The feast of the Ascension is NOT about Jesus leaving us.
Rather, it’s about where Jesus wants to take us:
he goes ahead and, as he said, he prepares a place for us.
The Ascension is about heaven; Jesus wants to take us to heaven.
It’s the exact same thing with Holy Mass.
It is about getting us to heaven.
Not everyone really gets this.
For one, way too many people take heaven for granted.
And if you do that, Mass doesn’t really make much sense.
It would be like going into court, facing a trial,
but there’s no chance of a guilty verdict.
Then there’s no meaning. You could sleep through the whole case.
So it is for many people coming to Mass.
Since heaven is certain, Mass is a big bore.
Or we come expecting to hear something inspiring.
Or our goal is to reflect a little. Or to see friends.
A lot of people expect Mass to lift their mood.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these objectives;
but none of these is the point of Mass.
Which means, by the way: if these goals don’t happen –
if you aren’t inspired, if you can’t have quiet reflection,
if you don’t see any friendly faces,
and you don’t come out of church feeling bubbly –
that doesn’t mean you, quote, “didn’t get anything out of Mass.”
It means, rather, you misunderstood what Mass is actually about.
The Mass is about getting us to heaven.
And that, in turn, means you and I must change;
and that means, probably – Ha! Almost certainly –
changing in a major way!
See? That’s why people prefer to think heaven is a lock.
Because then they don’t need to face the need to change.
What Holy Mass does, just like the Cross, is to confront us.
It is like a mirror, showing us our desperate need.
And only then is Jesus’ offering on the Cross good news!
You’re drowning! I’m here to save you! Good news!
But not if I say, “Who’s drowning? I’m not drowning! Cough! Cough!”
The point I’m trying to make here is this:
There is something powerful, electric, going on.
Something more dramatic than anything you and I can imagine.
We might think of a frightening thunderstorm, rocking the house.
Or the cascade of shocking news, hour upon hour on TV.
Or the real suffering of people in our own lives.
Still, beyond all these very real, very human trials,
is the greatest drama of all, which is no less real,
despite being mostly invisible to us.
That is the fate of my soul, and yours, and the souls of humanity.
If you’ve ever been bored at Mass – I’ll confess and raise my hand!
Then I’m offering you a remedy.
Remind yourself what is at stake, what is actually happening,
even though it is, as I said, not visible to us.
You can’t see him on the Cross. You can’t see him rising from death.
You can’t see him returning to his throne at the center of all things.
But let me point out what you do see, and hear, and say:
You hear Jesus say, “this is my body, given up for you.”
“This is the chalice of my blood, a new and eternal covenant.”
“This is for you,” he says.
In time, he then went to the Cross and offered himself.
And in mystical realm that embraces all time,
this offering is not merely past;
it’s past, and yet we’re present to it; it’s still active.
Holy Mass is our portal into this reality beyond time.
What you see, at Mass, is the priest raise up the Body and the Blood.
Very important: no longer merely bread or wine, but the Son of God!
And the priest, and, in a way, the Son himself, and in a way, we – say,
“Through him, with him, in him”: this is the offering to the Father.
This is what gives us salvation! This is the entirety of our hope!
Again, this is hope for us if we will let God change us.
This is why receiving Holy Communion
without repenting and confessing our mortal sins is so awful.
It’s a sacrilege against this salvation, because we’re saying, in effect:
I don’t need to change. God must change.
Now, we know all that happens at Mass. It’s so familiar.
But what if we didn’t?
What if you and I could hear and witness this as if for the first time,
as if we didn’t know what the outcome would be?
Ask God for that grace.
And as we recall his Ascension, this is not a “going away” party.
Rather, the Great High Priest is bringing the drama of salvation
to the next chapter.
This isn’t about him going from “here” to “there.”
Jesus hasn’t, really, gone anywhere.
It’s about him reorienting everything toward heaven.
Here’s there; he’s here.
And right now is that phase of history
in which “here” and “there” slowly become one.
That conversion of all things is what you and I must be part of.
Thank God, the Holy Spirit is poured into our lives to make it happen!
Our task – simple yet big enough – is to accept that help.
Then you and I we’ll be part of that glorious future. That’s heaven.