Ascension 2009

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

Anecdote 1) God’s love in action: 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 was performed 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 to 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 by words and deeds.

Anecdote 2): “I have no other plan”: A beautiful old story tells of how Jesus, after his Ascension into Heaven, was surrounded by the Holy Angels who began to enquire about how his work on earth had gone. Jesus told them about his birth, life, death and resurrection, and how he accomplished the salvation of the world. One of the angels 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.” The angels were perplexed. "You mean Peter, who betrayed you and all the rest who ran away when you were arrested and crucified? Do 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."

Introduction

Jesus has no other plan than to depend on the efforts of his followers! "I am with you always; yes, to the end of time." Far from having left us on our own when he ascended into heaven, Jesus is even closer to us now. He is with us at all times and in all places, releasing a new energy upon the earth, the energy of the Holy Spirit to preach his Good News of salvation by bearing witness to him. The focus of this feast is the heavenly reign of Christ, not the details of the ascension itself. The challenge it sets before us is a spiritual one: Are we faithful to his teaching in our lives, and do we carry its message into our world? We must now be his witnesses “to the ends of the world.” The readings for the Feast of the Ascension remind us of this fact and focus on Jesus’ exaltation. In the first reading, we stand with the disciples gazing up at the sky, not knowing what has happened or what it might mean for us. Jesus says to us, “You are sent to be my witnesses.” (“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”). Today's psalm, “God is king of all the earth,” celebrates God's universal kingship. It was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honoring the Ark of the Covenant. By his Ascension, the risen Lord likewise "mounts his throne" in glory. In the second reading, Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation by saying, "May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called." Although risen and ascended, he is still with us through the grace of the sacraments. He is present in the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion and in the tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved for prayer. While Jesus is no longer present in a physical sense (we cannot touch him, feel him or take hold of him), he is accessible to us now through prayer because He dwells in our souls. We live with His life, and so serve as His new presence in the world. In today's gospel Jesus gives his final message, his final instructions, his final promise, and his final blessing to his apostles. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel” is the commission given first to the disciples and then to us. It is in his Ascension that we see Jesus entering fully into the life and glory of God. The prospect of sharing that glory should be the driving force of our lives.

Today's first reading from the Acts describes the experience of the Ascension, the feast celebrating Jesus' ascent to the Father. It is not so much a change of location as a change of state for Jesus. From being on the earth with human beings he now is with his Father in heaven. Jesus assures his disciples that they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” and become his “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and to the ends of the earth.” Today's psalm, “God is king of all the earth,” celebrates God's universal kingship. It was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honoring the Ark of the Covenant. This most sacred religious object served as a pedestal upon which God was invisibly enthroned. During an annual feast it would be taken from repose in the temple’s Holy of Holies and returned with solemn procession. "God mounts his throne!" This cultic cry refers to the Ark’s solemn installation within the temple, a liturgical reenactment of universal lordship that is God's from eternity. Now, by his Ascension, the risen Lord likewise "mounts his throne" in glory.

In the second reading (Eph 1: 17-23), St. Paul amplifies this message by saying, "May God enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called." In the alternate second reading (Eph. 4: 4-13), Paul exhorts the disciples to live in a manner worthy of their calling and mission. Our greatest witness to the presence of Jesus in our midst is our unity with God seen in our living with one another in peace and harmony.

Exegetical notes

A) The ascension account: The biblical accounts of the Ascension focus not so much on the details of the event as on the charge Jesus gave to his disciples. For example, in the accounts narrated in Luke and Acts, the Ascension takes place in Jerusalem. In Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, the event occurs in Galilee. All accounts, however, agree that the Ascension took place on a mountain. In Luke and Acts, the Ascension happened forty days after the Resurrection, a period during which Jesus appeared repeatedly to his followers. In Matthew and Mark there is no indication of the time period between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The gospel writers apparently were not aiming at accuracy of historical detail but were more concerned with transmitting Our Lord’s final message.

B) Christmas and Ascension: the Ascension is most closely related, in meaning, to Christmas. At Christmas, God became fully a part of humanity. In Jesus, the human and the divine became united in the person of one man. At the Ascension, this human being-the person and the resurrected body of Jesus-became for all eternity a part of God. So the Ascension, along with the Incarnation, tells us that it is a good, wonderful, important and a holy thing to be a human being. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being. The experience, the reality of being a person is so valuable that God has made it a part of His life.

C) Continued presence of the ascended Jesus in us. With his return to the Father, Jesus completes his mission on earth. His apparent withdrawal at the Ascension does not mean his absence from us, but rather His new presence in us and in the Church, in a more powerful manner. Although risen and ascended, he is still with us through the grace of the sacraments. He is present in the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion and in the tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved for our adoration. While Jesus is no longer present in a physical sense (we cannot touch him, feel him or take hold of him) he is accessible now as a life-giving Spirit. In addition, we are his new presence.

D) The ascension message: 1) "Preach the good news and be my witnesses:" “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 2) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). 3) “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark.16:15). These are the last words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew, Mark and Acts. All are in agreement that (a) Jesus gave his disciples a mission to engage in, until He returns in glory, and (b) He assured them of His divine assistance in carrying out this mission. From now on, we, the body of Christ, must proclaim the good news; we must drive out the demons that hold people in their addicting clutches; we must embrace all people with the merciful love of God.

Life Messages

1) We are to be proclaimers and evangelizers: To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven we should remember that we are commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, forgiveness and salvation by the witnessing of our lives. Hence let us renew our commitment to be Christ’s true disciples everywhere - in our families and neighborhood, in our places of work and in our parishes - "living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”

2) We are to remember that we have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, redemption and love. Although no longer visibly present in the world, he is present in his words in the Holy Bible and in the Holy Eucharist. Christianity was meant to be a faith in which Jesus’ followers would teach Christ’s ideas and ideals by loving, helping and caring for others with the assistance of the Holy Sprit.

3) Let the ascended Jesus be our source of strength and encouragement: When our pains and sufferings, trials and temptations are too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory to reward us with his own heavenly glory. Let us have our Christian conviction that the risen and ascended Jesus is present in us in the form of his Holy Spirit, participating in every moment of our lives. Thus he is the source of our strength and encouragement.

Additional anecdotes 3: "Go and see for yourselves." A remote tribe sent one of their men to explore the mysterious world beyond their tiny village. Upon his return, the native could barely put into words the wonders he had seen: the exotic flowers, the mystical sounds of the forest at night, the strange wild beasts, and the thrill of paddling his canoe over the treacherous rapids of the Great River. "Go and see for yourselves," he said. "You've got to see the wonders of life beyond the Great River." To guide them, he drew a map. The tribe was grateful. They framed the map and hung it in the center of the village. They made many copies and studied it till they were experts on the Great River. They knew every bend and turn, where the rapids were and the waterfalls, where the wild animals were and the exotic flowers. But not one of those experts ever went to the Great River. Not one ever saw its rapids and waterfalls and flowers. Not one! Not ever!

Jesus has given us a map to help us find our way home to God. With varying degrees of interest, we've all studied Jesus' map and most of us can sketch it with reasonable accuracy. But having the map and being able to talk about it doesn't get us home to our Father. We have to follow the map: Walk the walk, not just talk the talk. "Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth." (Monsignor Dennis Clark)  

SYNOPSIS OF THE HOMILY ON THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

Introduction

Far from having left us on our own when he ascended into heaven, Jesus is even closer to us now. He is with us at all times and in all places, releasing a new energy upon the earth, the energy of the Holy Spirit to preach his Good News of salvation by bearing witness to him. The focus of this feast is the heavenly reign of Christ. The challenge it sets before us is a spiritual one: Are we faithful to his teaching in our lives, and do we carry its message into our world? We must now be his witnesses “to the ends of the world.” The readings for the Feast of the Ascension remind us of this fact and focus on Jesus’ exaltation.

The scripture lessons

In the first reading, we stand with the disciples gazing up at the sky, not knowing what has happened or what it might mean for us. Jesus says to us, “You are sent to be my witnesses.” (“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”). Today's psalm, “God is king of all the earth,” was originally sung in connection with a cultic procession honoring the Ark of the Covenant. By his Ascension, the risen Lord likewise "mounts his throne" in glory. In the second reading, Paul explains the theological meaning of Jesus’ exaltation by saying, "May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called." Although risen and ascended, he is still with us through the grace of the sacraments. He is present in the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion and in the tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved for prayer. While Jesus is no longer present in a physical sense (we cannot touch him, feel him or take hold of him), he is accessible to us now through prayer because He dwells in our souls. We live with His life, and so serve as His new presence in the world. In today's gospel Jesus gives his final message, his final instructions, his final promise, and his final blessing to his apostles. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel” is the commission given first to the disciples and then to us. It is in his Ascension that we see Jesus entering fully into the life and glory of God. The prospect of sharing that glory should be the driving force of our lives.

Life Messages

1) We are to be proclaimers and evangelizers: To be a Christian is to be a proclaimer and an evangelizer. We preach with words but we proclaim with our lives. As we celebrate the Lord’s return to His Father in heaven we should remember that we are commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace, forgiveness and salvation by the witnessing of our lives. Hence let us renew our commitment to be Christ’s true disciples everywhere - in our families and neighborhood, in our places of work and in our parishes - "living in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”

2) We are to remember that we have a teaching mission: Jesus taught us lessons of faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, redemption and love. Although no longer visibly present in the world, he is present in his words in the Holy Bible and in the Holy Eucharist. Christianity was meant to be a faith in which Jesus’ followers would teach Christ’s ideas and ideals by loving, helping and caring for others with the assistance of the Holy Sprit.

3) Let the ascended Jesus be our source of strength and encouragement: When our pains and sufferings, trials and temptations are too heavy to bear, we must remember that Christ will come again in glory to reward us with his own heavenly glory. Let us have our Christian conviction that the risen and ascended Jesus is present in us in the form of his Holy Spirit, participating in every moment of our lives. Thus he is the source of our strength and encouragement.