Homily for Ascension of the Lord - The Church's Central Mission
We don't think enough about the Ascension. In fact, only those who pray the Rosary seem to think about it at all.
Yet, it is a crucial part of Christ's mission and message.
- It is the culminating moment, the finale, the final whistle, the moment in which his victory will be enshrined in heaven for ever.
- Jesus ascends into heaven as the living sacrifice that will continue to be the bridge between God and humanity until the end of time.
His words at this moment, therefore, are critical.
And what does he say? Two things.
First, he sums up the message of salvation.
- He reminds his Apostles that he had come to earth in order to preach salvation, and then to make it into a reality by his suffering, death, and resurrection.
- Only because of Christ's preaching and passion is it possible for mankind to experience the salvation from sin and ignorance that they desire, the peace of soul that they yearn for.
Second, he gives his followers a job. He calls upon them to be witness of these things.
- They will not be able to carry out their witness all by themselves, they will need the Holy Spirit, and so he promises that at Pentecost they will be "clothed with power from on high."
- But then they are to go to "all the nations" as Christ's witnesses.
So, in the Ascension of our Lord, we come face to face with the core of the entire Gospel: Christ's saving message being transmitted to all people through the witness of the Church.
The most important way that the Church bears witness to Christ's unconquerable goodness is through the example of Christians - not our words, but our example.
- When you and I live as Christ lived, following him, we reveal his salvation to the world.
- Our English word "martyr" comes from the Greek word for "witness".
- The Church's martyrs are her greatest witnesses.
- By refusing to do evil, even at the cost of their own lives, they make the power of Christ's goodness shine out.
One of the saints that the Church commemorated, May 17, is a recent and eloquent example of this.
- Blessed Antonia Mesina was the second of ten children born to a peasant family on the Island of Sardinia, off the west coast of Italy.
- She grew up between World War I and II.
- After just four years of school, she was forced to leave her studies behind and take over the housekeeping for her mother, who had fallen ill and was confined to bed.
- Antonia didn't let either her lack of education or her poverty keep her from loving Christ.
- When she was ten, she joined Catholic Action, Italy's national apostolic movement for lay people.
- She was a model member, and energetically fulfilled her commitments and recruited other young people to join the group.
- Honoring Christ and living in friendship with him became her first care and highest priority.
- On one afternoon when she was 16, she went out to gather wood for the stove at home.
- Alone, she was accosted by another, older teenager, a young man who tried to rape her.
- She resisted, and he became violent.
- She continued resisting, and he continued beating her, trying to force her.
- But she knew that her body was a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and she would not submit.
- The young man became furious, and he beat her to death.
Antonia refused to do evil. In that way, she was a witness to Christ's unconquerable goodness, a martyr.
This is what the whole Church has done in a thousand ways throughout the ages, and what each one of us is called to do in our own circle of friends and acquaintances.
Bearing witness to Christ, to his message and the power of his goodness: this is our primary mission on earth.
Before he ascended, Jesus didn't say, "Go have a good time; go ‘find yourselves'." No! He said, "Go be my witnesses to all the nations."
This is the mission we have been given. This is what we are supposed to do.
Each one of us will do it in a different way.
- God calls some to witness as priests.
- He calls some to consecrate their lives as full-time missionaries.
- Others are called to be leaven in the dough of the world, transforming culture from within, either as humble workers or as great leaders.
- Each of us he calls to bear witness by the sincerity, faithfulness, and loving-kindness with which we live out our normal responsibilities and relationships.
Until this mission becomes our highest priority in life, we will experience an interior restlessness that nothing will cure.
- We were created to live in friendship with God, and that means sharing in God's projects.
- And his project in this fallen world is "that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations".
Right before Jesus ascended, St Luke tells us, he "raised his hands, and blessed them." Then he ascended and his disciples "returned to Jerusalem with great joy."
Why were they joyful at Christ's departure? Because Christ had revealed to them the purpose of their lives - they had a mission; their life had meaning.
Today, at Holy Communion, let's accept anew our life's mission, so that at the end of this Mass, when I, as a priest, raise my hands so that Christ can bless you through me, our restlessness will be taken up into joy.