Ascension (A)
May 24, 2020
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Introit

Collect

Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God,
and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving,
for the Ascension of Christ your Son
is our exaltation,
and, where the Head has gone before in glory,
the Body is called to follow in hope.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading Acts 1:1-11

In my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. ‘It is’ he had said ‘what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’

  Now having met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.’

  As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’

 Responsorial Psalm

 

God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness,
for the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.

For king of all the earth is God;
sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne.

Second Reading Ephesians 1:17-21

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. This you can tell from the strength of his power at work in Christ, when he used it to raise him from the dead and to make him sit at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination, or any other name that can be named not only in this age but also in the age to come. He has put all things under his feet and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.

Gospel Acclamation

 

Gospel Matthew 28:19,20

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’

Reflection Questions

   How have you felt empowered by the Holy Spirit?

   How have the “eyes of your mind” been enlightened?

  What hesitations have you experienced when it comes to faith in Christ?

Catena Nova

Now the mystery of Christ’s death is fulfilled, victory is won, and the Cross, the sign of triumph, is raised on high. He who gives us the noble gifts of life and a kingdom has ascended into heaven, leading captivity captive. Therefore the same command is repeated. Once more the gates of heaven must open for him. Our guardian angels, who have now become his escorts, order them to be flung wide so that he may enter and regain his former glory. But he is not recognized in the soiled garments of our life, in clothes reddened by the winepress of human sin. Again the escorting angels are asked: Who is this King of glory? The answer is no longer, The strong one, mighty in battle, but, The lord of hosts, he who has gained power over the whole universe, who has recapitulated all things in himself who is above all things, who has restored all creation to its former state: He is the King of glory (St. Gregory of Nyssa).

The withdrawal of Christ’s bodily presence from his disciples meant not only that the Holy Spirit would come to them, but that the Father and the Son would also dwell with them in a spiritual manner. Christ’s departure did not mean that the Holy Spirit would simply take his place. It meant rather that together with Christ the Spirit would make his home in the hearts of the disciples. If this were not so, what would become of our Lord’s promise to be with his disciples always, to the end of time? And what of that other saying of his, The Father and I will come to him and make our home with him? The fact is that our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit in such a way that he himself would always remain with his disciples. And when through the coming of the Spirit their purely natural and human affections had become spiritualized, then they would be capable of the indwelling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (St. Augustine).

As the reason for his departure, our Lord mentioned his desire to open the way for our ascent to the heavenly places and to prepare a safe passage for us by making smooth the road that had previously been impassable. For heaven was then completely inaccessible to us – human foot had never trodden that pure and holy country of the angels. It was Christ who first prepared the way for our ascent there. By offering himself to God the Father as the first fruits of all who are dead and buried, he gave us a way of entry into heaven and was himself the first man the inhabitants of heaven ever saw. The angels in heaven, knowing nothing of the sacred and profound mystery of the incarnation, were astonished at his coming and almost thrown into confusion by an event so strange and unheard of. Who is this coming from Edom? they asked; that is, from the earth. But the Spirit did not leave the heavenly throng ignorant of the wonderful wisdom of God the Father. Commanding them to open the gates of heaven in honour of the king and master of the universe, he cried out: Lift up your gates, you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in. And so our Lord Jesus Christ has opened up for us a new and living way, as Paul says, not by entering a sanctuary made with hands, but by entering heaven itself to appear before God on our behalf. For Christ has not ascended in order to make his own appearance before God the Father. He was, is, and ever will be in the Father and in the sight of him from whom he receives his being, for he is his Father’s unfailing joy. But now the Word, who had never before been clothed in human nature, has ascended as a man to show himself in a strange and unfamiliar fashion. And he has done this on our account and in our name, so that being like us, though with his power as the Son, and hearing the command, Sit at my right hand, as a member of our race, he might transmit to all of us the glory of being children of God (St. Cyril of Alexandria).

With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up in Christ above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. It is upon this ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established, so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvelous when, in spite of the withdrawal from our sight of everything that is rightly felt to command our reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold. For such is the power of great minds, such the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible. This is why Christ said to that man who seemed doubtful about his resurrection unless he could see and touch the marks of his passion in his very flesh: You believe because you see me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. It was in order that we might be capable of such blessedness that on the fortieth day after his resurrection . . . our Lord Jesus Christ was taken up to heaven before the eyes of his disciples, and so his bodily presence among them came to an end. From that time onward he was to remain at the Father’s right hand until the completion of the period ordained by God for the Church’s children to increase and multiply, after which, in the same body with which he ascended, he will come again to judge the living and the dead. And so what was visible in our Redeemer 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 (Pope St. Leo the Great).

Christ’s going to the Father is at once a source of sorrow because it involves his absence, and of joy because it involves his presence. And out of the doctrine of his Resurrection and Ascension spring those Christian paradoxes, often spoken of in Scripture, that we are sorrowing yet always rejoicing; as having nothing yet possessing all things. This, indeed, is our state at present; we have lost Christ and we have found him; we see him not, yet we discern him. We embrace his feet, yet he says, Touch me not. How is this? It is thus: we have lost the sensible and conscious perception of him; we cannot look on him, hear him, converse with him, follow him from place to place; but we enjoy the spiritual, immaterial, inward, mental, real sight and possession of him; a possession more real and more present than that which the Apostles had in the days of his flesh, because it is spiritual, because it is invisible. When he says that he should go away, and come again and abide forever, he is speaking not merely of his omnipresent, divine nature, but of his human nature. As being Christ he says that he, the incarnate mediator, shall be with his Church forever.  But again, you may be led to explain his declaration thus: ‘He has come again, but in his Spirit; that is, his Spirit has come instead of him; and when it is said that he is with us, this only means that his Spirit is with us.’ No one, doubtless, can deny this most gracious and consolatory truth, that the Holy Spirit has come; but why has he come? To supply Christ’s absence or to accomplish his presence? Surely to make him present. Let us not suppose that God the Holy Spirit comes in such sense that God the Son remains away. No; he has not so come that Christ does not come, but rather he comes that Christ may come in his coming. Through the Holy Spirit we have communion with Father and Son. In Christ we are built together, says St Paul, for a dwelling place of God through the Spirit. You are the temple of God, the Spirit of God dwells in you. Thus the Holy Spirit does not take the place of Christ in the soul, but secures that place for Christ. St Paul insists much on this presence of Christ in those who have his Spirit. Do you not know, he says, that your bodies are the members of Christ? By one Spirit we are all baptized one body... you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it?  The Holy Spirit, then, vouchsafes to come to us, that by his coming Christ may come to us, not carnally or visibly, but may enter into us. And thus he is both present and absent, absent in that he has left the earth, present in that he has not left the faithful soul; or, as he says himself: The world sees me no more, but you see me (St. John Henry Newman).

It is not as if the Church were looking up and beyond herself to someone who is separated form her. No, her longing for the one who is to come rather turns her vision inward to what is already present for her. She looks inside and finds there Christ who has his rulership in heaven, but as the head and life of his body is united to his members on earth. In his face she seeks and finds what belongs to her….If you long for the glorified Lord you must go to his ecclesia. She shows the world the face of Christ in glory: her head, her life. It is true that his glory is still veiled; only those who believe and belong to him recognize his face. And all the while they seek and find him, turning to his near presence within, they are waiting for his final revelation before the whole world. The seeking, therefore, of which the Church sings today, is of what she possesses and what she hopes for. It is no visionary look into what is uncertain and far away, no barren sighing of a weak and sentimental kind, but an abiding and passionately-sought sharing of life with Christ who is present, and certain expectation of Christ to come which is a source of strength as well (Sr. Aemiliana Löhr). 

Once we grasp that “heaven and earth” mean what they mean in the Bible, and that “heaven” is not, repeat not, a location within our own cosmos of space, time and matter, situated somewhere up in the sky (“up” from whose point of view? Europe? Brazil? Australia?), then we are ready, or as ready as we are likely to be, to understand the ascension, described here quite simply and briefly by Luke. Neither Luke nor the other early Christians thought Jesus had suddenly become a primitive spaceman, heading off into orbit or beyond, so that if you searched throughout the far reaches of what we call “space” you would eventually find him. They believed that “heaven” and “earth” are the two interlocking spheres of God’s reality, and that the risen body of Jesus is the first (and so far the only) object which is fully at home in both and hence in either, anticipating the time when everything will be renewed and joined together. And so, since as T. S. Eliot said, “humankind cannot bear very much reality,” the new, overwhelming reality of a heaven-and-earth creature will not just yet live in both dimensions together, but will make itself “himself” at home within the “heavenly” dimension for the moment, until the time comes for heaven and earth to be finally renewed and united. At that point, of course, this renewed Jesus himself will be the central figure.

That is the point of the event, and its explanation, as we find them in verses 9-11. Jesus is “lifted up,” indicating to the disciples not that he was heading out somewhere beyond the moon, beyond Mars, or wherever, but that he was going into “God’s space,” God’s dimension. The cloud, as so often in the Bible, is the sign of God’s presence (think of the pillar of cloud and fire as the children of Israel wandered through the desert, or the cloud and smoke that filled the Temple when God became suddenly present in a new way). Jesus has gone into God’s dimension of reality; but he’ll be back on the day when that dimension and our present one are brought together once and for all. That promise hangs in the air over the whole of Christian history from that day to this. That is what we mean by the “second coming.”

Many of Luke’s readers would know that when a Roman emperor died, it had become customary to declare that someone had seen his soul escaping from his body and going up to heaven. If you go to the top end of the Forum in Rome, stand under the Arch of Titus, and look up, you will see a carving of the soul of Titus, who was emperor in the 80’s of the first century, ascending to heaven. The message of this was clear: the emperor was becoming a god (thus enabling his son and heir to style himself “son of god,” which is a useful title if you want to run the world). The parallel is not so close this time, since Luke is clear that it was not Jesus’ soul that ascended into heaven, leaving his body behind somewhere, but his whole, renewed, bodily, complete self. But there is then a sense that Jesus is upstaging anything the Roman emperors might imagine for themselves. He is the reality, and they are the parody — a theme we will notice more than once as Luke’s story unfolds. And when, at the end of Luke’s book, the good news of Jesus is being preached in Rome itself, openly and unhindered, we have a sense of “ ‘Of course!’ That’s how it had to be.” He is the world’s true and rightful king, sharing the very throne, and somehow even, so it seems, the identity, of the one true God (N.T. Wright).

Homily

SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION (A)

Readings:  Acts 1:1-11; Ep. 1:17-23; Mt. 28:16-20

 From Both Sides Now

            “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow it’s cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.”  Judy Collins sang those words.  Joni Mitchell wrote them.  I imagine the disciples felt like singing them too when, ten days before Pentecost, they saw a cloud envelop the Lord Jesus as he ascended into heaven.

            Oh sure, it was a cloud like the one that signaled God’s presence at key moments in the history of Israel: like when God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai and a thick cloud descended on the mountain (Ex. 19:16).  Later, when Moses entered the meeting tent, where the Ark of the Covenant was housed, a cloud also descended; and, yes, when the Ark was enshrined in the Holy of Holies inside the Temple built by Solomon--a cloud descended there too (cf. Ex. 24:15, 33:9; 1 Kgs. 8:10-11).

            In all these cases, a cloud symbolized the presence of God.  And the people acknowledged the Lord’s glory that came upon mountain and tent, ark and temple, by acts of homage.  Hence, Jesus’ disciples, when they saw him. . .worshipped him (G) on the mount of ascension, showing they believed him to be the new point of encounter­ with the Deity; his flesh the new Tabernacle filled with God’s presence.

            But Matthew adds, in the very same sentence, how some doubted too (G).  Like Joni Mitchell, it was “cloud illusions” they recalled.  At the very same time they saw, “Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere.”  They really didn’t know clouds at all.

            Nevertheless, some began to realize this cloud meant even more: that the divine presence was not limited to Jesus’ glorified body.  Before long, the bodies of Christ’s faithful were called “temples of the Holy Spirit” too, and their collective reality--the church—the “body of Christ” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19, 12:12), indeed, the fullness of him who fills all things (II).  So the glorifica­tion of Christ is something, some saw, we all share.  They began to see, in other words, clouds from both sides now,  from “up” and “down.”

            In one passage more daring than the other, the authors of the Christian Scriptures portrayed this belief.  Take Paul who said all of us. . .are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).  Or John who said, From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace (Jn. 1:16).  And Peter climbed the heights by saying, through God’s own glory and power, we may come to share in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pt. 1:3-4).  As Judy Collins might say, “Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel as every fairy tale comes real.”  They knew clouds, all right: Peter, Paul, and --  John.  You thought I was going to say “Mary!”

            All this is what the Greek church goes so far to call our “deification”: summed up by Clement of Alexandria who said, “the Word of God became human in order that we might learn from humanity how to become God.”  All of which fulfills the prophecy of Joel who heard the Lord say: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh . . . . Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit (Jl. 2:28-29).

            But some, at least, continued to doubt.  Doubting whether certain people long-thought unclean could really share Christ’s divinity.  And so the first crisis to divide the church was faced: Whether Gen­tiles could share in the glory of the Lord or not; and if so, did they have to become Jews as well?

            It’s hard to imagine the impact of such questions on those who thought they alone could be “chosen people.”  It required a whole new way of looking at people considered out of the camp (Ex. 19:17).  But when those like Paul (who looked at clouds from both sides now), when Paul, who stood for unqualified acceptance of the “other,” triumphed over those like James (who didn’t really “know clouds at all”), insisting the “other” become like “us” first, then was the universal church born.

            Hence, the barrier of hostility was broken down; and those once far off became near by the blood of Christ (cf. Ep. 2:13-14) -- the very same blood Hebrews tells us was shed outside the camp (Hb. 13:12):  in precisely the place where Moses brought the people to meet God (Ex. 19:17).  So from both sides now, inside and outside the camp, God dwells.

            And that’s how we should look at clouds: from “both sides now.”  From the side of God, surely, who fills the Christ with Holy Spirit; and the Eucharist too, where Jesus’ body and blood, under the “cloud” of bread and wine, is now the sign of divine presence.  But from our side as well, filled with the Holy Spirit in confirmation, true tabernacles and temples of God.  No doubt about it: unless “cloud illusions” get in the way, that “block the sun.”  And we’ll never know clouds at all.

Intercessions

For the apostles of the church today, that they may stir up within themselves and the whole church the power they received when the Holy Spirit was given to them in the grace of their ordination

That Jesus, who mounted His throne amid shouts of joy, may establish His rule over the hearts of world leaders, leading them into the ways of life, justice, morality, and peace for the exultation of all the peoples

That God may give us all His Spirit of wisdom, so that we may know and understand the hope of our calling and the riches of His glory that we will inherit as His holy ones

For the missionary outreach of the church, that we may all support by our prayers and financial resources the final mandate of Jesus: to make disciples of all nations

For all who are suffering, especially from the COVID-19 pandemic, who think Jesus has left them behind, that they may come to know that He seems to hide himself in heaven only to send the Holy Spirit of grace, healing, and courage upon them

 For our faithful departed ones, that Jesus, whom the Father raised from the dead and seated above every authority and power, may use His dominion to bring them to eternal life in heaven

Offertory Chant

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray to do the will of God on earth as in heaven where the Lord of glory is seated at the right hand of the Father…

Spiritual Communion

Lord Jesus, though we are deprived today of the Eucharist you are within us through the gift of the Spirit. By your indwelling Presence keep us united to you in a spiritual Communion together with all the members of your Body whose fullness fills the whole creation.

Communion Chant

 

Closing Hymn