Ascension of the Lord
May 24, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Some six weeks ago we observed the Feast days of Passion and death of Our Lord.
It was a time to remember the sacrifice of the Cross,
as well as the three days in the tomb when the early Church
experienced life without Christ.
Do you remember the gospel readings from those days?
How the apostles hid together in the upper room, a bunch of quivering cowards,
bolting the door because they were afraid
someone might come after the master’s followers?
Despite the Lord’s repeated promise that He would rise from the dead,
the apostles lost confidence in Him.
But the Lord still kept His promise: at the end of the days in the tomb,
He conquered death
and walked right into that same locked upper room
and banished all fear and restored all hope.
The disciples learned in one three-day lesson never to doubt Him again,
for He is the Messiah–the promised one who keeps His promises.
After He had stayed with His apostles for 40 days,
teaching them and opening their minds and hearts to the truth,
it came time for Him to leave again
—to ascend, [as today’s second reading tells us]
to sit at the Father’s “right hand in the heavens,
far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.”
And as He Ascended into heaven He made them three new promises:
that from His throne in in heaven He would send His Holy Spirit
to clothe them with “power from on high”
so that He would remain with them “always, until the end of the age”;
and that at the end of the age He would come back to them.
And this time, they believed in His promises.
Now, today’s Gospel from St. Matthew
tells us what Jesus said right before the Ascension,
and today’s 1st Reading from the Acts of the Apostles
gives us an account of what happened during the Ascensionitself,
but neither of them tells us what happened after the Ascension.
To find that we need to go to the next passage in the Bible
that follows the text we read from Acts today.
There it tells us the 11 apostles:
“returned to Jerusalem …[and] went to the upper room ….
[They] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with [the] women,
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
They did not lose hope, as they did on Good Friday,
even though He’s gone away again.
Instead, they went to that same upper room they stayed in after the crucifixion,
but this time not to hide and whimper in fear,
but to wait and pray in hope for the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise
to send to His Holy Spirit.
Looking back on all these events,
many of us are amazed at the apostles’ behavior before Easter.
I mean, they had seen His miracles:
they saw Him walk on water, and command an obedient storm to “be quiet”;
they saw Him feed over 5000 people, twice,
and raise 3 people from the dead, one who had been in the tomb for 4 days!
How could they have such little faith?
He was Jesus–God–and they knew Him!
Surely they remembered His promise that
on the third day He would rise from the dead!
How could they lose hope like that?
And yet, how many times have we lost hope in Christ?
How many times have we given up on Him?
How many times did the troubles in our lives seem so heavy
that we felt that even Jesus had failed us, or abandoned us,
and turned away to wallow in the darkness of despair,
rather than turning to Jesus, who is the light of the world?
Or how many times have we faced some powerful temptation
to do something Jesus clearly taught was sinful,
and we just gave in, saying “it’s too difficult,”
and maybe even blamed Jesus: “I prayed but Jesus didn’t help me”;
or maybe even, “I know what Jesus taught, but He was wrong.”
Or How many times have we been in a conversation with friends or family
and someone raised a criticism of the teaching of Christ or His Church,
and we just remained silent?
Every time we did these things we locked the door and cowered in fear
and lost hope in the promises of Jesus.
In the last few weeks, some of us have, like the apostles on Good Friday
actually literally locked ourselves in our homes overwhelmed with fear,
not of the Romans or the Sanhedrin, but of the coronavirus.
Now, some of us have good reason to fear the virus more than others,
and should stay and home and be very careful.
But whether your fear of the virus is rational or irrational,
too many of us allow that fear to lead us to lose confidence in Jesus,
we allow that fear to drive the peace of Christ from our hearts,
and to drive the charity of Christ from our lives.
He promised, “behold, I will be with always!”
And “always” means even during the coronavirus.
But one of the wonderful things about today’s Feast is that it reminds us that,
no matter how many times we’ve doubted, or been afraid to follow Jesus,
today, can be a new beginning.
We see this in today’s readings in a very subtle, but beautiful way.
Both today’s Gospel and 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles
tell us the events surrounding the Ascension.
Now, in general, the Gospels give us the story of the life of Jesus
when He walked in His body on the earth,
while the “The Acts of the Apostles,” gives us the story of the life of Jesus
once he had bodily ascended to heaven,
–the story of His life lived in His mystical body on earth
The Gospels record the failures and sins of men
—in particular, the weaknesses, doubts, and betrayals of the apostles—
but the Acts of the Apostles record a new beginning for the apostles.
No longer will they hide in fear, and never again will they deny the power of God,
What’s happened to make this change?
Of course, the resurrection happened—Christ conquered sin and death!
But in a sense, that was only a beginning.
Today we celebrate the fact that Christ Ascended bodily into heaven:
He not only rose from the dead and lived again in his body in 33 A.D.
–he then ascended into heaven and really lives there in his glorified body,
now and forever.
His chest heaves with the breath of life, his heart beats with love of God.
His ears are open to hear our prayers,
His mouth smiles when we show Him love,
His eyes weep when we fall from grace.
His hands reach out to lift us when we fall,
and His arms open wide to welcome us into His peace.
And, as the Book of Revelation tells us, as He sits on His throne in heaven,
he looks out on us and says: “behold, I make all things new.”
Today we remember that day when Our Lord ascended into heaven
a day that marks the end of one way of living
and the beginning of a new way of living.
A new way of living based on the three promises He made that day.
As promised, He has sent His Holy Spirit
—as we remember as we celebrate Pentecost next Sunday.
And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus does remains with us,
even until the end of time,
in His Church, in His Word, and in his sacraments,
and through His sacraments, in our hearts.
And by the power of the Holy Spirit
He makes sinful, fearful, and doubting cowards,
like the apostles and you and me,
into holy, courageous, and faithful heroes.
And made confident by the fulfillment of these promises,
we live in joyful hope,
that He will surely keep His 3rd promise: He will come again in glory.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead,
yes, to cast out those who have not loved Him,
but more magnificently, to raise up those who have loved Him,
who have remained faithful to and hopeful in him.
Then, as St. Paul tells us today, we shall see “the riches of glory,”
and share “his inheritance among the holy ones.”
As we now enter more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
as the true Body of Jesus Christ enthroned in heaven,
descends to this altar through the action of the Holy Spirit,
we pray that, like the apostles on the first feast of the Ascension,
we will learn from our foolish mistakes of the past
and from now on trust in His promises.
And that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can lay aside past fear and sin
and begin a new life of faith and hope in He who sits at the Father’s
“right hand in the heavens,
far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.”
So that we may remain with Him, Our Lord Jesus Christ, always,
in the trials of this world, and in the glories of the world to come.