Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Ascension of the Lord

(Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord-Year B;This homily was given 24 & 25 May, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 4:1-13, and Mark 16:15-20)

One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is one I have used many times, but it is well worth repeating. He said:

“The men and women who did the most for this world
were those who thought mostly of the world to come.
Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in.
Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

In many ways it summarizes our way of life as Christians: to be heavenly minded as we continue our lives here on earth. In today’s feast—the Ascension—that way of life is accentuated gloriously in the person of Christ, our Lord.

Jesus, when He comes to take on our humanity, does so much more than we could have ever hoped for. He not only forgives our sins, and redeems our humanity. In the ascension, Christ takes our humanity and glorifies it! The one who came from heaven to earth to become like us, has now returned to heaven and taken our human nature with Him, so that we can become like Him.

That fact alone should inspire us as we continue our earthly journey home to Him. Christ bids us to come follow Him, and we recognize that everything here on this earth matters; everything takes on eternal significance since it effects our relationship with God, with whom we will share all eternity.

But there is a second important reality we come to understand through the ascension, which is essential to our life here on earth. When Jesus ascends to the father, He does not become any less present here on earth. While He has taken His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus remains on the earth through His body, the Church.

The same Christ who healed the sick, performed miracles and proclaimed the Good News to the poor continues to make His power and presence felt through the Church. That is the only way we could possibly understand the commission that He gives to the disciples in the Gospel. He says to them, as He prepares to ascend to the Father:

Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
—Mark 16:15-16

Now that’s quite a tall order, wouldn’t you say? Essentially, what Christ has commissioned them—and us—to do is invite everyone in the world into a personal relationship with Christ; to baptize all who believe in Him, helping to bring them to eternal life.

Obviously, that is not something that we can set out to accomplish on our own. We do not have the gifts, the talents, or the resources that are necessary to complete a task that lofty . . . but Christ does! Jesus ascends to the Father and then gives us everything we need to accomplish His will. It is a supernatural commission that we have been given, and He gives us supernatural help to complete it.

That is the significance of those interesting signs that Christ mentions immediately after He gives us this commission:

These signs will accompany those who believe:in my name they will drive out demons,they will speak new languages.They will pick up serpents with their hands,and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
—Mark 16:17-18

Jesus is not saying we should go out and pick up rattlesnakes! He does not want us to drink poison and see if we can stomach it. No, He wants us, and the entire world, to understand that this is His work, and He has equipped His Body, the Church, with grace and the supernatural means to carry it out.

As people of faith and followers of Christ, might we take inventory this day and come to realize more completely the gifts that we have been given to spread the gospel message in the world around us. We live in a world desperately in need of that saving and hope-filled message. It is no small task, but the one who calls us to it is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Today we continue our work here on earth with our hearts and minds always focused on Christ, and we never lose sight of the fact that:

“The men and women who did the most for this world
were those who thought mostly of the world to come.
Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in.
Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”