• Mass Times

• Coming Events

• Sacraments

• Ministries

• Parish Staff

• Consultative Bodies

• Photo Gallery

• Virtual Tour

• History

• Contribute


• Bulletin: PDF

• In Your Midst

• Pastor's Desk


• Becoming Catholic

• Bookstore

• Faith Formation

• Funerals

• Immigrant Assistance

• Liturgy

• Mental Health

• Music

• Outreach

• Pastoral Care

• Weddings

• Young Adults

• Youth Ministry




The Ascension of the Lord
May 13, 2018


   The feast of the Ascension of the Lord always brings to my mind a pilgrimage to the Holy Land years ago which included a visit to the Church of the Ascension overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, the traditional site of the Ascension. An elderly monk showed us around the church with its beautiful mosaics and icons, but he saved what I’m sure he thought the was the best for last. Gathering our little group into a circle, he waited till he had our attention, and then pointed to the stone floor in which, even in the dim light, we could see, worn but unmistakable, traces of footprints which, he gave us to believe, were the very footprints of Jesus, wondrously burned into that spot as he took leave of his followers to ascend into heaven.

     Now, students of scripture and archaeology would raise an eyebrow, and a question or two, at the old monk's claim because the footprints are almost certainly the work of a pious believer from the Middle Ages who wanted to make the holiness of the place even more tangible than it already was.

     Even so, more than fifty years since my visit to that church, I still remember it clearly – remember looking down at those footprints made holy by the faith of countless believers down through the ages, watching people bend low to touch them reverently. I did so myself, but not without this slightly irreverent thought crossing my mind: if the message of the angels to Jesus' followers after he left them to ascend into heaven - the one we heard in today's reading from Acts - was, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up toward heaven?" – would their message to us have been, "Why do you stand there looking down?

     I don’t want to be irreverent, and I’m not playing with words here. Looking up and looking down are not just words: they are highly symbolic words worth reflecting on this day.

     First, looking up. The apostles stood there on the Mount of Olives looking up toward heaven because they wanted to hold onto Jesus.  They were frightened at the thought of going on without him, so they stood there frozen. And our little group of pilgrims in the church that day – looking down at those footprints in the stone - we weren't all that different. We wanted to hold onto Jesus, too. In that holy place, with the old monk standing by, Jesus seemed very near: close enough to touch.  Who could blame us for wanting, in this way, to hold onto Jesus like the apostles of old?  But they didn't get to, and we didn’t either.  That’s not what faith in the Risen Lord is about.

     So may I give you another way of looking at what this feast of the Ascension is all about?  Forget for a minute the apostles of Jesus anxiously staring at the heavens; forget, too, my little group of pilgrims, eyes intently fixed on the ground, and listen instead to St. Paul in today's second reading, and listen also to Jesus in the passage we just heard from Mark's gospel.

     In the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul gives us an entirely new direction in which to look – not up or down, but in. “Look inward,” he says. Look with "the eyes of the heart" which are able to see so much more than these eyes. The eyes of the heart are able to see the hidden things of God.  Listen again to St. Paul's words:  "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom...so that with the eyes of the heart...you may know what is the hope to which you are called, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God's power in us who believe."

     Now that may sound a bit abstract and theoretical to you, but I assure you it is not.  Paul is telling us that there is absolutely no limit to what the “eyes of the heart”, the eyes of faith can see.  They are able to look inward with `x-ray vision' and see the wondrous workings of God's grace.  The eyes of the heart are able, in times of pain and darkness and grief, for instance - as well as in times of abundant blessing - to see the hand of a mysterious but loving God at work.  Only the eyes of the heart can make sense out of life's deepest and most perplexing mysteries because the eyes of the heart are really God's eyes: God's "great and immeasurable power working in us."

     So, my friends, you can see why I suggest on this Ascension Day that looking up or down aren't half as important as looking inward, looking with the eyes of the heart.  Long ago, St. Augustine, in a homily for this feast of the Ascension, put it this way: “Christ ascended before the apostles’ eyes, and they turned back grieving, only to find Him in their hearts!”

     And then, we are to look in still one more direction: outward. That’s what Jesus told his followers to do before he ascended into heaven. "Go out to all the world and tell the Good News," he told them, and that, too, is what the feast of the Ascension is about.

     The Ascension reminds us that we who follow Christ are called to look outwards and to go outwards.  We are to leave our comfort zone and plant the seeds of the Gospel in the sometimes quite dirty soil of this world: soil that can be hostile to the Gospel, or at least painfully indifferent to it. We are called to proclaim good news that doesn’t always sound very good.

     My friends, the Ascension is about more than looking up or down. It is about internalizing the gospel to the point that it takes root in us and totally transforms us. And it is also about taking that gospel to the streets: preaching it by the love we give, the mercy we offer, the poor we serve, the justice we promote. Some words of St. Francis of Assisi come to mind: “Preach the gospel at all times,” he said, “using words if necessary.”

     My friends, challenged by the Word and fortified as we will soon be by the Eucharist, let us together “go out to all the world and tell the Good News!”

Father Michael G. Ryan




Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303