HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
Readings: Acts 1: 1-11/Eph. 1:17-23
Gospel: Mk. 16:15-20
The month of May could be viewed as a time of endings; a time of completion. We see graduations in high schools and colleges. We even see it in the 8th grade and kindergarten. We honor those who gave their life for their country. Here in this church and in churches across the country, young boys and girls receive communion for the first time, usually an indication for the completion of the PSR year. And next week, with the Feast of Pentecost, the Easter season is concluded. Each one of these is a time of celebration-in one way or another-and yet once they are done, we have a tendency to forget them as soon as they are done and go on with our lives as if nothing had happened. It was as if the work to accomplish these moments were inconsequential. The month of May can be seen as a time of endings, but shouldn’t it be more than that?
We seem to have a four-part mindset of activity: Anticipation, Preparation, Participation and Restoration. We anticipate an event to happen. We prepare our lives for that moment so we can be ready. Then when the moment arrives, we live in the moment with such passion that it changes us permanently. Then once it is over we quickly try to restore our lives back to where it was. How much or how little we desire to restore it depends if we had a positive or negative experience. Nowhere is that more prevalent than what was in the readings proclaimed today.
This has to be one of the rarest situations to happen in the Church year. We have the same story proclaimed in two of the readings today. Christ’s Ascension into Heaven is mentioned in the First Reading in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Gospel from St. Mark. Each one begins about the same time period; the last moment of Christ upon the earth. The disciples come together on the mountaintop with joy, sadness and a sense of anticipation, much like that they had done years before when they were waiting for the Messiah; a Messiah that will bring them glory that as a people they had enjoyed years before.
When they heard the words of Christ, they began to prepare for what they view is the moment of their nation’s return to earthly power. So they put their faith in Jesus and participated in his crusade. But the question remained: Will he or won’t he? Is he the one to bring Israel out of their oppression and back to her former glory? When Jesus was captured and crucified, the disciples thought they were wrong. But when Christ appeared to them after his resurrection, their hopes returned. So, when they arrived on the mountaintop, Jesus was waiting for them. But they still needed to know. So they asked him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
What were they asking? To restore something means to bring back to a former, original or normal position or condition. In other words, they are looking to go back to the point where their lives were untouched by outside influences. They wanted to go back to the era of King David; the era that they were just as influential as the Egyptians or even the Romans. They wanted to be restored as their own country and rid themselves of their Roman occupiers.
But there is a problem with this idea of restoring. It is a problem with anyone who encounters Jesus in their lives. Those who have encountered Christ are changed forever. They cannot be restored to where they were before because the prior self is gone, and the new self remains. So when the disciples asked if he is to restore the kingdom to Israel, what they were asking could not be done, because what they wanted restored was gone forever. What the Father will establish in its place will be a new heaven and a new earth. When that will happen no one knows but the Father. What they wanted could not be given to them, because what they had received by Christ and will receive from the Holy Spirit will be greater than any earthly king can give.
In the meantime, Christ gave them one more mission. He tells them to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Those who will believe and be baptized will be saved and those who refuse will be condemned. Those who do believe will be identified as having the power to heal anyone, speak in any language, cast out the demons that people have in their lives and have the courage that if they were to be surrounded by serpents and given poison to drink, they could handle both without any harm to be done to them. And with that, he was raised into heaven. The disciples were still looking, not knowing what to do, until the angels reminded them of his return. They returned to Jerusalem, like Jesus asked them to and waited for “the promise of the father.”
Like those disciples, we are waiting for the return of the Messiah. And like those disciples, we think that once he returns, things will get back to a place where we think things will be; where the world around us will be made great again. But those moments are gone and cannot be brought back. Every time we encounter Christ-either in Church or at home or on the street-then our lives are totally changed for the better. We should not nor do we want our lives to go back before we have encountered Christ.
To have the desire to deny the existence of Christ would be a lie we say to God AND to ourselves. There is no point of being here, receiving the sacraments or playing a part in the life of the Church; unless you have some narcissistic tendencies and this is the best way to exhibit them. Christ is present everywhere, so each day our lives are changed in some way because of his presence in our lives. It would be foolhardy to try to restore anything that has been changed by the love of Christ.
Much like we are forever changed in our encounter’s with Christ, so we are also changed whenever we decide to be with someone else for the rest of our lives. A man and a woman, who completely and freely give of themselves to another are no longer their own person, but become a new identity. And even further, when Man and Woman decide that they wish to have children in their lives-either by birth or adoption-they stop being just Man and Woman. They are now Father and Mother. Today, we honor those women who said yes to the question of having children in their lives.
To those mothers who have come before us; to those who are here today; and to those who will say yes in the time to come; may our hearts and prayers go out to each and every one of you for your courage and love for each and every one of us. When Mary said yes at the Annunciation, she did not know what being the Mother of God would entail. At the Nativity it is said that she understood all of these things and carried them in her heart. At the crucifixion, that heart was pierced with the pain of watching her son die in front of her. And in this month of May, the month we honor her and all mothers, we honor her as Queen of Heaven and Earth. May is an unusual month. But it is not a month of completion, but a time of transition. And it is from the love given to us from our mothers do we find the love of God here on earth.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK