THURSDAY HOMILY: The Feast of the Ascension is Not an Intermission
On this Feast of the Ascension we should ask ourselves this question, "How are we doing?" The Feast presents us with an invitation to examine the relationship between the faith we profess every Sunday in the Creed we recite at Mass and its manifestation in the stuff of our daily lives. St. Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth in his second letter to take such an examination regularly: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless, of course, you fail the test. I hope you will discover that we have not failed" (2 Cor. 13:5)
The Ascension of the Lord.
P>CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. In some places, the Feast is transferred to Sunday. Sadly, the Feast seems to have lost its deeper meaning in the experience of too many Catholics and other Christians.
This is a Feast of profound meaning and promise, if we understand the message proclaimed by the Christian Church about who Jesus is - and who we are empowered to become in Him.
On this Feast of the Ascension we should ask ourselves this question, "How are we doing?" The Feast presents us with an invitation to examine the relationship between the faith we profess every Sunday in the Creed we recite at Mass and its manifestation in the stuff of our daily lives.
St. Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth in his second letter to take such an examination regularly: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless, of course, you fail the test. I hope you will discover that we have not failed" (2 Cor. 13:5)
Philosophers and Theologians sometimes use the word ontology when considering the essence of being, what makes something what it is. There is an ontological meaning to the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. It goes to the very essence of the Christian vocation and the plan of redemption. We have ascended with Jesus Christ and are called to live on earth the very realities of heaven, beginning in the here and now.
This Feast can also give us insight into the deeper relaity of the Feast of Pentecost which we will soon celebrate. The breath of God, His Spirit, has been breathed into His Church - and thus into each one of us - in order to capacitate us to live differently - beginning right now - and participate in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
That mission will not be complete until the One who ascended returns and hands the re-created cosmos back to the Father. That is what the Apostle Paul calls "the plan", or the "mystery" now revealed in Jesus Christ. (See, e.g., Col. 1) The Feast of the Ascension helps unlock the meaning of our lives and the plan of God for the entire created order. No mere intermission, the Feast we celebrate today reveals the inner meaning of the ongoing mission of the Church and our call to participate in it.
Throughout most of the Catholic Church we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord this Thursday. In some places, the Feast is transferred to Sunday. However, the Feast has lost its meaning in the experience of too many Catholic Christians. Does the Ascension affect our lives in the here and now? Is it a commemoration of an event which occurred 2000 years ago? Or, could it help unlock the meaning of our lives and reveal the plan of God for the entire created order?
The great western Bishop Augustine proclaimed these words on the Feast: "Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth. For just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies."
When we went down into the Font of Baptism we were incorporated into Jesus Christ, made members of His Body, the Church. Therefore, as Augustine also wrote, "Where the Head is, there is the Body, where I am, there is my Church, we too are one; the Church is in me and I in her and we two are your Beloved and your Lover."
In other words, we have ascended with the Lord! He is the Head and we are members of His Body. We cannot be separated. Augustine, reflecting the clear teaching of the early Church Fathers reminds us that the Head and the Body are the "One Christ." So, this is our Feast as well! We now live in Christ by living in His Body, the Church, of which we are members. We are invited to live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.
Pope St Leo the Great reflected on the joy the disciples experienced on that glorious day in these words: "(T)hat blessed company had a great and inexpressible cause for joy when it saw man's nature rising above the dignity of the whole heavenly creation, above the ranks of angels, above the exalted status of archangels. Now would there be any limit to its upward course until humanity was admitted to a seat at the right hand of the eternal father, to be enthroned at last in the glory of him to whose nature it was wedded in the Person of the Son."
Both of these great Christian Saints point us to the deeper meaning of this Feast. The Ascension does not mark the end of Jesus' relationship with His Church but the beginning of a new way of His relating to the world - in and through His Church. This way includes every one of us who bear His name. We have also ascended - with the Lord. When viewed with the eyes of living faith the Ascension is capable of transforming the way we view ourselves and live our daily lives.
Jesus Christ bridged heaven and earth. Through His Incarnation, His Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, we have been set free from the consequences of sin, including the sting of death. (See, 1 Cor. 15:55) We are being created anew in Him daily as we freely cooperate with His grace. One of the Catechism's definitions of grace is "a participation in Divine Life". (See, CCC #1997) It calls to mind the wonderful words of the Apostle Peter in his second letter. He reminded the early Christians that they were "participants in the Divine Nature". (2 Peter 1:4) So are we!
This Divine Life is mediated to us through the Word and the Sacraments - in and through the Church which is the Bosy of Christ. We are incorporated into the Trinitarian communion of love, beginning now. The Church is not some "thing", the Church is Some-One, the Risen Christ truly present in the world which was created through Him and is now being re-created in Him.
The Church is the new Israel sent into the world to continue His redemptive mission until He comes again. Then, when He does return, He will complete the work of Redemption. The Church, as the fathers were fond of saying, is the new world, and the world in the course of transfiguration. The Christian vocation is about learning to live this new relationship in Christ together, with the Father, through the Holy Spirit and for the sake of a world that still awaits its full redemption. The Feast of the Ascension is not some kind of Intermission but a Continuation of the Redemption of Jesus Christ.
Let me conclude with some words from the great Apostle and mystic Paul who reflects on this plan:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.
"In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:3-14)
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