completely understand it,
but what we do understand is awesome and beautiful.
And now His divinity has taken His humanity into heaven,
where it is truly sitting next to, or standing before, God the Father.
Now we can say, that a man truly sits on the throne of God,
reigning over the universe, heaven and earth.
Think of that.
He is still the God who created everything out of nothing,
but now He returns to heaven as also Man.
And not just “a man,” but, in a sense, “Man” or “mankind,”
as He represents all of us.
Showing us that we, mankind, all and each of us,
are created with this capacity to be like God, and to share in His Divinity.
Not grasping at being God’s equal or replacement like Adam and Eve did.
Not opposing God, but obeying God.
Not rivaling God but loving God.
Not trying to seize God’s power, but to accept His free gift of sharing in His life.
Not to be above Him or against Him, but to be one with Him.
And so, Jesus as the Eternal Creator God the Son
and as the Crucified and Risen Man, sits next to God His Father forever.
And there He is our priest, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us,
“… Jesus always lives to intercede for” us before His Father.
Not only as the only Son of God, but as one of us, a Son of Man,
who understands us not only as a Creator understands His creation,
but as Creator who lived the life of a creature.
As Hebrews goes on to say:
“we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,
…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize
with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are
—yet he did not sin.”
And so, He pleads for us as God the Father’s only begotten Divine Son,
but also as one of us.
And the Father looks at Jesus standing before Him,
and then looks down at us.
And He sees and loves in us, what He sees and loves in His most beloved Son.
And Jesus not only intercedes for us,
but He also stands before His father and praises Him,
not only as the Divine Son, but as the representative of Man.
So that it is true, that:
“Through Him, and with Him, and in Him…all honor and glory is”
the Father’s “for ever and ever.”
Think of all of that….
Then think of how we were created for this.
As divinity is united to humanity in Jesus,
our humanity was created to be united to His divinity,
so that where Jesus the Man has gone,
we men, male and female, hope to follow.
We were created to live with God in paradise.
But not just as soulless spirits: as Christ is bodily in heaven,
we are meant to be with Him in heaven in our bodies.
We profess this every Sunday, when we say:
“I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”
And be believe not just the resurrection of the body,
but also the ascension of the body—our bodies.
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere: [in 1 Thessalonians]:
“will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air,
and so we will always be with the Lord.”
And as St. John tells us: “we know that when He appears we shall be like Him…”
Think about what this means for us,
for the nobility of being a human being,
for the dignity of the human body.
Of the excellence this brings to our earthly lives lived in the body
that is meant to live forever in heaven,
And think of how it is so contrary to our good,
to the meaning of human life
to abuse our bodies or other people’s bodies.
Think of how this offends and wounds the body of Jesus enthroned in heaven.
Of course, there’s sexual abuse of the body, that is so rampant today,
like of contraception, sex outside of marriage,
and especially pornography, and homosexual acts.
And also think of the other ways we abuse the body:
through drugs or alcohol or gluttony,
or through the mutilation of healthy bodies in sex-change procedures.
But also, think of how we abuse other people’s bodies,
when we selfishly refuse to assist those with true bodily needs:
“I was hungry and you gave me no food,
….thirsty and you gave me no drink,
….a stranger and you did not welcome me,
…naked and you did not clothe me,
sick …and you did not visit me….”
Think of all that, and think of Christ’s human body enthroned in heaven.
Now, I have said, it’s fitting that Jesus be in heaven, and it is.
But His being in heaven doesn’t keep Him from being with us on earth,
as He promised:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So we remember how He explained to the apostles at the last supper:
“it is to your good that I go away, for if I do not go away,
the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.
But if I go, I will send him to you.…”
And so even has Jesus has bodily ascended into heaven,
His Holy Spirit has descended upon us
in the sacrament of Baptism, and dwells in our hearts.
And where Jesus’ Spirit is, there is Jesus, and His Father, as well.
So by the action of His Holy Spirit Jesus does remain in each of the Baptized
and in the Church, His body on earth.
And He remains in His Word handed down by the Apostles and their successors,
by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And most sublimely, by the action of the Holy Spirit,
Jesus remains with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar
—the Holy Eucharist.
Just as He ascended to heaven 2000 years ago, body, blood, soul and Divinity,
at every Mass He descends from heaven, body, blood, soul and Divinity,
to the altar.
And we worship Him,
first and foremost in His body Sacrificed once and for all on the Cross,
but also in His risen and gloriously Ascended Body.
He comes down to earth and we go up with Him into heaven.
As Hebrews says:
“Since then we have a great high priest
who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,
let us …. then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace….”
As we move more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us turn to our Lord enthroned in Heaven,
begging Him to join our prayers, petitions and praise to His own,
and present them to His heavenly Father.
And as He descends to the altar with all His angels and saints,
to make us one with Him in Holy Communion,
transforming our human lives by His divine life,
let us accept this heavenly gift with exultation
and live the life He created us for and that He calls us to.
The life lived in this world, with a body and soul created for the glory of heaven.