Monday Acts 16, 11-15
John 15, 26-16,4
Tuesday Acts 16,22-34
Wednesday Acts 17, 15, 22-18,1
John 18, 12-15
Ascension Thursday Acts 1, 1-11
Luke 24, 46-52
Friday Acts 18,9-18
John 16, 20-23
Saturday Acts 18, 23-28
John 16, 23-28
The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday this week in the eastern United States and on Sunday in the western dioceses. Better to celebrate this feast at the same time, I think.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul takes the stage at Athens, the intellectual capitol of the Roman world, but his words chosen carefully are met only with curiosity. “We would like to hear you some other time.” (Wednesday)
Paul gets a better reception in Corinth, not far from Athens, but worlds away from the proud self sufficient city. “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. (Friday)
In the reading from Acts on Saturday, Luke reminds us that Paul had great people with him like Priscilla and Aquila, the wife and husband, who instruct Apollos, a good speaker but weak in his theology. “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”
I told a cousin of mine recently who wasn’t sure about a sermon she heard in church. “You may be right and he’s wrong.”
by Orlando Hernandez.
This Thursday we observe the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The first reading describes how “as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus that has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.” (Acts1: 9-12)
The Gospel of Luke describes this scene like this: “Then He led them as far as Bethany, raised His hands, and blessed them. As He blessed them He parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Lk 24: 50-52)
I was a little troubled when I first read this passage years ago. How could they feel “joy” when they had lost the company of the Beautiful One, risen and glorified? He was “taken up” from them, for how long, centuries?
On December 3, 2011 (it seems like only yesterday!), I was looking out the window of the tour bus as we passed the increasingly populated steep hills of the Judean countryside and we entered a long tunnel. As we emerged into the light, the panorama of the city of Jerusalem lay before us, the golden Dome of the Rock, at its center, the huge, crenelated Turkish wall surrounding the ancient city where our Lord died and resurrected. It was overwhelming. Our guide, Fr. Vasko O.F.M., called our attention to the Mount of Olives on our right, and at the top of the crowded hillside, pointed to a chapel-like structure, perhaps a minaret, which he called “ the place of the Ascension”. I suddenly broke into tears, and foolishly, like a child, I asked within my mind, “Why did You have to go back and leave us, dear God? Why did You leave us like this?” I gazed at the vast mass of humanity of this city, torn by war, destruction, bloodshed and prejudice for some two thousand years! I felt tiny before such a terrible, formidable story.
The next day, the bus took us up through impossibly narrow winding streets to the top of the Mount of Olives, in the Palestinian neighborhood where Bethany used to be. We got off at a dusty, neglected plot where a single, very old-looking domed structure stood, the Chapel of the Ascension. Fr. Vasko told us that a huge Crusader church stood there once. I wondered why the later Muslim rulers decided to let this chapel stand after destroying everything else. Perhaps the answer was inside. Within the empty structure there was nothing but a flat rock with what seemed to be a footprint implanted on it. It was said to be from Jesus’ foot, just as He started to rise into heaven! Fr. Vasco opened the Bible and read passages from the Ascension story. I felt disturbed by it all.
We wound our way down “ the mount called Olivet” past the vast Jewish cemeteries facing the Old City on the other side of the Kidron Valley until we stopped in front of the church Dominus Flevit for a rest stop on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. My wife and I had been walking with our new found friend, Fr. Bill Kalin, making sure he was safe negotiating the cobblestones. He was an elderly man and his legs were going. But a benefactor had paid for his tour to Israel, and he could not pass it up. He was living in a retirement home near Lincoln, Nebraska,his home state, and he was not too happy about it. He loved talking with my wife and I because it gave him a chance to review his Spanish.This man had spent the last twenty years of his life as a missionary in the garbage dumps somewhere in Venezuela, ministering to the people that actually lived there. All the folks in our group had fallen in love with him. We would all take turns helping him out.
From the place where Jesus wept as He faced the Holy City, I dared to ask Fr. Bill why Jesus had “returned” to heaven and left us without Him. He graciously gave us one of those mini-homilies that he would share with us at different points in our pilgrimage. Most of you readers are probably acquainted with the points that he made. I just wish that I could convey to you the PRESENCE of this gentle, holy man. His very shining self was part of the message. He told us with a smile on his face, “You all know that He has never really left us. But He had to return to heaven for three reasons.” The first reason was that He WAS God, and He had to return to His fully divine state. He was close to His beloved Abba as a man, but we can only guess at the glory of His divine intimacy in union with His Father.
The second reason was a little harder for us to comprehend. “He returned to heaven to prepare a place for us.” Again, I cannot even imagine what this place, these “many rooms” are like. But He did promise us that . Like a child waiting for Christmas I was filled with joy as I looked into Fr. Bill’s blue eyes.
The final reason was the one that satisfied me the most. Fr. Bill joked about how difficult it would have been to meet Jesus if He had remained on Earth as some kind of king, spiritual leader, or pope. Most of us would not even be able to get a five-minute audience with Him! Instead, thanks to His full access to the Divine, Jesus can send us His Holy Spirit (which I believe with all my heart is actually another revelation of His Very Self!) whenever we pray, and seek Him. He is with us individually, one-on-one all the time! He had to “ascend” in order for this to happen.
Fr. Bill had actually told me something that I already knew deep inside. This intimate communion with God was the force that had brought me on that pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Fr. Kalin’s loving talk had just brought this knowledge to light, a light that healed me in many ways and took away the morose state in which I had found myself that day
Years back we sent him a card to his address in Nebraska. He sent us back a beautiful answer. We’ve been out of touch with him for a while. I wonder how he is doing. I think I’m going to write a letter to this man of God who was so influential in my life. Thank You, ever present, beloved Jesus!
To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
The Ascension of Jesus into heaven is recalled briefly in Mark’s gospel (Mark 16,19) and described in more detail in Luke’s gospel (Luke 24, 44-53} and in the Acts of the Apostles. (Acts 1, 1-14) As he leaves his disciples, Jesus promises to send them his Spirit.
What are his final instructions to them before he ascends into heaven? They are to be witnesses to him. They will have power from the Holy Spirit to witness, but there’s no promise of security, safety, or immunity from fear or suffering. Just the opposite, Jesus sends them on a mission that’s insecure, unsafe and hard.
Here’s what Jesus says in Mark’s gospel, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” “The whole world?” we might say. “To every creature?” It’s a dangerous world out there, and there are creatures in it I don’t particularly like. Yet, that’s the mission Jesus entrusts to his disciples–and us.
“These signs will accompany those who believe,” Jesus continues. “In my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages, they will pick up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
That seems to mean if you really believe in Jesus you confront the evil in this world, you learn new things all your life, you deal with snakes–they’re out there too, you can recover from the deadliest experiences, and you can bring healing to those who need healing.
In Luke’s Ascension account in the Acts of the Apostles the disciples wonder if this is the time when God’s kingdom will come now, her and now. Heaven on earth. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
We have hopes like that too, don’t we? That God’s kingdom come here and now, and everything will be perfect. Jesus tells his disciples they wont know the day or the hour. Perfection doesn’t happen here on earth.
As the disciples stand looking at the Lord ascending, Luke writes, angels ask them “Why are you standing here looking up into the sky?” Jesus will return. Go back into the city and live as he asks you to live. You will receive what he promised there. No standing looking up into the sky. Stay where you are; that’s where the promises will be kept.
Luke goes on to describe the disciples making their way back to Jerusalem and praying there with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Prayer prepares them for the Spirit who comes. Prayer prepares us too.
Jesus did not just come out of the tomb; he ascended to heaven. He rose from the dead and disappeared from our sight to return to his Father and our Father, his God and our God. The mystery of his ascension completes the Paschal Mystery. In his victory over death we’re promised a life beyond this one.
When I was a boy, I remember my father buying a record player. It was the mid 1940’s and times were hard; I’m sure he broke the family bank to pay for it. For a good while he only had a couple of those old vinyl records he would play over and over.
One of them was a haunting black spiritual sung by Marian Anderson called “Heaven.”
“I got shoes, and you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes.
When I getta heaven gonna put on my shoes
and gonna walk all over God’s heaven, heaven.
Everybody’s talking bout Heaven ain’t goin’ there.
heaven, heaven. Gonna walk all over God’s heaven.”
I still feel the hope in that great singer’s voice as she sang that song. She was singing the song of barefooted slaves who were looking for something more. It wasn’t just a pair of shoes that would wear out after awhile. These were shoes God gave you in heaven, a place of completed dreams. Once you put on those shoes you could walk freely and walk everywhere.
The Feast of the Ascension describe heaven as our final home, where all our dreams are realized, where tears are wiped away, where sadness is no more, where wrongs are righted, where reunion with those we love takes place, where we enjoy the presence of God and all the saints.
For now, we only have hints of heaven. We only have assurances of faith. However, it’s not enough to just talk about it, as the spiritual says, we must walk in the steps of Jesus. Walking in his steps brings us, not to a grave, but to the place where he is. That’s heaven.
I was in the local Barnes and Noble Bookstore recently and in the religion section noticed a good number of books on heaven. Most of these, as far as I can judge, are accounts of people who say they’ve been there or just about and are reporting on their experience. Heaven’s an item of interest today.
The Feast of the Ascension is our basic book on heaven. Look to Jesus Christ who promises us a home there. The Ascension is part of the Easter mystery. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead and for forty days, the scriptures say, he ate and drank and met with his disciples to build up their faith. Then, he ascended into heaven.
Rising from the dead was not the end of his story. He rose from the dead but did continue life on earth. He did not rise like those whom he himself raised from the dead, like Lazarus whom he called from the tomb and the little girl and the dead son of a widow of Naim. They went back to ordinary life. Jesus did not.
No, after he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, our creed says. He entered another world beyond this one, a world greater than this one. There, from a place of great power, he extends his promise and power to us here on earth.
Because he was to ascend, he told Mary Magdalene in the garden after rising, “Do not hold me, I must ascend to my father and your father.” Jesus had to ascend to heaven, to his home and ours.
The mysterious way Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection points to the impermanence of this life and the finality of a heavenly life. His risen appearances are brief; he appears in a veiled way. He appears to his disciples mainly to assure them that he lives and to give them the promise of life eternal.
Why don’t we know more about heaven? It’s a mystery we hope for rather than understand. “Eye has not seen, or ear heard, or has it entered the human mind, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Heaven is our place of rest, the final place we’re meant to be, and so we pray for those who die: “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord.”
Great mysteries are expressed and deep truths revealed in these days between Easter and the Ascension, St. Leo the Great says in a sermon:
“In those days the fear of death was removed with all its terrors, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh was established.”
To remove the fear of death, keep your eyes on the two disciples on the way to Emmaus whom Jesus accompanied “to sweep away all the clouds of our uncertainty.”
“He reproached them for the slowness of their timid and trembling hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, they are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with him. How much more blessed is that opening of their eyes, to the glorification of their nature, than the time when our first parents’ eyes were opened to the disastrous consequences of their transgression.”
Keep your eyes on all the disciples at this time, the saint says: “the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.”