TEXT: Solemnity of the Ascension, May 21, 2023
7th Sunday of Easter, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
May 21, 2023
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today is the solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
While most of the world celebrated this solemnity as a Holy Day of Obligation
on this past Thursday,
most of the bishops in America have moved the celebration to today, Sunday.
The reason for this is that they found that many Catholics were
skipping Mass on Ascension Thursday
since it fell in the middle of a work week.
By moving it to Sunday, they argued that more Catholics
will be able to be made aware of the importance of this feast.
So, why is the Ascension so important?
Most obviously: 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 let’s talk about three:
1st: It is a pledge of future glory to us;
if we love him and follow him on earth today,
someday we, too, will follow Christ into heaven.
2nd: It is a promise that Christ is truly and fully alive and still with us,
and “will be with us always.”
3rd: It is a revelation of the great dignity of the human body.
I guess I really have three 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 tells us:
“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 it also speaks of our “hope”
–this is the promise to us!
Now, last Sunday we celebrated Mother’s Day,
and most of us probably tried to spend time with our moms,
either in person or on the phone.
If we couldn’t, it was most likely 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.
Even so, 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, as Christians we understand that 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 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 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 second 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 told His apostles
that in a few days He would send the Holy Spirit to them,
to “cloth[e] [them] with power from on high.”
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 the flesh, in His body.
And so, He leaves us His body.
He comes to us in His Real Presence, His real body blood, soul and divinity.
Think: According to Scripture and Tradition,
the actual day of the week this historical event took place on was a Thursday.
What other Thursday is important in the life of Christ?
The only other Thursday mentioned in the Gospels 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 while at the Ascension He told them to “teach all nations”
“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;
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 of when He came to the apostles at the Ascension:
“When they saw Him, they worshiped, but they doubted.”
Today when you see Him in the Eucharist,
you will worship, but some will also doubt Him.
At the Ascension, He ascended up 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 third 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
—following the teachings of the Greek philosopher Plato—
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.
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 viewing the bodies of women as a thing to be manipulated?
And the acceptance by Christians,
even by people who call themselves “Catholic”
—even by men consecrated to Christ in the priesthood–
of all sorts of abuses of the gift of the sexuality of the human body,
accepting and even celebrating the perverted abuses of
sodomy, oral sex, masturbation and contraception.
And now we even see people who suffer from gender confusion
thinking they need to mutilate and maim their bodies
because God somehow made a mistake when He made them;
and the doctors sworn to heal these poor people,
instead using scalpels and drugs to permanently cripple them.
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 or mutilation.
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,
Christ was able to communicate His love for us
by 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 remind us that the day of the Ascension
was 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
in the Eucharist, now and always, “even to the end of the age.”