Ascension 2013 - Homilies and Stories

Thomas O’Loughlin

Introduction to the Celebration 

The image we have of the Ascension is that of departing, going away, disappearing; but our belief as Christians is that it represents the silent presence of Christ everywhere in the universe. He is no longer limited by earthly conditions — to be in one place at one time in his presence to his followers — but now dwells in the heavens with the Father: present in every gathering of his people — so he is present among us now, present whenever his people are in need, present in hearts calling us to be disciples and to be his hands, and feet, and voice in our lives. To celebrate this feast today is not to recall a past event — that day long ago ‘when he went up to heaven’ — but to rejoice that Jesus is our living Lord, with us now, leading and guiding us, because he is not tied down to a moment in earthly history. 
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Michel de Verteuil

General Textual comments 

The Ascension of Jesus was an essential stage in his relationship with this followers. He had walked with them in their moments of strength and of weakness, and now he was leaving them.
It is, of course, significant that this moment occurred immediately after his apparent defeat and after they had betrayed him.

By meditating on the story, we discover similar moments in our own relationship with God, with a cause, or with people who have touched our lives.

St Luke tells us the story in three sections:
- Verses 47 and 48 are the conclusion of a teaching by which Jesus “opened the minds of the apostles to understand the scriptures.” You can interpret “the scriptures” as referring to all traditional wisdom.
- Verse 19 stands by itself as a dramatic call to wait patiently until the moment of grace.
- Verses 50 to 53 are St Luke’s account of the ascension; every word is symbolical.
Discover through your meditation the paradox of the apostles “returning to Jerusalem
full of joy” after such a sorrowful parting. 

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Gospel Notes

Today we read the story — only found in Luke in his gospel which we are about to read now, and in his book of Acts which we have just read a few moments ago — of the mystery we are celebrating. Jesus commanded that the forgiveness of sins be preached to all and then was carried from their sight but was still with them in their hearts and in their gathering: that is how Jesus is with us here now, and still commanding us to make known the forgiveness of sins.

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John Littleton

Gospel Reflection 

In order to appreciate the Church’s nature (that is, what the Church actually is) and its role in the world, we need to understand as fully as possible the Church’s mission. This is because, essentially, the Church’s nature is the Church’s mission. And as members of the Church, we are obliged to participate in its mission.

The Church’s mission is best summarised in the mandate given by Jesus to his disciples before he ascended to heaven, having accomplished what the Father had sent him to do. He had been sent into the world to save God’s people from the devastation of sin so that they might have life to the full. Jesus had taught that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

At the Ascension, before moving beyond their sight, Jesus told his disciples to continue his saving activity. They were to be his witnesses. They were to make disciples of all the nations by going out to the whole world. They were effectively commissioned to lead people to conversion by proclaiming the Good News to everyone, thus bringing them to salvation. They were to teach those who were baptised to observe all that Jesus had taught during his earthly ministry.

So the Ascension was not the conclusion of Christ’s redemptive work. Rather, it marked the handing over of his mission to his disciples and, in turn, to their disciples. It was the beginning of their response in faith to all that he had done for them. He was making each of them ‘another Christ’ who would assume some responsibility for continuing Christ’s saving work among the peoples of the world.

Thus his physical departure had implications for his disciples — including us. This is the basis of the Church. This is why the Church’s mission and the Church’s nature are identical. Both are of divine origin.

Although Jesus has ascended to the Father, he continues to be present to us in many ways. He is present in the word of God as it is proclaimed in truth and faithfulness, especially when we gather to celebrate the sacred liturgy. He is present in a unique way in the Church’s sacraments when they are celebrated, and particularly by his real and abiding presence in the Eucharist. He is present in each one of us, his brothers and sisters through baptism, as we live in accordance with his teaching and example. While he is no longer present in a human body, he is present in many other ways. The Holy Spirit is also with us.

The Feast of the Ascension is a call to renew our participation in the Church’s mission. We help to make disciples by our words and good example. When we are committed to the Church and its teaching, we help those who are preparing for baptism. We teach other people about the eternal life that is offered to them whenever we speak about our faith and its relevance to our lives. This is how we participate in the Church’s mission and begin to understand more fully its nature.

On the Feast of the Ascension we focus our minds and hearts not so much on Jesus’ departure from this world but rather on his continued presence among us, albeit in different ways. While his earthly mission concludes with the Ascension, his mission of salvation continues in the Church. We, together, are the Church. We are the Body of Christ which is a sign of God’s loving presence to the entire world. We are reminded to assume the responsibility that comes with baptism as we renew our commitment to being the Church and to loving the Church. 

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Background:
 
Today’s passage is part of what is often called Jesus’s “priestly prayer” because he is picture as praying for his apostles, the first priests. While it is legitimate to see the prayer in this fashion, it is a narrow interpretation, much too narrow for John’s intent which was to reassure all those in the community for which he was writing and not only its leaders. 

The apostles in this story represent the whole community, everyone who is embraced by the love of Jesus and therefore by the love of God. Jesus prays to the Father to take care of each one of his followers, to protect them from evil, to perfect them in goodness, to promote their growth in grace. The Irish blessing summarizes exactly the meaning of this prayer: “Until we meet again, may God hold you all in the palm of his hand.”

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Homily notes

1. Preaching on the priesthood of Christ, and so of our identi~ as a priestly people, always seems such a difficult task tha most of us try to avoid it! Yet, if Ascension Day is our ritua celebration of his entry into the true heavenly sanctuary, jm as Good Friday was the celebration of his sacrifice, his shed ding his blood for our reconciliation – and this in one of th classic ways that the tradition has understood this mystery then it is something we should not try to avoid. The temptation is to treat the Ascension as simply some sort of historic” recollection of ‘the final act’ of the earthly Jesus (see the Not on Ascension and Pentecost), and to forget that the theology ( Hebrews is one of the basic ways by which we as Christian understand the mystery of the Cross (see the note on today’ alternative second reading).

2. However, to open up this vision of today, and of the sacr fice / redemption of Christ, we need a convenient vehicle. Th liturgy provides just such an entry-point in today’s magnif
cent preface (Preface of the Ascension I, P 26; Missal, p. 429). So the homily could take the form of a meditation on that preface with a few glosses of explanation. Alas, when this preface is simply spoken out in the Liturgy of the Eucharist today, it is all over so quickly that its beauty and theology can be simply missed – so a meditation on upon it will pre­pare the assembly to appreciate it more when actually used.

3. Today the Lord Jesus, the king of Glory’ – we are speaking now about our living, risen Lord, we are not recalling an event two millennia ago. And, we are celebrating today ­through the mystery of our baptism we are being brought into the actual ascension now, for we are with Christ who is in the Father’s presence giving us and all people his reconcili­ation. The ascension is a means of giving us images that speak to us as image-loving-beings of what Christ’s love is all about.

The conqueror of sin and death.’ Jesus is the one who suf­fered and died on the Cross, and this shedding of blood showed his love and obedience to the Father and so has de­stroyed our death.

Ascended to heaven while the angels sang his praises.’ Our celebration today is that Jesus is the true high priest, higher than the angels (see Heb 1:5-13), who has entered the true temple – the Father’s presence.

‘Christ, the mediator … and Lord of all’. Jesus is priest and Lord.

‘Has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope.’ We are not abandoned nor do we look backwards, but look forwards with confidence because Jesus has pre­pared the way for us.

‘Christ is the beginning, the head of the church.’ We are united with him in baptism; we have been sprinkled with his pure water and are able to stand before the Father because we belong to him. We are a priestly people because he is our Way, our high priest.

And, the preface concludes with the pithiest statement of what is meant by Christian hope / confidence that is no mere optimism: ‘where he has gone, we hope to follow.’

This is why we can say in the line leading to the Sanctus (when we claim that our praises at this eucharistic assembly become joined with that of the heavenly assembly) that the joy of his resurrection and ascension renews the whole world: Christ the priest has reconciled the world to the Father, and soon we will celebrate the presence of the Spirit whom the Father has sent among us for the forgiveness of sins (see the formula of absolution).

4. When a text has been used with glosses as a meditation, it is then useful to conclude the meditation by reading the text through again from beginning to end without comment to let the hearers ‘own’ the words that have been commented upon. 

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Prayer comments

Lord, we remember a time when we had given ourselves to a cause and became disillusioned:
- a trusted companion let us down,
- the political party we had joined was rejected at the polls,
- we turned away from an addiction but fell back into it,
- our Church community closed down a movement we had started.
Then something happened to make us realize that the movement was still alive:
- a new leader took charge,
- old companions returned and new ones joined us,
- in a moment of prayer we felt a new heart had been put into us.
It was as if Jesus had appeared to us and said,
“So you see how it is written that an Anointed One must suffer,
and only on the third day rise from the dead.”

“We have closed the book on apartheid.”  F.W. De Klerk on television,18 March 1992
“Not yet, mister.” Response of an evangelical pastor
Lord, we pray for the people of South Africa,
and all those who are starting on the path of conversion.
Let them not forget how it is written
that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.

Lord, we would always prefer to preach the name of Jesus from a position of strength
-we have turned away from sin;
-we have completed a course of study and now understand the message;
-many people admire us.
Send Jesus to remind us that if we want repentance for the forgiveness of sins
to be preached to all the nations,
we must begin from Jerusalem where we betrayed our cause and were welcomed back.
Then we will be witnesses to your forgiveness.

 ”I continue to believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Martin Luther King, accepting the Nobel Peace prize
 Lord, we pray today for those who are tired of waiting for your grace
-parents with a child addicted to drugs,
-leaders working for Church renewal,
-radical politicians,
-third world people caught in the debt trap.
Though you are delaying, you are sending down what you promised,
so they must stay in the city until they are clothed with the power from     on high.

“The person of prayer leads the world beyond the dichotomy of life and death and is therefore a witness to life.”
Thomas Merton
Lord, we thank you for the great people you have sent into our lives
- they widened our horizons,
- helped us to see new possibilities,
- showed us the implications of our sins.
Like Jesus with his disciples, they led us to the outskirts of where we lived,
lifted their hands and blessed us and then withdrew from us,
leaving us to return to our daily lives full of joy.
We were sad, of course, and felt tremendous respect for them,
but their being carried up to heaven did not destroy us.
We went back to Jerusalem full of joy,
and from then on we were continually in the temple praising you.

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Nine Reasons to Celebrate Ascension
 
While blessing them, He was carried up to Heaven. Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Feast the "Ascension of the Lord" Jesus.

While reflecting on this Feast that the Holy Catholic Church has found worthy of including in the Liturgical Calendar, I asked myself, "What does the Ascension of Jesus mean to us?" After spiritual reflections, I was able to perceive some important factors that are associated with the Ascension of the Lord Jesus.

1. First of all, the visible departure of the Lord concluded the Risen Jesus' sojourn on earth. For 40 days after His Resurrection, Jesus had been appearing to many of His followers and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. [Acts 1:3] The days of His apparitions had come to an end.

If we are to take Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke or Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John as they stand, we would get the impression that all three, the Resurrection, the Ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit happened on the same day. But this is not so. As I have just mentioned, there was "40 days" [Acts 1:3] between the day of the Resurrection and the day of the Ascension. This knowledge is made known to us by St. Luke who also wrote "The Acts of the Apostles."

2. Secondly, I have come to perceive that the Ascension of Jesus completes our understanding of the awesomeness of the glorious Resurrection. Because the Lord Jesus was raised to Heaven after His glorious Resurrection, it is made known to us that our blessed hope of eternal life does not consist of dwelling in this world, but rather in Heaven.

3. Thirdly, the Ascension of the Lord affirms that Jesus was the Messiah. As the Gospel of Luke tells us, "He was carried up into Heaven." [Lk. 24:51] The questions to ask here are, "Who carried Him?" and "Why did they carry Him?" It was the angels who carried Jesus to Heaven because they were created to "adore Him" [Heb. 1:6] and serve Him.

In concluding the writing of his Gospel, St. Luke emphasized that the proclaiming of repentance and the forgiveness of sins was to be proclaimed in His Name. [Lk. 24:47] This emphasis, in "His Name," shifts the faith of the believers from Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, to the divinity of Jesus. "For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily." [Col. 1:19, 2:9]

4. Next, the Ascension of the Lord Jesus opened the door for the beginning of the Divine ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Heavenly Father. [Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4]

5. Fifth, during the Gospel Reading, we heard that Jesus raised His hands and blessed His disciples. [Lk. 24:50] This action echoes a similar action that is found in the Book of Sirach in the Old Testament.
"The leader of his brothers and the pride of his people was the high priest, Simon son of Onias..." [Sir. 50:1] "Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation of Israelites to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to glory in his name." [Sir. 50:20]
From this passage, we come to perceive that the blessing of Jesus was not just an ordinary blessing. It was a blessing from the True High Priest, He who is a priest forever, according to the Order of Melchizedek. [Heb. 5:6, 7:17, 7:21]

6. Sixth, from the moment of the Ascension, the living hope of all Christians has been for the Second Coming of Christ, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. At the moment of the Ascension of the Lord, the countdown began. "About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." [Mt. 24:36] "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." [Mt. 24:44]

7. Seventh, once the Lord Jesus had ascended into Heaven, He sat at the right hand of God. [Mk. 16:19; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 10:12; 1 Pet. 3:22; Acts 2:33, 7:56-7] Since then, He has been the Mediator between God and humankind. [1 Tim. 2:5] "Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree He is the Mediator of a better Covenant, which has been enacted through better promises." [Heb. 8:6]

8. Eight, from the moment of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, His glorious reign began as the King of kings. Through the Resurrection of Jesus, death was conquered. "The great dragon was thrown down (out of Heaven), that ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." [Rev. 12:9]

Following the glorious moment of the Ascension of Jesus, the souls that dwelled in Limbo were finally released "Christ was the first fruits of those who had died." [1 Cor. 15:20]
In theological usage the name "Limbo" has two meanings. The first is the temporary place or state of the souls of the just who, although purified from sin, were excluded from the beatific vision until Christ's triumphant ascension into Heaven (the "limbus patrum").

According to apocryphal Jewish literature that refers to the abode of the departed just, the following condition of the souls is generally agreed upon:

- that their condition is one of happiness,
- that it is temporary, and
- that it is to be replaced by a condition of final and permanent bliss when the Messianic Kingdom is established.

(See Catholic Encyclopedia Online; Subject: Limbo.)
9. Ninth, while Jesus has ascended into Heaven, His Divine Presence continues to be with us where He is adored daily in the Sacred Tabernacles of the Catholic Churches.

The last verse from today's Gospel Reading states, "And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the Temple blessing God." [Lk. 24:53] What is stressed here is that the believers were "continually" in the Temple and their "great joy."

From this passage, it can be perceived that the physical Church mirrors the invisible Kingdom of God. The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church mirrors the new Jerusalem and the new Temple. The Divine Presence of Jesus in the Sacred Tabernacles mirrors His Divine Presence among the saints and the angels in the Kingdom of God.

Why is there great joy? Because the celebration of the Holy Mass and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist mirror the Heavenly Feast in which Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints and all the angels are partaking. To receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is to "worship God in spirit and truth." [Jn. 4:24]

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the aforementioned raises the importance of the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord above the fact that the Lord Jesus was carried up to Heaven by the angels. While the Resurrection was the turning point in history regarding salvation, the Ascension was the turning point in history regarding the beginning of the Kingdom of God.

Following the glorious Ascension of the Lord, the endless righteous souls who had died from the days of Adam to the days of Jesus, all were finally released from their prison in Limbo. Finally, they could enjoy the eternal Presence of Christ the King. For these souls, the Resurrection of Jesus prepared the way for their freedom from a dwelling where they did not enjoy the beatific vision of Christ.

These are reasons to celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. There may be more than those that I have mentioned. But these are sufficient for us to rejoice, not only for ourselves, but for the countless souls of the days of the Old Testament who finally entered the Kingdom of God.

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1. Once upon a time a great coach was retiring 

He and his teams had won many championships. He was very proud of them and they very proud of him. He knew that it was time for him to pull back from the daily grind of practices and the frequent strain and tension of the games. He was fraying around the edges and he knew it. So did the smarter  players but they loved him so much that they would not admit this even to themselves.  He did not want to leave the school or give up the sport, not yet anyway. So it was agreed that he would become athletic director and his best assistant would become the coach. He promised that he would never interfere in the daily running of the team. Since he was a man of his word, everyone knew that he was telling the truth. Yet there was terrible ambivalence in the team. On the one hand they were glad the coach was doing what was good for him. On the other hand they didn’t want to lose him, not even the man who was going to take over as head coach. The old coach would still be around, but in the background. It would never be like it used to be, like it had been for such a long time.

At his farewell dinner,  the players, the coaches, the teachers, the parents were all deeply moved. They did not want to say goodbye, yet they knew the change would be good and that it was wise to say goodbye. In his farewell speech the coach commended his players to the new coach. Take good care of them, he said. I know you will and I promise not to interfere, but take good care of them because I love them all. This is now Jesus felt about us when he said goodbye to return to the father in heaven. More important, that is the way he still feels about us and he has a lot more power than an athletic director. 

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2.  The disciples who completed Puccini’s opera Turandot 

The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini wrote La Boheme, Madama Butterfly and Tosca.   It was during his battle with terminal cancer in 1922 that he began to write Turandot, which many now consider his best work. He worked on the score day and night, despite his friends' advice to rest, and to save his energy. When his sickness worsened, Puccini said to his disciples, 'If I don't finish Turandot, I want you to finish it.' He died in 1924, leaving the work unfinished. His disciples gathered all that was written of Turandot, studied it in great detail, and then proceeded to write the remainder of the opera. The world premier took place in La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and Toscanini, Puccini’s favorite student, conducted it. The opera went beautifully, until Toscanini came to the end of the part written by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down the baton, turned to the audience, and announced, “Thus far the master wrote, but he died.” There was a long pause; no one moved. Then Toscanini picked up the baton, turned to the audience and, with tears in his eyes, announced, “But his disciples finished his work.” The opera closed to thunderous applause, and found a permanent place in the annals of great works. Jesus instructs us in his Ascension message to finish his work of saving mankind by proclaiming His good news in words and deeds.

3.  “Is this thing working?”  

There is the funny story of the raw army recruit standing at  attention on the drill field. The drill instructor yells, "Forward, march!" And the entire ranks begin to move, all except this one raw recruit. He's still standing there at attention. So the drill instructor strolls over to him and yells in his right ear, "Is this thing          working?"          "Sir,          yes,          sir!"          The          recruit          yells. Then the drill instructor walks around to the other ear and yells, "Is this thing working?" "Sir, yes, sir!" The soldier says. "Then why didn't you march when I gave the order?" "Sir, I didn't hear you call my name." Some of us are like that soldier, standing around waiting for God to call our names. But the great commission given by Jesus on the day of his Ascension is a blanket order. It has everyone's name on it. And you can be sure that the man in charge says, "Go! Make disciples! Teach!” It is your mission and my mission.  

4. "I have no other plan -- it must work."

A beautiful old story tells of how Jesus, after his  ascension  into  Heaven,  was  surrounded  by  the  Holy  Angels  who  began  to enquire about his work on earth.   Jesus told them about His birth, life, preaching, death and resurrection, and how he had accomplished the salvation of the world.

The angel Gabriel asked, “Well, now that  you   are   back   in   Heaven,   who   will continue your work on earth?"  Jesus said, "While I was on earth, I gathered a group of people around me who believed in me and loved me.   They will continue to spread the Gospel and carry on the work of the Church.” Gabriel was perplexed. "You mean Peter, who denied you thrice and all the rest who ran away when you were crucified?  You mean to tell us that you left them to carry on your work? And what will you do if this plan doesn't work?"  Jesus said, "I have no other plan -- it must work." Truly, Jesus has no other plan than to depend on the efforts of his followers!

5. The ascension mission to preach the gospel:  

After attending a convention led by Billy Graham a woman wrote to him. “Dear Sir, I feel that God is calling me to preach the gospel. But the trouble is that I have twelve children. What shall I do?” The televangelist replied: “Dear Madam, I am delighted to hear that God has called you to preach the Gospel. I am even more delighted to hear that He has already provided you with a congregation in your own home.” 

6. Ascension walk-out:
 
There was a long-winded pastor who preached salvation history from Genesis to Revelation in every sermon. On the feast of Ascension as he reached Isaiah, he remarked that the prophet said nothing about the ascension of Our Lord. He asked his audience, “What shall we do with him?” One old man in the front seat said, “He can have my seat, Father, I am leaving.”

7. And after death ascend or descend?
 
At the end of school what do you want to do?  I want to do my Senior Certificate. After your Senior Certificate what do you want  to  do? -  I  want  to  go  to  college. After  college  what  do  you want  to  do?

- I want to get a job. Then what do you want to do? - I want to make big money. What  do  you  want  to  do  after  making  money?  -  I  want  to  build  a  big  house. After that what do you intend to do? - I want to get married. What will you do after getting married? - I will have a family. What will you do after having a family? - I will retire. What do you want to do after you retire? - I want to take a rest. What will you do after taking a rest? - I don’t know. Will you die? - Oh yes, I will die too. What will happen after death? I am not sure! 

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Additional Anecdotes from Father Tony Kadavil’s collection:

1) The Unfinished Painting:
 
Leonardo da Vinci had started to work on a large canvas in his studio.  For a while he worked at it – choosing the subject, planning the perspective, sketching the outline, applying the colors, with his own inimitable genius.  Then suddenly he stopped working on it.  Summoning one of his talented students, the master invited him to complete the work.   The horrified student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which his master had begun.  But da Vinci silenced him.  "Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?"  Jesus our Master began to spread the Good News two thousand years ago, by what he said and did, and supremely by what he suffered. He illustrated his message, and he has left us to finish the picture.  Will his life not inspire us to finish the picture? This is the message of the Ascension (John Rose in John's Sunday Homilies).

2) Solar Power:
 
One of the national coordinators of Sun Day held early in May every year is Denis Hayes. He worked as researcher at a Washington D.C. ‘think-tank’ and has written a book on solar energy entitled Rays of Hope: The Transition to a Post- Petroleum World. Hayes claims that we are at the crossroads of making a critical choice for mankind – the choice between going solar or going nuclear for a power source. Hayes opts for the sun because it is “the world’s only inexhaustible, predictable, egalitarian, non-polluting, safe, terrorist-resistant and free energy source.” We’ve already learned to use the power of the sun to grow food, make wine and operate greenhouses. All we need to do is develop better technology to harness solar energy to heat houses, drive our cars and run our industry. People like Hayes are looking at the sky with its sun as the main source of our future energy supply. Today we turn our attention to the sky for another reason – to commemorate our Lord’s Ascension into heaven. In the first reading, from Acts, Jesus makes a promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” That Spirit is the power source that can give us all the energy we need to live our lives to the full. (Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’)

3) Passing the Baton:
 
The critical moment in a relay race is the passing of the baton from one runner to another. More relays are won or lost at that moment than at any other. The feast of the ascension might be compared to the passing of the baton in a relay race. On this day over 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed the baton of responsibility for the Kingdom of God to his followers. Jesus commissioned them to complete the work he had begun. Practically, what does this mean? How do you and I, in the 20th century, carry out Jesus’ commission to be his witnesses to the world and his teachers to the nations? There are as many ways to do this as there are Christians. We can do what two 25-year-old university graduates did recently. After completing their degrees, one from Georgetown and the other from Marquette, they entered the Seminary. We can do what Albert Schweitzer did. At the age of 30 he abandoned his music career in Europe to study medicine and   became   a   missionary   doctor   in Africa. We can do what the baseball coach of Spring Hill College, Alabama, did a few years back. At the age of 35 he resigned his position and began his studies for the priesthood.

[Mark      Link      in      ‘Sunday      Homilies’      (quoted      in      Net      for      Life)]

 4) Great commissions:
 
Actually there have been many persons given exciting commissions in their lifetimes. There was Michelangelo's commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Sir Christopher Wren's commission to build St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Walter Reed's assignment to stop yellow fever at the "Big Ditch" in Panama, Chamberlain's orders to stop the Confederates at Little Roundtop in  Gettysburg  and most  recently  the  mission of  the  U.S.  Navy  Seals to  get  the terrorist master-mind, Bin Laden, dead or alive. But I tell you, in my life and yours, there is an even greater commission. It is found here in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus Christ turns to his disciples and says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
 
5) "Torpedo evangelism."
 
Rebecca Pippert, the author of Out of the Salt Shaker: Into the World, tells of a time she was sitting in her car at a traffic light with her window rolled down. As the light turned green a car drove by and its occupant threw something into her car hitting her on the cheek. It didn't hurt but she was so startled that she pulled over immediately. When she unrolled the paper, she discovered it was a gospel tract. She says she was the apparent victim of what she refers to as "torpedo evangelism." I'm sure the torpedoer meant well. At least I hope so, but he or she did the wrong thing for the right reason in the wrong way. We can engage people in conversation about their faith and their relationship with God in a non- judgmental manner. We can encourage. We can invite. We can offer counsel. But we leave the hard work, the heart work, up to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. You see, we are not on some sort of spiritual mugging mission. 

6) Reaching Peak Performance:
 
One of the superstars in that professional speakers’ circuit is a man named Charles Garfield. He is a psychologist from San Francisco. He makes up to 150 speeches a year, he says. Actually, if the truth were known, he makes one speech 150 times. He began his career as a mathematician for NASA. He was part of the Apollo Project that put a man on the moon. He left NASA to study psychology. He became interested in what motivates people to reach their highest possible achievement in this life. He went to Berkeley and got a PhD in psychology. Then he interviewed 1,500 people on how they achieved what he called "peak performance." He published that result in a book, and then he started on the lecture circuit. He said the one thing that all peak performers have in common is a sense of mission. "What you need in this life if you want to have fulfillment is a sense of mission." It is giving yourself to something that is greater than yourself. That is what a mission is. Our mission is found at the conclusion of Matthew's gospel: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." Not only does the Church  have a mission to perform in this world, but everybody in the Church is supposed to have a part in performing that mission. 

7) “They don't drink no water."
 
The chief warrant officer was brought before the provost marshal and asked if he had received the general's order. "Yes, Sir." "Then why didn't you comply?" roared the provost.

"Well, Sir, I didn't think it applied to us." "And why not?"

"Because, Sir, when my men go to town, they don't drink no water."[Robert L. Jamison, "Humor in Uniform," Laughter, the Best Medicine, (New York: Berkley Books,

1981), p. 29.] Fortunately, those men who first heard the ascending Lord's orders did not look for ways to get around them but did what they told. 

8) Nietchze and Hitler:
 
Nietchze, the German philosopher, said, "God is dead and the stench of his corpse is all across Europe." He advocated humanism and proposed the development of a "superman" of Aryan heritage, protected by selective breeding and superior education. The Nazi Party picked up his idea, and men like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Mengle, Himmler, and Rommel set about building such a society in Germany's Third Reich. But it all ended with bullets and bombs, chaos and suffering such as the world has seldom seen. The Christian faith has no less a plan. But it involves a higher order. Hitler would have renewed man by his own efforts. We seek to renew the human race by the work of God. Our mission as given by the ascending Jesus is not to make converts or church members, but baptized, obedient   disciples!

9) Three-step baptism: 
 
In one of the great cathedrals of Europe there is a baptistery that tells the story. The water flows through it reminding us that Jesus says he is the living water. To be baptized, a person walks down three steps, each one marked by a word:  the  world,  the  flesh,  and  the  devil.  Descending  the  steps  the  convert  is plunged beneath the water to die to sin and then raised from the depths to newness of life in Christ. To leave the baptistery now he must climb three steps, each one marked by a word: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So it is that a new creature is born, a new breed of man, a citizen of a new kingdom, a breed apart. Dead to sin, he is alive to God and is sent forth to grow to love and to give light to a lost, dying world. He doesn't do it alone. He does it in the Church, in little communities. In these, people demonstrate, in their way of being together, God's eternal kingdom come upon them. It took Michelangelo over ten years to paint the Sistine Chapel. Our missionary commission lasts until the job gets done, until life is over, "until the close of the age."

10) “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”
 
Have you heard the story of a sea captain who was guiding his ship on a very dark night? He saw faint lights in the distance and told his signalman to send a message, “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” A prompt message returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain became angry because his command had been ignored, so he sent a second message, “I command you to alter your course 10 degrees south!” Again a message promptly returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” Infuriated, the captain sent off a third message: “I am the captain and this is a battleship. Alter your course 10 degrees south!” Once again a prompt reply came, “Alter your course 10 degrees north – I am a lighthouse.” These last words of Jesus    are the signal we are to obey. No wonder we label the call “the Great Commission.” The tragedy of the church – our great sin – is that the Great Commission of Jesus is our “great      omission.”  

11)  Plus Ultra =  "More  beyond!” 
 
“In  Fourteen  Hundred  Ninety-two/Columbus sailed  the  ocean  blue!"  In  1992  the  world  marked  the  500th  anniversary  of Christopher  Columbus'  adventure  in  the  Santa  Maria.  As  we  all  now  know, Columbus did not end up where he was headed, which is why some native Americans are now called Indians. This man from Genoa believed, "God granted me the gift of knowledge ... (and) revealed to me that it was feasible to sail ... to the Indies, and placed in me a burning desire to carry out this plan." Columbus set out with a belief that he had tested with his mind, and with a faith to which he was willing to give his life! How many of us can walk in Columbus' shoes? When, on Friday, August 3, 1492, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, eased away from their moorings at Palos, in southern Spain, Columbus was putting his beliefs and his faith into the realities of life. Before the reports of his trans-Atlantic travel penetrated the Old World, Spanish coins had stamped upon them an outline of the Straits of Gibraltar. Underneath the outline of the Straits was the Latin inscription Ne Plus Ultra. It translates, "No more beyond." It meant that the world ended in the great expansive voids of water beyond the Straits. There was nothing more. But once Columbus returned home and told of what he had seen, of what he had discovered, and once that report was widely shared, new coins were minted. The inscription was changed to Plus Ultra. It translates, "More beyond!" That is the mountaintop affirmation which came to the disciples in Galilee and the word that ends Matthew's gospel. 

12) Wellington defeated:
 
Wellington and Napoleon were fighting the battle of Waterloo.  It  was  a  decisive  battle.  Life  for  many,  many  persons  hinged  on  its outcome. At last, word was transmitted to London by means of semaphores - a visual code with reflected sunlight spelling out the message letter by letter. A sentry picked up the message from his post atop a great cathedral. Letter by letter he passed on the message to London. The first word was "Wellington." The second word was "defeated." Suddenly a very dense fog settled in upon the cathedral, making it impossible for the light to penetrate the mists and allow the message forwarded on. The fog grew more dense, and its darkness was mirrored in the hearts of the Londoners who had received the word, "Wellington defeated." It meant that Napoleon had won. The English of London were a conquered people. Hope was gone. Liberty was no more. England was ruled by another. But as suddenly as it had come, the fog lifted. The sentry returned to his tower, and went back to his duties, feverishly attempting to transmit the whole message. And London saw it - the good news breaking upon the city and telling the full story: "Wellington defeated the enemy!" Whether the semaphores' message to London is history or fiction, it does convey the truth of Christian faith! That truth is first seen in Joseph's garden, as the earliest followers of Christ make the discovery of the empty tomb. It is the victory message of Jesus' word to his disciples upon that Galilee mountaintop, and it is the shout heard through the centuries as people have come to understand that human life is life lived in two worlds - one temporal, the other eternal.

13) "I am the smartest man in the world” 

A ridiculous story with religious significance  has  been  making  the  rounds  lately.  It  is  about  a  pilot  and  three passengers a boy scout, a priest, and an atomic scientist in a plane that develops engine trouble in mid-flight. The pilot rushes back to the passenger compartment and exclaims, "The plane is going down! We only have three parachutes, and there are four of us! I have a family waiting for me at home. I must survive!" With that, he grabs one of the parachutes and jumps out of the plane. The atomic scientist jumps to his feet at this point and declares, "I am the smartest man in the world. It would be a great tragedy if my life were snuffed out!" With that, he also grabs a parachute and exits the plane. With an alarmed look on his face, the priest says to the Boy Scout, "My son, I have no family. I am ready to meet my Maker. You are still young with much ahead of you. You take the last parachute.” At this point, the Boy Scout interrupts the priest, "Hold on, Father. Don't say any more. We're all right. The world's smartest man just jumped out of the plane wearing my knapsack!"  For such smart people who do not believe in an afterlife, today’s feast of ascension seems a myth. But it is the guarantee of their resurrection and ascension to heaven for Christians.

14) Are we going to them?  

95% of North American Christians will not lead a single person to Christ in their lifetime, and I cry, “Lord, help us!” Some of you know the story: 36 million Americans (14% of the population) live in poverty. Of those, the portion living in our urban centers has increased from 30% in 1968 to about 47% today. Are we going to them? And are we going to the 57% of the 36 million poor who remain in rural America? Seventy million individuals in the United States are under the  age  of  18—are  we  going  to  them?  Nearly  one  million  foreign-born  people immigrate to this country every year. Are we going to them? Thirty-two million people in America speak some language other than English as their primary language. Are we going to them? We have more unsaved and unchurched people in our nation than ever before in our history—172 million. Are we going to them? Ninety percent of the population of the United States now lives in urban settings. Are we going to them? Over 150 million people in America claim to be “born-again Christians.” We have to question  what  that  means.  And  we  wonder  if  people  are  not  interpreting  the Christian faith as mere mental assent to correct doctrine, accepting forgiveness and professing Christ as an insurance policy – a way to get into heaven when we die and leave this earth – missing the whole notion of discipleship, growing into the likeness of Christ. If all born-again Christians were disciples, would there not be greater signs of the transforming power of Christ at work in the world? 

15) “The City of the World increasingly oozes its decay.” 

Peter Kreeft, professor at Boston College, has perceptively noted, “The City of the World increasingly oozes its decay.” We saw signs of it in the half-time show of the 38th Super Bowl. One hundred million people – how many children were among them? – saw Justin Timberlake rip off a portion of Janet Jackson’s upper clothing, exposing a private part of her body. We cringed at that and the media talked about it for days. But not much was said about the “dirty” dancing and lewd lyrics, including words about getting a woman naked before the song was done. Other singers through lyrics and dance displayed

sexual lust as they gyrated with female    dancing  partners.  The  truth,  friends,  is that halftime show is not the exception in television fare. In fact, it was rather tame compared to what constantly flows from television and the Internet. “The City of the World increasingly oozes its decay.” But what about disciples of Jesus? What about the Church? What about the City set on a hill? What are we doing about “the fact that all the septic tanks on the hill are backing up”? We need  disciples with a passion of shedding the light of Christ into every dark corner of the world.

16) Gaze  heavenward but  go  worldwide!  Nicky  often boasted about  his deep faith. Once, a storm arose and the rains threatened to flood Nicky’s house. A fireman  rushed  in  and  said,  “Come,  I’ll  carry  you  away!”  Pointing  upward, Nicky exclaimed, “Jesus is the way!” The downpour continued and the waters reached Nicky’s waist. A fisherman rowe d by and screamed, “Jump in, I’ll steer you to safety!” gazing heavenward, Nicky retorted, “Only Jesus saves!” Later, rising rainwater forced Nicky to climb onto the rood. The pilot of a helicopter hovering overhead shouted, “I’ll help you!” Nicky replied: “I trust in God alone!” Nicky drowned in the raging waters. In heaven, he complained: “Lord, I trusted you, but you abandoned me!” God replied, “No, I didn’t! I tried to save you as fireman, fisherman and pilot! Why didn’t you do anything besides gazing heavenward?” [Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds ’(quoted in Net for Life)]

17) He is the same yet different……Lech Walesa worked for years as an electrician in the Gdansk shipyards. During those years he and his fellow workers founded the movement which came to be known as “Solidarity.” Walesa became its leader. This brought them into open conflict with the communist leaders. Eventually the workers won out. The communist regime collapsed and democracy returned to Poland. Then on December 9, 1990 something happened which a few years prior would have been unthinkable. Walesa the shipyard worker was elected the first president of a free and democratic Poland. It was a great honor for Walesa. His fellow workers were delighted. They too felt honored because of their association with him. However there was sadness too. They knew that it would change forever the way they related to him. They knew they were losing him. However, they were hoping that he would not forget them, and that he would help them from his new and more influential position. -The illustration may go some way in helping us to understand what we are celebrating on this great feast of Ascension. [Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’ (quoted in Net for Life)] 

18) The power within: A priest, Walter Ciszek by name, was in Russia for 23 years, five of which were spent in the dreaded Lubyanka prison in Moscow and ten of which were spent in the harsh Siberian slave labour camp. He was finally released from Russia in 1963, in exchange for two Soviet spies held in USA. He died in 1984 at the age of 84. After release he wrote a book He Leadeth Me. In this book  he  tries  to  answer  the  question:  “How  did  you  manage  to  survive  in Russia?” He says: “I was able to endure the inhuman conditions in which I found myself because I experienced somehow the presence of God. I never lost my faith that God was with me, even in the worst of circumstances.” What was true of Fr. Walter  Ciszek  is  true  of  each  of  us.        Jesus is with us; God is with us in the power of his Holy Spirit. [Vima Dasan in ‘His Word Lives’ (quoted in Net for Life)] 

19) Footprints: In the familiar story entitled “Footprints” a man at the end of his life wanted to know why in though times there was only one set of footprints in the sand. After all, the Lord had promised to walk with him all the way. The Lord replied by telling him that he never left him in times of trial. When the man saw only one set of footprints, it was then that the Lord carried him. The Lord was with Fr. Ciszek for twenty-three years of hardship in Russia. The Lord was with the man walking in the sand. May the risen Lord be with us all the days of our life. [Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’ (quoted in Net for Life) 

20) Run the race well: Many years ago, a great Arctic explorer started on an expedition to the North Pole. After having spent two years in the freezing and lonely place, he wrote a message, tied it to the leg of a carrier pigeon, and let it loose to make the two thousand miles journey to Norway. The bird circled thrice, and then started its southward flight in the freezing cold for hundreds of miles; it traveled and crossed the icy frozen oceans and wastelands until it reached and dropped into the lap of the explorer’s wife. The arrival of the bird proved that everything was well with her husband in that deserted, lonely and frozen arctic North.  Likewise,  the  coming  of  the  Holy  Spirit  on  the  day  of  the  Pentecost proved to the disciples that Jesus had entered the heavenly sanctuary after His Ascension as He had promised. Now He was seated at the right hand of God the Father, for His redemption work was over. The coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of the promise of Christ. [John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’(quoted in Net for Life)] L/12