Before you read this, realize what they are: they are notes. That means they may be incomplete thoughts. You may or may not see connections between these notes and the homily that resulted. One reason I share this is because not using it doesn't mean it might not be worthwhile to someone.
Meaning of the Ascension – Departure – Outpouring of the Holy Spirit:
1. While the Lord Jesus was physically on earth, our encounter with him was limited: “But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity” (CCC 659).
2. Only with his ascension, can we realize the power of Christ in the sacraments.
3. Only with his ascension, can we realize the identity of the Church as his Mystical Body.
4. What Scripture tells us in several places is that the full glory of the Lord has not been revealed. As Jack Nicholson said in the movie, A Few Good Men: “you can’t handle the truth!” There is a full reality of our Lord yet to be experienced; as wonderful as it is that God became man, there is a pitfall: that we see only the man, and don’t see all that there is to Jesus who is also God.
5. It’s hard to imagine the Apostles going out to the nations had Jesus remained on earth.
6. The ascension makes sense of his claim to be God: the one who “descended” from heaven in the Incarnation now “ascends” to his rightful place: the throne.
7. All this causes us to clarify what we really mean by heaven. We do not mean up on top of the clouds, or some vast distance out into space. Heaven is not a planet somewhere in the universe. But what is heaven? Where is it? The simplest answer is, wherever God is. God in himself, God experienced fully, purely and joyfully.
8. And hell: hell is God experienced fully but hatefully; to reject God utterly, yet be unable to escape him, sounds like hell to me.
9. And purgatory is the experience of God joyfully, yet with “impurity” or “dross” to be purged away.
10. Very important: notice what the Ascension means for humanity: A human being sits on the throne of heaven! We are brought “higher” or, if you prefer, to the “heart of it all.”
11. This is also about his priesthood. Jesus is the mediator between God and man: both God, and man, he is the perfect and complete mediator. Where the priest of the old testament would pass beyond the curtain into the Holy of Holies, Jesus passes into the sanctuary of Heaven.
12. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father (whatever that fully means). Note the section of the Gloria: “you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.”
If you’ll pardon the metaphor, I wonder if the Ascension isn’t kind of the “stepchild feast” of the Christian calendar?
We get the meaning of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, even Epiphany, better, I suspect, than we do this day.
One of the challenges is this: on every other day, we literally “get” something: Jesus is born on Christmas; he’s made known to the larger world on Epiphany. Good Friday and Easter are about us getting his salvation. We get the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
But Ascension? It seems to be about something we lose: Jesus goes away!
Let’s try to look at this a little differently.
Jesus ascending to heaven opens up possibilities we would never have thought of otherwise. Had Jesus stayed on earth, we’d all have to go to one place to be with him.
I’ve never met a President; I’ve never met a movie star. I’ve never met a pope. Maybe someday I might meet the pope; but if I do, it’ll be for about a minute, and that’ll probably be it. And most people will never meet him.
Imagine that’s how it was with Jesus Christ!
A lot of people think that is how it is with Jesus Christ—but I hope none of you have that wrong notion.
We meet Jesus Christ anytime we want!
We know him!
Through the Holy Spirit, through his Church, and through the sacraments.
But without him returning to heaven, I’m not sure that would have worked. The Lord himself said, elsewhere in Scripture, that if I he didn’t “go,” he couldn’t send the Holy Spirit. This may be what he meant.
If Jesus stood right here, he would be as real there as in the tabernacle. Different form of presence, but the same presence: which is why we speak of his “real presence” in the Eucharist.
But perhaps only his returning to heaven makes it possible for us to grasp that.
And it’s not just about taking seriously the nature of the sacraments, although that’s important; but also the nature of the Church herself as the Body of Christ.
So: the Ascension helps make Jesus more present to us, not less.