The Ascension of Our Lord celebrates the day that Christ, in the presence of His apostles, ascended bodily into Heaven. The Ascension occurred on the 40th day of Easter, so it falls on a Thursday, however, in most dioceses in the United States, the celebration of the Ascension has been transferred to the following Sunday, six weeks after Easter 2011.
By Father Charles Irvin
God the Father inaugurated His presence among us when Abraham responded to Him in faith. The Nativity of Our Lord inaugurated God the Son’s presence among us when God’s self-expression became flesh and was born among us as one of us. This Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven inaugurates the time of God the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. Jesus Christ ascension into heaven opens the door to the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within those who have been baptized into the Body of Christ.
Our Blessed Lord’s Ascension into heaven challenges us to see God in a new way. Christ’s ascension is not an ending, it’s a beginning. On the surface in appears that Christ’s Ascension is a departure, but actually it is not. Spirit-filled in His resurrection, Christ now comes to us in a new way – in His Holy Spirit.
It is a new beginning. Christ in His humanity is now taken to a new status, the highest of all states of being. Now at the right hand of the Father in the fullness of divinity, Christ comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit -- particularly in His Sacraments. He will always be with us, He will never leave us.
The cycle has now come full circle. God has come to us in Christ; God has given Himself to us in Christ; God is now at work among us again, sweeping us up into Christ's glorious, resurrected, and Spirit-filled humanity. Through Him, with Him, and in Him we are now in Christ’s ascended humanity returned back home to our Father. The scope of this panorama is stupendous, awe-inspiring, and really beyond human comprehension or mortal human words. It is Mystery in the full sense of the word mystery - mystery not in the sense of reading a "Who Done It?" novel, but mystery in the sense that we are gazing into a reality that far exceeds the scope of our ability to depict it or put into words.
To be honest with you, if I were standing in that group of apostles and disciples at Christ's Ascension I would have been dismayed. I would have been quite intimidated. I would have thought: "Are we to lose Him again?" Timidity would have engulfed my heart and soul. But Pentecost would follow and my timidity would have been erased.
To confess the truth, at times I feel some timidity even now. Our Church in recent years has been racked by scandals. Some priests have abused our children and some bishops have not done their duty. Furthermore, in our highly secularized culture, Christianity is on the defensive. Additionally, as Americans we stand betrayed by our basic institutions, having in recent years faced betrayals from government officials in high office, corporate executives, and accounting firms that have not accounted. We have suffered betrayals from those in our legal and medical institutions, a divorce rate that seems to know no limits, and so on. Everywhere we turn we face losses of varying sorts and degrees of depth.
Will terrorism ever end? Is our economy truly recovering? Will there ever be an adequate supply of jobs? Will our sources of energy dry up? Will there ever be peace between Arab and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli? Will there be an even greater increase in prejudice and hostility toward believing Christians? These and other worrying factors eat away at our courage, our sense of well-being, and our hope for lives lived in peace. We have been intimidated -- made fearful and timid.
It is into this sort of world that God sent His only begotten Son, not to condemn us but to save us. The post-resurrection message, repeated so often by Christ, is: "Fear not! I am with you. I am with you even to the end of the world."
The infallible sign of His Presence among us is love. We can love even in a world such as ours. We do, in fact, love in a world such as ours. The power of God's love is being made manifest among us. You are making that powerful presence felt in your lives and in the lives of those whom you cherish. You are making the presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ real in the lives of those around you.
If there is one sentence I want you to take home with you today it is this: Everything and everyone you love is being redeemed. Those whom you love are being redeemed not just by your love, but by Christ's love within you that reaches them. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven is at work through you, with you, and in you. He has not left us orphans - He is here. Because of His ascension He is here!
To be sure I face intimidation, as do you. To be sure we all have our moments of being shy and even afraid. But soon, and very soon, Pentecost will burst upon us. God's powerful and life-giving Holy Spirit will come roaring upon us like a mighty wind from the heights of heaven. The fires of your passions will be re-ignited. For we, you and I with you, have a fire in our bellies, the fire of God's great and Holy Spirit.
And when He comes we will be enabled to throw off our timidity. We, filled with Christ's gift of courage, will be able to go out in public and boldly live in the face of whatever challenges life and the people in it throw at us. For Christ Jesus, now at the right hand of our Father, is at work in us bringing order out of chaos, meaning out of absurdity, good out of evil, and life out of death.
The days of Pentecost and all of the days thereafter are at hand. We have a Savior who loves us, a glorious Redeemer who at the right hand of the Father intercedes for us, and the Spirit of God at work in us. By your faith, in your hope, and because of your love, all of the God's gifts are at work in you, and our world has the promise of being made into a much better place. Because of the Ascension of Christ we are given the task of revealing God’s kingdom here on earth. Christ has established the kingdom. Ours is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the task of revealing God’s kingdom in all that we say and do.
“Behold,” declares God, “I make all things new.”
Fr. Charles Irvin lives in “active retirement” in DeWitt, Michigan, on the grounds of St. Francis Retreat Center and has traveled extensively, including five pilgrimages in Europe and the Holy Land. He is the founding editor of Faith magazine in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. His homilies appear on CatholicWeb.com
About the painting: The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801. West was an Anglo-American painter who lived during the Revolutionary War. He was the second president of the Royal Academy in London.