Homily: Ascension

During this time of the year, our local schools are celebrating the end of the academic year. This year, my family is celebrating two graduations. One is for my oldest daughter, who is graduating from eighth grade. The other is for my youngest son, who is graduating from kindergarten.

As class president, part if my daughter’s responsibility is to write the speech for commencement. The purpose of the speech is to reflect on the years she spent with her classmates – what they learned and experienced. And, to offer words of encouragement for the challenges to come. I think that this is one of the things Jesus hoped to accomplish at the ascension when he said: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In the first reading from Acts, the disciples ask Jesus when he is going to restore the kingdom of Israel. He responds not as he did before, by saying that “not even the son of Man knows” but now by saying, with more levity, that they are not “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” The disciples still do not understand that he is talking about things that are eternal, not temporal. He is speaking not of what is, but what is to come.

The ascension which follows is the final time we see Jesus physically present on the earth. We now only see Jesus through the eyes of faith, and he is only present through his priests, in persona Christi, and through us as the mystical body. The kingdom is wherever Jesus himself is present and God’s will is loved and obeyed. Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire, torture, and persecution. Throughout the world women and men have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

In the Gospel, Jesus admonishes his followers to do as he commanded as they remain on the earth. As we heard in the Gospel just two weeks ago, he said that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” And just last week we heard that him say “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

Jesus is going through the final steps to prepare us to carry out his life. After his ascension, he is no longer limited to having an effect only on the place he is. If Jesus had remained on earth in his physical body, he would have been present and visible in only one place. Now he is present in his Mystical Body, the Church. He is truly present in the Scriptures, in Baptism, in Confession, and in every sacramental action of the Church. And he is really present in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He is now able to affect the world through us, wherever we go. Many of his miracles, such as feeding the hungry and healing the sick, are now our missions.

In the second reading, Paul reminds us of what we are to do on earth. He says: “And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

These words by Paul bring to mind a poem by St. Teresa of Avila. In this poem, which I am sure many of us have heard before, she wonderfully explains the notion that we are now on earth as the mystical body of Christ. She writes: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.”