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The Ascension of the Lord
May 29, 2022

Watch this homily!


     The readings for this feast of the Ascension have the potential for causing spiritual whiplash. They get us looking in several different directions - upward, inward, outward – and all at the same time. A balancing act for sure! But our life of faith is like that, isn’t it?  It’s seldom, if ever, just one thing at a time.

     The “looking up” part is clear enough. With the disciples of Jesus on the top of the Mount of Olives, our eyes today are firmly fixed on the heavens where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. His ascension gives the finishing touch to his triumph over the power of death. It is ‘mission accomplished’ for Jesus.

     The mission had begun when he embraced our human condition by becoming one of us, making our weaknesses his own, walking in our footsteps, traveling our roads, experiencing our pains, feeling our fears, embracing our limitations even to the point of coming face-to-face with our ultimate enemy, death itself.  And just when death had seemed to get the last word, his Father had spoken an even more powerful word. And when God spoke that word, death was defeated - it gave up its grip on the lifeless, mangled body of Jesus and he burst forth from the tomb radiant with new life, and returned to his Father where he intercedes for all of us.

     Ascension is about looking up, then: looking up to heaven where Christ is gloriously triumphant, our hope and our joy. But looking up to heaven is not enough. There is work to be done right here. As someone once put it, ‘we can’t afford to be so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good!’

     And that’s where looking inward and looking outward come in. First, looking inward. St. Augustine, in a homily for this feast, had this lovely way of putting it: “Christ ascended before the apostles’ eyes, and they turned back grieving, only to find him in their hearts.” St. Paul, in today’s reading from Ephesians, speaks of looking with “the eyes of our hearts” - coming to see the Christ who dwells within us by faith, awakening to the wonders of grace God is working within us right now, coming to know the hope that is ours, the “surpassing greatness of God’s power for us who believe,” (St. Paul’s words again). The eyes of the heart are able, in times of pain and darkness and grief, to see the hand of a mysterious but loving God at work. The eyes of the heart can make sense out of life’s deepest, most perplexing mysteries.

     Lastly, the Ascension makes us look outward. The ascension is not only about Jesus’ mission being accomplished, it’s not only about meeting the Christ who dwells within us, it’s also about the launching of a mission - our mission - the mission of the Church. “Behold I am sending the Promise of my Father upon you, but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” we heard in today’s passage from Luke’s gospel.

       My friends in Christ, we have – each of us – been “clothed with power from on high.” It all started with our baptism. We can no more stand still passively looking up than the disciples on top of the Mount of Olives could. There is work to be done, a world to be transformed, a gospel to be preached, and, like it or not, we are the preachers. And preaching the gospel can take many forms, spoken and unspoken, but, invariably, it will take us beyond our comfort zone, challenge us to witness to our faith in Christ in places that are hostile to it, and to people who aren’t much interested in it.

       A case in point: the horrific events that took place this past week in Uvalde, Texas, a mere ten days after the massacre at a grocery store in Buffalo. Our ‘thoughts and prayers’ – no matter how important, or how sincere and heartfelt – are simply not an adequate response. I believe our faith requires us to go further: to take action, the kind of action that will help change minds and change laws, out-of-touch laws that make lethal assault weapons far too available and accessible, weapons of war that have absolutely no place in the hands of ordinary citizens. Our faith also requires us to hold to account politicians and legislators who shamefully put their own power and personal gain ahead of the lives of innocent, defenseless children. This an outrage and a scandal and we must do all we can to put an end to it!

     Dear friends, this feast of the Ascension of Christ does call us to some serious acrobatics: to a delicate balancing act between living at a heavenly plane and slugging it out on this earthly plane. It very well could cause us a kind of whiplash but, like gravity-defying circus performers, if we do it right, it could also cause a people to sit up and take notice, and it might also begin to sow the kind of seeds for change that our society so obviously and so desperately needs!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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