Starters: From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
Catholic Ireland: Michael
At the beginning of today’s passage we are reminded that these words were once spoken by Jesus himself to some disciples who were facing a difficult time. They felt very disorganized and lost; here now was Jesus standing before them and giving them a way to go forward. He continues to do this for us today through different “messengers” whom God sends to us. We must be aware of them and thank God for them. Jesus makes a first crucial statement to his followers: they are to “go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation”. We think today of many parts of creation where the gospel of Jesus has not yet been preached.
We think of signs in the modern world which we can associate with true believers:
– “In my name they will cast out devils.” Many people in our modern world think that no one cares for them, not even God. True believers, however, speak in words which convey that gifts like true selflessness can bring help for all.
– “They will have the gift of tongues.” There are people in the world today who cannot speak in new languages; they use words that cannot touch unyielding hearts. True believers however will be able to communicate their message of love to all they meet, no matter what their original circumstances were.
– There are people who can act out their role as evangelisers, even in what seems to the rest of us as very difficult circumstances. They venture into difficult worlds. They work in difficult surroundings, among prostitutes, drug addicts and other outcasts of society. They can “pick up snakes in their hands and be untouched by them”. We can say about them that, “they will remain unharmed even when they drink deadly poison.”
– Finally, Jesus tells us that “true believers” can “lay their hands on the sick who will recover.” There are people who can lay their hands on those who are sick and see them recover before their very eyes. It is truly a wonderful experience of God’s salvation and “true believers” can feel it happening.
The passage concludes with a beautiful saying about the Lord Jesus. It is said of him that “he was taken up to heaven” and that “at the right hand of God, he took his place.” We who believe can now think of the Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. We are in this world surrounded by all our difficulties and yet we feel great trust in the Lord.
“They, going out, preached everywhere” and the “Lord is working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.” As believers, we know well that the Lord is with us. He is confirming what we say by the signs he has sent to accompany us, and the great miracles he achieves through us.
“In the Church’s history, missionary drive has always been a sign of vitality, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith.” John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, 1991
Lord, there comes a time in life when we know
that what we believe in is good news for the whole of creation.
We feel like the apostles when they met Jesus after his resurrection.
It is strange, but the conviction always seems to come
after we have experienced a setback,
some of our members may have deserted us as Judas deserted Jesus.
Yet we know we must go out to the whole world.
Our cause is with you,
as safe as Jesus taken up to heaven and taking his place at your right hand,
so that we can go out, preaching everywhere,
our words confirmed by the signs which accompany them.
Lord, there are certain signs that are the mark of true believers.
Demons have been causing havoc in our community and no one has been able to confront them – a person of faith will cast them out in one moment.
Believers can express an old message in a totally new way,
so that people who have been listening to that message for years
will suddenly become convinced.
The rest of us are afraid of going into places for fear we might be corrupted:
believers do it and remain totally unharmed.
They can enter into discussion with enemies of the faith and remain calm and loving.
They go to someone whom the community has written off as a hopeless case
and at the touch of their hands this person returns to normal living.
Lord, we thank you for believers.
“Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.” John 12:25
Lord, it is clearly a law of life that we must eventually commit ourselves
– to marriage,
to a noble cause,
to the following of Jesus.
We must take the risk.
If we hold back, afraid of this baptism,
we are condemned to lives of mediocrity.
To go forward in faith is the only way to be saved.
“On the day that the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea so miraculously,
God was surrounded by angels who sang and danced. They noticed that God was crying. ‘Are you not glad?’ they asked. ‘How can I
rejoice?’ God asked. ‘My children are also drowning.'”
Jewish legend quoted by Rabbi Hugo Gryn at a vigil for the Gulf War, London 1991
Lord, forgive us that we set limits to your love.
Remind us that the good news you revealed to us
is to be proclaimed to all creation.
Lord, so often as a Church we give people the idea
that following Jesus can be done with minor adjustments to their lifestyle.
Help us to teach plainly, like Jesus,
that being disciples means taking enormous risks of being drowned,
but unless we are baptised in him, he cannot save us.
“This is the end of the Chinese people’s adolescence, and their initiation into political maturity. They are no longer waiting to be liberated; they are now ready to pay the price to liberate themselves.” Liu Binyan, dissident Chinese journalist
Lord, we thank you for people and cultures
who have been through crucifixion experiences
and have emerged with their faith and their courage intact.
We pray that like the apostles at the ascension of Jesus
they may now go out into the whole world
and announce with confidence the good news
that the human spirit cannot be enclosed in a tomb
and will always rise again.
Introduction to the Celebration
There is an air of finality about today’s festival. Our focus is on the retelling of a story declaring that Christ has returned to the Father, and so we think of it as the ‘end’ of the Christ event or the ‘end of Easter’ – in times past there was a custom of extinguishing the Paschal Candle after the gospel to signify: ‘he is gone’.
But the air of finality must be presented in a different way – it is not the final song to mark the sorry close of a party, but the joyous finality of a building job completed: Christ’s presence is no longer limited to a small group in one place at a particular time, now his presence is diffused throughout creation through his body the church. It is this mystery of Christ’s presence we celebrate today: we are not here to recall some ‘event’ that ‘happened’ on some fixed day in human historical time. Ascension is not about Christ’s absence, but about his presence in a different way to that which he had before his death. He now is present in our community, and as a group we must make him present by testifying to him before the world as the community of justice, peace and love.
Comments on Gospel: Mk 16:15-20
Here we have the conclusion of Mark’s gospel as that gospel is commonly found in printed editions, and so it adds to the tone of finality that can pervade the liturgy today. Moreover, it seems to accord well with the theme, with its challenge from Jesus to them to proclaim the Good News to all creation, and that having said that he was taken up into heaven. However, we are dealing here with the famous’last eleven verses’ (16:9-20) which did not originally belong to this gospel and are a later conflation from Matthew and Luke added to Mark, as 16:8 seemed too stark an ending for a gospel. Indeed, apart for the traditional ending, which we read today, there are several other endings extant. But the fact that sometime in the second century (possibly before Justin’s time, (died c. 165) and certainly prior to Irenaeus, (died c. 202) this ending was added, is crucial for our understanding of this feast: it is the mystery of ascension that that community felt had to be included in any account it would receive of the Christ-event. They saw and celebrated that event as one where they were the continuation of the work of the Christ: they were being upheld by his presence so that not only was heatthe right hand of the Father’ but with them in their trials protecting them. And if Christ was with them, they were going everywhere preaching and making him present.
So, in the three readings we have three different ways of viewing this early Christian belief in their on-going life in Christ. All three assume that this is something that animates the community, and are incomprehensible in their imagery of Christ in the heavens unless that mystery was already part of their liturgical life prior to these writings.
1. Today’s feast celebrates our belief in the presence of Christ in the universe and sets it in a tension with the demand that we then be the vehicles by which that presence is made manifest. It is his presence in us that makes the demands of disciple-ship upon us that we must proclaim him. The mystery of ascension is that his presence with us and our witness to him cannot be separated.
2. But do we take his presence in the universe seriously? Do we believe he is present in every poor person, every sick person, every prisoner? Mt 25:34-46 can be read as the ‘other side’ of this mystery: in today’s texts we think of the beginning of the ascended presence of Christ in the church; in Mt 25 we have a reflection on the eschaton and when that presence in the disciples ceases.
3. Do we take seriously the notion that there is no area of the universe from which Christ’s presence is excluded? So Christ is present in every creature (see Jn 1:3) and in every aspect of human life. But there are powerful forces that would want to silence those who preach concern for the environment or, at least, argue that ecology is not something with which the church should concern itself. Or in the human universe, there are many who see Christian concerns in politics, economics or medicine as meddling and would like to limit church concerns to ‘Jesus and religious matters’. But this feast is our proclamation that Christ is now to be found everywhere as the risen one forming a kingdom for his Father, and so in every area of existence his followers must be witnessing to him. In rising from the dead, the whole creation has been transformed and is a’religious matter’.
4. ‘To be witnesses’ (manures) and ‘proclaim’ (kiruxate) were key terms for the early church: one was descriptive of what they must be, the other a command as to what they must do. But, by the second century, both were very expensive words. A misty sweet image of Jesus floating away, alongside an arcane discussion about ‘whether you can trust “the bible”‘ in its creative poetic narratives such as Acts 1, fails to do justice to this mystery on both counts.
These remarkable verses are taken from what is sometimes called the longer ending of Mark’s gospel and they represent a final summary explanation of the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Mark offers no description of the ascension of the Lord but sees the whole mystery in the light of Easter. It is the good news that all who respond to Jesus in faith are saved and the power of the risen Christ will be with the church to ensure the success of its mission. The signs that are mentioned are not to be taken literally but show that, in Jesus, good triumphs and evil is defeated. The affirmation that those who do not believe will be condemned is not understood by the church as saying that only Christians will get into heaven. Rather it is a warning about those who willfully refuse to respond to God at work in their life. Christians are always asked to leave judgement to God.
It is a temptation for every generation of Christians to stand looking up to heaven and wringing their hands wishing that Jesus walked our streets as he did the streets of Palestine or that he would come back in some dramatic way to show the world the error of its ways. However, such an attitude entirely fails to appreciate the dignity of our calling. We have been entrusted with a task and today’s feast is a reminder to us that
Jesus only left this world so that he could be with us in a more effective way.
So, in the coming week let us pray with urgency for a renewed outpouring of the Spirit so that we can become more effective witnesses of his love.
From The Connections:
The WORD:Today’s readings include two accounts of Jesus’ return to the Father:
Reading 1 is the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke's “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ ascension begins volume 2 of Luke’s work. The words and images here evoke the First Covenant accounts of the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2) and the forty years of the Exodus: Luke considers the time that the Risen Lord spent with his disciples a sacred time, a “desert experience” for the apostles to prepare them for their new ministry of preaching the Gospel of the resurrection. (Acts alone places the ascension forty days after Easter; the synoptic Gospels -- including, strangely, Luke’s -- specifically place the ascension on the day of Easter; John writes of the “ascension” not as an event but as a new existence with the Father.)
Responding to their question about the restoration of Israel, Jesus discourages his disciples from guessing what cannot be known. Greater things await them as his “witnesses.” In the missionary work before them, Christ will be with them in the presence of the Spirit to come.
Scholars call today’s Gospel the “longer ending” of Mark’s text. In style and substance, these six verses are very unlike Mark; the best guess is that these verses were added sometime in the first century to “complete” Mark’s account to include the tradition of the ascension of Jesus. Before returning to the Father, Jesus commissions his new church to continue Christ’s presence on earth through their proclamation of the “good news.”
HOMILY POINTS:The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start. Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants. And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family.
Jesus’ Ascension is both an ending and a beginning. The physical appearances of Jesus are at an end; his revelation of the “good news” is complete; the promise of the Messiah is fulfilled. Now begins the work of the disciples to teach what they have learned and to share what they have witnessed.
The fledgling Church is not off to a very promising start. Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collectors and peasants. And yet, what began with those eleven has grown and flourished through the centuries to the very walls of our own parish family.
The Church Jesus leaves to the disciples on the mount of the Ascension is rooted not in buildings or wealth or formulas of prayer or systems of theology but in faith nurtured in the human heart, a faith centered in joy and understanding that is empowering and liberating, a faith that gives us the strength and freedom to be authentic and effective witnesses of the Risen One, who is present among us always.
Christ entrusts to his disciples of every time and place the sacred responsibility of teaching others everything he has taught and revealed about the Father: God's limitless love, his unconditional forgiveness and acceptance of every person as his own beloved child and our identity as God's sons and daughters and brothers and sisters to one another. Christ also calls us to be witnesses of God's presence in our lives: to bring into the lives of others his healing forgiveness and reconciliation with God and one another, to hand on to others the story that has been handed on to us about Jesus and his Gospel of love and compassion.
From Fr, Jude Botelho:
Today's first reading from the Acts describes the beginning of the Church after Jesus had ascended into heaven. It would appear that Jesus had to leave in order that the Church might begin. His going away physically from this world signaled the coming into existence of the Church and His new presence in their midst. Yes, Jesus was leaving the world in a sense, but not really leaving it. He was not abandoning his disciples to their fate; in fact he was concerned about them and knew they would miss his physical presence among them. Before he goes he instructs them and affirms their faith by time and again appearing to them to convince them that he is alive. While being with them he asked them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.
Witnessing to Christ
Ruddell Norris was a conscientious young man. But he was also a shy young man. He found it hard just to talk to people, much less to discuss religion with them. Then one day he got an idea. Ruddell did a lot of reading, and he was aware of the many pamphlets about the catholic faith. So he decided to set aside a part of his weekly allowance to buy pamphlets. Ruddell placed his pamphlets in places where he thought people would pick them up and read them. For example, he placed them in waiting rooms and in reception areas. One day a young woman who was a friend of his family told his parents how she became a convert and how her husband returned to the Church. "It all started with a pamphlet," she said. "I found it in the hospital waiting room." You can imagine the boy's excitement when he learned of the impact just one of his pamphlets had.
The gospel from the final chapter of Matthew links the end of the ministry of Jesus to the beginning of the new ministry of the Spirit in the Church. Jesus seems to shift the focus from himself to his disciples. "You will receive power and you will go out proclaiming the good news from here to the ends of the earth, baptizing those who believe, casting out devils, picking up snakes, using your gift of tongues and laying your hands on the sick." Jesus has finished his mission now it is our turn. "Let's discuss how you -yes, you will receive the Spirit. Go, start moving. You, not me. I'm leaving; it is up to you now!" The mission given to the apostles and the followers is quite clear. They are told that they will receive His power and will act in His name. They will have power to forgive one another; they will have power to cast out evil. They will have power to handle snakes with their bare hands, animals that had always been symbols of sin. He told them that they would drink the deadly poison of this corrupt world without harm. He told them that He would send them his Holy Spirit. How many of us Christians are ready for the mission that he gave us as he ascended to heaven? Most of us are caught in between the many happenings of life. The temptation is to sit where we are and to use Jesus as an excuse for sitting comfortably in this rubble and rubbish. In so far as we are concerned, insofar as it depends on us nothing is going to change in this world. Perhaps we are waiting for Him to do something while He is waiting for us to act in the power of His spirit.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
At the conclusion of Part One of Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, two radiant birds come as Jonathan's brothers to take him higher, to take him home. Jonathan balks, but the birds insist: "But you can Jonathan, for you have learned. One school is finished, the time has come for another to begin." It was a moment of enlightenment for Jonathan. He realized that he "could fly higher and it was time to go home." Taking one last long glance across the sky and land where he had learned so much, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull 'rose with the two star-bright gulls to disappear into a perfect sky. ' -There are striking similarities between this episode in Bach's book and Luke's account of our Lord's Ascension in today's readings. First, the 'school' and the 'learning' mentioned in Jonathan recall how Jesus 'taught' his disciples until the day he was taken up into heaven. Second, the 'time for another school to begin' for Jonathan, reflects Christ's promise to send the Holy Spirit upon his apostles so that they could be his 'witnesses to the ends of the earth. ' Third, the two 'star-bright gulls' suggest the presence of the 'two men dressed in white' who spoke to the apostles after Jesus ascended. Fourth, when Jonathan 'rose to disappear in the sky, ' it was reminiscent of Jesus being 'lifted up in a cloud which took him from their sight. ' The Jonathan Livingstone Seagull story can be taken, then, as a modern myth to help understand the significance of Christ's Ascension.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'
Does God show through?
A little girl, on her way home from church, turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, the Preacher's sermon this morning confused me." The mother said, "Oh! Why is that?" The girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?" "Yes, that's true," the mother replied. "He also said that God lives within us. Is that true too?" Again the mother replied, "Yes." "Well," said the girl. "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?" Does Jesus really show through in your life and mine?
Broken but Renewed
In 1981 Peter Cropper, the British violinist, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. As a personal favour to Peter, the Royal Academy of Music lent him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius for use in the concert. This rare instrument takes its name from the Italian violin maker, Antonio Stradivari. It is made of 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. Its beautiful sound has never been duplicated. When Peter Cropper got to Finland, an incredible nightmare took place. Going on stage, Peter tripped and fell. The violin broke into several pieces. Peter flew back to London in a state of shock. A master craftsman named Charles Beare agreed to try to repair the violin. He worked endless hours on it. Finally he got it back together again. Then came the dreaded moment of truth. What would the violin sound like? Beare handed the violin to Peter Cropper. Peter's heart was pounding inside him as he picked up the bow and began to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin's sound excellent, but it actually seemed better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on the worldwide tour. Night after night the violin, everyone thought was ruined forever, drew standing ovations from concert audiences. The violin story is a beautiful illustration of what happens when God comes into our broken lives and makes us whole again. We need His touch, His Spirit!
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'
Thus far the Master
Puccini wrote La Boheme and Madame Butterfly. It was during his battle with terminal cancer in 1922 that he began to write Turandoe, 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 Turandoe, I want you to finish it. " He died in 1924, leaving the work unfinished. His disciples gathered all that was written of Turandoe, studied it in great detail, and proceeded to write the remainder of the opera. The world premiere was performed in the La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and it was conducted by Toscanini, Puccini's favourite student. 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.
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'
No back-up plan!
There is an ancient legend about the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. According to the legend, when Jesus reached heaven, his body still showed the wounds of his crucifixion. When the people in heaven saw these marks, they fell on their faces before Jesus. Then angel Gabriel rose up and said to Jesus: "Lord, do all the people on earth know and appreciate how much you went through for them?" Jesus replied: "Oh no! Only a handful of people in Palestine know that. The rest haven't even heard of me. They don't know how much I suffered, and how much I love them." Then Gabriel said to Jesus: "How will the rest of the people on earth ever learn about your suffering and your love?" Jesus said: "Just before I left I told Peter, James and John and a few of their friends to tell the rest of the world for me. They'll tell as many people as they can. Those people in turn will tell other people. In this way the whole world will eventually learn about my love for them." Gabriel looked even more confused now. He knew how fickle and forgetful people are. So he turned to Jesus and said: "But Lord, what if Peter, James and John grow tired and frustrated? And even if none of these things happen, what if the people they tell become frustrated? What if they begin to have doubts about you? Didn't you take these things into account? Don't you have a back-up plan just in case?" Jesus answered: "I did take all these things into account, but I decided against a back-up plan. This is the only plan I have. I'm counting on Peter, James and John not to let me down. I'm counting on the people they tell not to let me down." Twenty centuries later, Jesus still has no other plan, He is counting on us.
Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'
Practical Application. Heavenly departure means earthly involvement. We profess that Jesus has gone home to the Father and conclude that the Church is solely his business. We announce that the Lord has been exalted and maintain that the earthly community is only his operation. We proclaim that Jesus has achieved his mission and hold that the Church is still only his achievement. We are tempted to be dropouts from community. We fail to see that we can and must make a difference. Heavenly departure means earthly involvement.
Luke was concerned to show that Jesus' departure meant the ongoing involvement of his earthly community. His audience was no longer to be concerned about the timetable of the parousia. It was no longer to continue looking up to the skies. This world was their world and they had to be involved in making it a better world by witnessing to the message of Jesus. For Luke, heavenly departure means earthly involvement
The author of the longer ending of Mark saw Jesus' departure as the springboard for human involvement. "The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere." To proclaim the Good News meant to be the catalyst for provoking a faith response. To be sent meant to be involved in continuing the kingdom. For the author of the longer ending, heavenly departure means earthly involvement.
Those who support and sustain their local church community by being involved proclaim the meaning of Jesus' departure. Those who offer constructive criticism for improving the Christian community announce the understanding of Jesus' departure. Church leaders who attack new problems with both courage and conviction communicate the sense of Jesus' departure. The laity who seek to make their experiences a vital part in building up the Body of Christ reveal the proper notion of Jesus' departure. All such people overcome the temptation tote dropouts from society. They believe that heavenly departure means earthly involvement.
Eucharist is the sacrament of Christian involvement. While proclaiming that Christ will come again, Eucharist announces that the present is the moment of human interaction. To share the bread and the wine means to be responsible for the destiny of the community. In Eucharist, heavenly departure means earthly involvement.John Craghan, cssr
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection: