Sunday, June 05, 2011

'Jesus never left!' (Ascension Homily)

This feast of the Ascension comes at the tail-end
of the Easter Season, just before Pentecost.
We might wonder how it fits in.

On Easter, Jesus rose from the dead in his human body.
Then for 40 days, he was with his followers again.
we only know a little about what that was like.
We do know he restored the faith of Thomas and Peter.

We know he “opened their eyes”
to the meaning of his death and resurrection.
And he opened their eyes
to the meaning of the Eucharist:
remember how he made known to them
“in the breaking of the Bread”?

Everything is being readied for a new chapter—
the birth of the Church—and the key is the Holy Spirit.

Let me highlight some parallels:

In Genesis, creation begins
with the Spirit hovering over the waters.
Jesus is conceived in the womb of Mary
by the Holy Spirit who “overshadowed” her—
see how the window depicts it?

Notice how the Church will be born:
Jesus ascends to heaven,
and then he sends the Holy Spirit.

Then—and now—the question always is,
“Who is this Jesus?”
In the Gospels, that’s what everybody asks.
They kept scrambling for answers:
“He’s a prophet” “he’s a teacher,”
“he’s the Messiah we’ve hoped for”…

Yes—but more.
People soon got the scary feeling
that there was a lot more going on with Jesus.

When he silenced a storm on the sea,
His disciples were in shock:
“What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

When he “taught with authority”—
that is, with God’s own authority—
the scribes and Pharisees asked,
“who do make yourself out to be?”

The full truth was beyond anyone’s imagining:
It was after the resurrection
that Thomas finally blurted it out:
“My Lord and my God!”

They could see without question he was human, like them;
now, when they saw him return to his throne in heaven,
they also knew what Thomas had said:
“My Lord and my God!”

Yet, does there not seem to be a contradiction?
Jesus goes to heaven, yet he promised,
“I am with you always, until the end of the age”?

Here’s the thing—and this is a challenging idea,
but here it is:
In the Ascension,
it isn’t really Jesus who changes his “location.”
It seems that way, but it’s not.
He really stays right where he’s always been.
He’s the Lord God; he is always at the center of it all.
His throne is wherever he is.
Heaven is wherever he is.
So when he “ascended into heaven,”
it wasn’t that he moved—but we moved.
When Jesus ascended into heaven,
humanity ascended to heaven.
When he returned to his throne,
our humanity went with him.

So Pope Benedict has made the point that Jesus never really “went away”;
the Second Coming isn’t really a “return,”
so much as it is the completion of his coming into the world.
So let’s get this straight:
Jesus never left! Jesus never left!

Saint Athanasius made an excellent point here.

He wrote, “there is no part of the world
that was ever without” the presence of God the Son—
but it was an invisible presence.

“Taking pity on mankind’s weakness…
[the Son] took to himself a body,
no different from our own.”

But not merely to be seen—
above all, he did it to be an offering—
God took a body that could die.

But here’s the thing: if all that—
God-becoming-man, dying on the Cross,
and rising from the dead,
were so important to do at one point in time…

The question remains:
what about all of us who didn’t live back then?
How does God make these things real…to us?

The Mass and the Eucharist!

Again, the key is the Holy Spirit.
Recall the parallels:
The Holy Spirit…at creation;
The Holy Spirit…overshadowing Mary;
The Holy Spirit, descending on Pentecost.
But there’s one more:

Just before the climax of the Mass,
the priest stands at the altar,
and begs the Holy Spirit to come down,
that these gifts of bread and wine
“become for us the Body and Blood
of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Without the Eucharist,
Jesus’ presence in the world—
goes back to being invisible.

In the bulletin, you’ll see that in three weeks,
Our parishes will honor the Eucharist in a special way.
We’ll have a weekend of adoration,
all day and night, at St. Mary.
This will take the place of adoration at St. Clare Chapel.

Then, on Sunday, June 26,
after the Sunday evening, 5 pm Mass,
we’ll have a procession, with the Eucharist,
from St. Mary Church to St. Boniface Church.
We will carry our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist,
on the streets of our city
You and I will proclaim to Piqua:
“Our Lord and our God!”

Let there be no question: Jesus never left!

We don’t need to gaze up into heaven.
The throne of heaven is not up there, far away:
He is here—until the end of the age.

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