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

May 22, 2015 Father De Celles Homily

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.