Ascension 2019

 Michel de VerteuilGeneral 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:
jesus ascends– 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 49 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.

Prayerful Reflections
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,
illusionsand 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
Good Shep 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,
hopeand from then on we were continually in the temple praising you.

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.
Jesus+everyoneTo 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.

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.

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 ritual celebration of his entry into the true heavenly sanctuary, just as Good Friday was the celebration of his sacrifice, his shed ding his blood for our reconciliation – and this in one of the 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 ( c/f The letter to the Hebrews) is one of the basic ways by which we as Christian understand the mystery of the Cross.
2. However, to open up this vision of today, and of the sacrifice / redemption of Christ, we need a convenient vehicle. The liturgy provides just such an entry-point in today’s magnificent 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 prewar the assembly to appreciate it more when actually used.
jesus- calls3. 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.
Jesus mediatorAscended 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.
Sean Goan

excitementThis is the second description of the Ascension we read today. However, it differs from our first reading in that it marks the end of the gospel of Luke. So as Jesus departs he reminds them that they are witnesses to his ministry and to his death and resurrection. The final piece of this drama will unfold when he sends them the promised Holy Spirit through which they will be clothed with ‘power from on high’. Then after seeing him depart they return to Jerusalem, full of joy, continually praising God in the Temple. The themes of the joy, the praise of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit have been to the fore throughout Luke’s gospel, and it is only fitting that he should end his first volume on this note of fervour with the disciples eager to undertake their task.

We are reminded today that it is not the task of Christians to ‘”stand looking up into the sky’ either to mourn Jesus’ departure from earth or to simply await his return.
witnessOur role until his Second Coming is to witness to him. This we do through recognising that we have indeed been clothed with power from on high. As his body, the church, we are to be Jesus’ continued presence on earth bringing freedom, healing and forgiveness to all who long to know the true God.
Donal Neary S.J.

God’s home
Making a home is a big opportunity of love for a husband and wife and a family. They try to make it their own: pictures and memorabilia here and there make a home out of a house. It doesn’t have to be perfect. They want others to be able to feel at home in their home also.
Jesus at homeIt’s the same with Jesus. In our hearts and the depths of our personality he makes a home for himself and the Father. He asks for a loving and welcoming heart not a place that is perfect tidy and clean. To make a home is a work of love. Jesus’ making of a home in us comes through our growth and development in love. The loving marriage and family the loving friendship, the heart that cares for others, these are what make Jesus feel at home.
Is this a strange way of looking on God. We think of God in the power of nature and almost the maker of history. God seems to reject this all-powerful view of himself and makes accessible in the home of our hearts.
Home is a place of help. We look out for each other, and the content home is where each cares for the other. St Ignatius used say each day, ‘Who can I help today?’ Maybe we can make that part of the music of our homes. This is God helping through you, and it is God finding us and each other in love.
From the Connections:

Today’s readings include two accounts of Jesus' return to the Father by the same writer:
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 invoke 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. 
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 awaiting them, Christ will be with them in the presence of the promised Spirit.
Whereas in Acts Luke places Jesus' Ascension 40 days after Easter, in his Gospel the Ascension takes place on Easter night.  Luke treats the same event from two points of view: in the Gospel, the Ascension is the completion of Jesus' Messianic work; in Acts, it is the prelude to the Church's mission.
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.   
Christ places his Church in the care of a rag-tag collection of fishermen, tax collector and peasants – it is not a very promising start for the new Church.  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 them 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.
The words Jesus addresses to his disciples on the mountain of the Ascension are addressed to all of us two millennia later.  We are called to teach, to witness and to heal in our own small corners of the world, to hand on to others the story that has been handed on to us about Jesus and his Gospel of love and compassion.

The work of trust
There are people we entrust with our lives — or a big part of our lives, anyway.
We entrust the education and care of our children to teachers and coaches.
We entrust our retirement savings and college funds to financial managers.
We entrust the structural security and efficient operation of our homes to contractors, electricians and plumbers.
Firefighters, police, doctors and nurses — all professionals we entrust with our health and safety.
We trust these folks because they have demonstrated a sense of responsibility and competence in their fields and have proven that will act in our interests. 
And there are many people who have entrusted some part of their lives to us: our employers, our clients, our friends — and, most important of all, our families and children.
It is no small thing to be entrusted as such.
It means putting aside our own interests to seek what is best for those who have placed their confidence in us.
It begins by understanding and appreciating what they want to make of their lives and their expectations for the future.
To entrust some part of our lives to another requires letting go, respecting their expertise and competence, accepting the reality that some things will go wrong or fail, that nothing is forever.
And to accept the responsibility of taking on what someone entrusts to us requires patience, understanding – and being ready and willing to say what they may not want to hear, but have to.
Such trust, such commitment, is sacred.

Today, on the mount of the Ascension, Jesus entrusts to us his life, his Gospel of healing, compassion, reconciliation and hope.  Having given his life to reveal the love of God for all of us, he entrusts that work to you and me.  He commissions us to be his “witnesses” and to continue his work — with all its risks and despite all our doubts.  The work of building his church of reconciliation and love requires of us humility, respect, patience; it asks us to let go of  our own interests and wants to open our hearts to change and a willingness to cope with that change.  In baptism, every Christian of every time and place takes on the role of witness to all that Jesus did and taught.  We are witnesses not only in our articulating the powerful words of the Gospel but in the quiet, simple, but no less powerful expressions of compassion and love that echo the same compassion and love of God — God who is Father and Son and Brother and  Sister to us all.  

Fr. Jude Botelho:

As we move from one stage of life to another we are forced at some point to let go of?past ways and move on adopting newer patterns of behavior. As infants we had to be carried and fed, as children we had to hold our parents hands as we moved about. As teenagers we tended to be independent yet we needed guidance and help sometimes. As adults we believe we can manage on our own. But in our faith relationship we always need God and cannot manage
without Him. At the Ascension we are given a new presence of God within us! Have an exciting weekend discovering his new presence in us!

The first reading begins with the first chapter of the first book of the Acts, that links the birth of the Church to the moment Jesus is taken up to heaven, reminding us that the Church itself is the new presence of Jesus in our midst. Lest the disciples think that they can manage by themselves relying on their own resources, they are ordered not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father. For us who are used to action, one of the most difficult things is to wait for God to act. The apostles?wanted to know God's plan and hope that they will have some say in how God's plan will work out. If we look at our own experiences we are forever making plans for ourselves and for how God should act in our lives. We sometimes even set deadlines for when God should act in our lives. Our plans usually rotate around:??'I', 'me', and 'myself', while God has still more wonderful plans, which will unfold if we wait on him.

How did you know what's in there?
A young lad was on his way to school and as he passed the sculptor's yard, he noticed a huge block of marble on a stand, and the sculptor was getting ready to begin a new project. The young lad had to continue on his way and he was disappointed to discover that the front doors of the sculptor's workshop were closed every day after that, as he passed by on his way to and from school. Each day however as he passed, he could hear the sound of chisel and hammer, and he knew the work was progressing. He longed for the day for the front doors to be open again, and his curiosity would be satisfied by discovering what the task in hand was. The great day finally arrived. One morning, on his way to school, he found the front doors open, and wandered in for a look. He was awe-struck to discover that where the original block of marble had been; there was now a figure of a tiger, huge, menacing and very life-like. The lad continued to stare at this for some moments, in total amazement. Then he turned to the sculptor, and, in total innocence, asked: "Excuse me, sir, but, but, how did you know there was a tiger in there?" - Love sees the possibilities and faith realises them!
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel Truth!'

In the Gospel we have Jesus bidding farewell to his disciples. He makes them understand the recent happenings and how they fit into the Father's plan. "He opened their minds to understand the scriptures. That the Messiah had to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to
be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. "The Spirit comes to give us the gift of understanding." The Word of God comes alive and makes sense when we can see how it connects to our life, when we see that it all fits in. But in order to understand we have to stay until we are filled, renewed, recreated by the Spirit. "Stay here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." We may have wonderful ideas and?plenty of experience and feel that we can manage with what we have. But if we are ready to wait, if we are ready to surrender to the Spirit, something still more wonderful will happen in our life. The gospel concludes with Jesus blessing his disciples, withdraws from their sight and was carried into heaven. His mission was accomplished, now theirs was about to begin!

It is time we got busy
The Ascension was Jesus' last show up to his disciples. They watched in amazement as Jesus was carried up into the heaven. Their necks were bent and sore, their hands shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun as they starred open-mouthed into the sky. "What is going on now?" they must have thought. As they stood there in silence, staring up at the sky as Jesus disappeared from their view. Well, in case they were not, in fact, listening to Jesus right before he left, they certainly listened a few minutes later when two men in white robes suddenly appeared before them and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?" Why are you standing around hurting your necks like that? You are not accomplishing anything just standing there! Weren't you listening to Jesus? It's time to get busy... You are the witnesses. The whole adventure of following Jesus is not about accommodating to the expectations of this world; it is about being witnesses, so that the transformation going on in you, can go on in those around you, in this city, in this world. No more looking up to the sky in expectation of a show. You are the witnesses, and you should be busy about the business of transformation.
John Payappilly in 'The Table of the Word'

Scripting the Transformation
It was June 1989, and you probably remember it. For months there had been organized protests by students, intellectuals and labour activists in the People's Republic of China, protests calling for reform of Government policies limiting freedom. Early in the morning of June 4, the people's Liberation Army sent troops and tanks into the middle of the protests, into Tiananmen Square to crush protests and disperse the
crowds. The massacre was heartbreaking.
Reports vary on the number of protesters who had died that day in Tiananmen Square, but most put the numbers in the thousands. Organizers who had worked to ensure peaceful protests were stunned and the whole world watched in horror as the situation unfolded. Early the next morning, June 5, Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener was looking off his balcony on the sixth floor of the Beijing Hotel. He suddenly saw, about half a mile away, a column of four army tanks making their way down the Chang An Da Jie, the "Great Avenue of Everlasting Peace". He pulled out his camera, attached a very powerful lens and trained it on the scene unfolding in front of him. The picture he took, called 'Tank Man' by some, was broadcast all over the world just a few hours later. It was a picture of four huge army tanks lined up in succession on the road. Right in front of the first tank there stands a man, one lone man wearing a white shirt and black pants and holding a bag in his hand. As the tanks came to a stop it appeared that the man was trying to wave them away. The front tank then tried to change course and steer around the man, but he kept moving to stand in front of the tank as a sign of resistance. Witnesses say that the man finally climbed up on the top of the lead tank to talk to the driver. "Why are you here?" he reportedly asked. "My city is in chaos because of you. Go back, turn around, and stop killing my people." -If you were to look at this picture you would see such a striking image. You would see the long line of formidable war machinery lined up ready to attack. And you would see very clearly the form of one lone man blocking the progress of violence. This is the image of the kind of transformation Jesus was inviting his disciples to participate in. If we are followers of Jesus, then we cannot afford to stand around. The Gospel of Jesus is the way of transformation, and the invitation we received
from Jesus is to be different, to live our lives ushering in the reign of God. It is time we got busy.
Amy Butler in 'Scripting the Transformation'

The Spirit -The Key
Zig Ziglar tells the story about an elderly man playing an organ in a cathedral in Europe. He was playing sad and melancholy music. It was sad because this was his last day as organist of the cathedral. He was being replaced by a younger musician. At dusk, somebody stepped into the cathedral. Seeing the younger man, the organist stopped playing, locked the organ and slipped the key into his pocket. He was approached by the young man, who simply said, "Please, the key."? On receiving the key, the young organist went to the organ and
began to play. While the old man had played beautifully and skilfully, the young man played with sheer genius. Music such as the world had never heard came rolling out of that beautiful old organ. This was the world's introduction to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.??The old man, with tears in his eyes, said, "Suppose -- just suppose -- I had not given the master the key!"
Dick Innes

His inspiration to carry out his work
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 colours, with his own inimitable genius. Then suddenly he
ceased, the painting still unfinished,
and summoning one of his students, invited him to complete the work. The student protested that he was both unworthy and unable to complete the great painting, which the master had begun. But da Vinci silenced him. "Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?" - Jesus our Master began His Good News two thousand years ago -by what he said, by what he did, and supremely by what He suffered. He illustrated His message and has left us to complete the picture. This is the message of the Ascension.
John Rose in 'John's Sunday Homilies'


 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. Jesus illustrated his message and left us to finish the picture. Will Jesus’ life not inspire us to finish the picture? This is the message of the Ascension (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).

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 was performed in La Scala Opera House in Milan in 1926, and Toscanini, Puccini’s favorite student, conducted it. The opera went beautifully. When 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.

3: “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 Archangel 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!  

4: 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.”

5: 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.”

6: 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!

21 Additional anecdotes:

1) 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 all the energy we need to live our lives to the full. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds) (

2) “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 the 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. (

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 the Apostles. Jesus commissioned them to complete the work he had begun. Practically, what does this mean? How do you and I, in the 21st century, carry out Jesus’ commission to be Jesus witnesses to the world and 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 torpedo-er 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 on the 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. That 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”(Mt 28:18-20). 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 were told. (

8) Nietzsche and Hitler: Nietzsche, 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, Mengele, 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, receptive, 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 is 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 sent forth to grow and love and give light to a lost and 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, “He is not here. He has risen!” was spoken by angels in Joseph’s garden as the earliest followers of Christ made the discovery. 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 human life has been understood as 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 backpack!” For such smart people who do not believe in an afterlife, today’s feast of the 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 for 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 rowed 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 roof. 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 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 Jesuit 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 the 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 tough 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 travelled 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). (

21) “Let me see your hands, your feet, and your side.” (Later addition) The early Church Fathers told a much-loved story of Christ’s arrival in Heaven after his Ascension from the earth. The devil, they said, still smarting from Christ’s descent into hell, was furious that Christ had defeated him and robbed him of his power to shape the lives of men and women. So, masquerading as Jesus Christ himself, the devil rushed ahead of Jesus into God’s presence and, holding his hands up high in a greeting of triumph, approached the Divine Grace, saying ‘I am here, I have done the work you gave me to do, I have offered my life for the salvation of the world. Give me the seat of honor at the right hand of your majesty and let me share you power.’ ‘Let me see your hands, your feet, and your side,’ God answered, ‘for those dreadful wounds suffered in love are the proof of your faithfulness, and they alone can gain for you access to my majesty and power.’ Of course, the devil had no such wounds to show, as all in Heaven could see from his uplifted hands. At that very moment Christ appeared–See! He lifts his hands above! Alleluia! See! He shows the prints of love! Alleluia! Of course, the devil was exposed for the fraud he is and once again cast into outer-darkness, while Christ was welcomed by the Divine Grace to sit at God’s right hand, there forever to intercede for the world he loves for which he died a cruel and agonizing death.” (Rev. Bruce Jenneker). (