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The Ascension of the Lord
May 12, 2024

Watch this homily! (Begins at 47:25)

    The readings for this feast of the Ascension have the potential for causing spiritual whiplash. They get us to look up, to look in, and to look out – all at the same time.  A balancing act if ever there was one! But our life of faith is like that, isn’t it? It’s seldom 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, we are to fix our eyes firmly on the heavens where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. His ascension completes his triumph over the power of death. It is ‘mission accomplished’ for Jesus. He had embraced our human condition by becoming one of us. He had made our weaknesses his own, walked in our footsteps, traveled our roads, experienced our pains, felt our fears, embraced our limitations even to the point of coming face-to-face with our ultimate enemy, death itself. Now, in returning to his Father, Jesus did not go alone. He took us with him – we who are members of his Body. As the early Fathers of the Church liked to say, because Christ has ascended into heaven we have already ascended there with him. Ascension is about looking up, then. Looking up to heaven where we have already begun to share in Christ’s victory. But we’ve also got to come down to earth. We can’t be, as someone once said, “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good!”

     And that’s where looking in and looking out come in.  Looking in - inward - or, as St. Paul put it in today’s reading from Ephesians, looking with “the eyes of our hearts” means looking at the wonders of grace God is working within us, coming to know the hope that is there, the inheritance that is ours, the “surpassing greatness of God’s power for us who believe,” to use St. Paul’s words. 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. Only the eyes of the heart are able to make sense out of life’s deepest, most perplexing mysteries. The Ascension of Christ does make us look inward, then – to look inward for the strength and light and understanding that God alone God can give.

     And the Ascension also makes us look outward. The ascension is not only about Jesus’ mission being accomplished, it’s also about the launching of our mission, the mission of the Church.  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation,” we heard in today’s passage from Mark’s gospel. We can no more stand still looking upwards than could the disciples on top of the Mount of Olives. 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. We are. And our preaching is probably not so much any words we say as the way we live. St. Francis of Assisi said it well when he told his followers to “preach the gospel at all times, using words if necessary!”

     That is what we are called to do and doing it can take many forms but invariably it involves leaving our comfort zone, witnessing to our faith in Christ in places that are hostile to it and to people who aren’t much interested in it. But maybe they will be if we live our faith in a compelling enough way.  Maybe they will be if we become a gospel others can read, if people can see Christ alive in us by the way we love others; maybe they will if we find the Christ who is hidden in others – especially in the poor and the unattractive, the least of our sisters and brothers or, in the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, if we learn to find the Christ who “plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his.”

     My friends in Christ, there is a sense in which we the Ascension of Christ calls us to be acrobats: to do a fine balancing act between living at a heavenly plane and slugging it out at a very earthly plane. It could cause us whiplash, but it could also cause a lot of people to sit up and take notice.

     Could that be what God has in mind…?

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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