Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday word, 20 May 2007

Ascension (20 May 2007) Ac 1. 1-11; Ps 47; Hb 9. 24-28; 10. 19-23; Lk 24. 46-53
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

More Powerfully Present

We know that death is final. As humans all of us know that to be true. We may escape death; we may postpone it. Yet, death is final when it claims a living body.

We, though, are more than our bodies. Our God-given selves do not end with death. Jesus’ resurrection shouts that we do not end with death. At human death “life is changed, not ended.”/1/ What is the change?

The Ascension, both the solemnity we celebrate today and also a doctrine of our faith, specifies that our change is glorification, which is to be exalted with God to share divine life for ever.

Consider Jesus. Risen Jesus was no ghost. He ate in the presence of his disciples, saying, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”/2/ His body never lost its wounds; they were glorified with the rest of him, but the nail marks never vanished. In fact, that is how the disciples recognized him.

More, when Jesus showed them his hands and his side, the disciples rejoiced./3/ No more were his wounds hideous and painful. They guaranteed humans to whom he appeared that they saw risen Jesus. The Ascension was the taking up into heaven of risen Jesus with his real, glorified body. His Ascension, Pope St. Leo preached long ago, “terminated His presence with us in the body, to abide on the Father’s right hand until...He comes to judge the living and the dead in the same flesh in which He ascended.”/4/

Jesus abides with us by his Holy Spirit, who makes Jesus more real and more powerfully present than he was when he walked the earth. Thanks to his Holy Spirit, our Redeemer’s “visible [presence] was changed into a sacramental presence,”/5/ which we celebrate here in word, in song, with bread and wine.

Indeed, the Ascension is a feast of ourselves. Today we “commemorate and duly venerate that day on which [our human] Christ was raised above all the host of heaven, over all the ranks of angels, beyond the height of all powers, to sit with God the Father.”/6/ By ascending and being enthroned at his Father’s right hand, Jesus completed our redemption, restoring our human nature’s original dignity. That’s why we Catholics tirelessly defend human dignity from birth to death; why Catholic families are schools for godly living; why we scrutinize budgets to ensure they are moral documents; and why just social structures weave the seamless fabric we call “God’s justice.”

These and other facets of Christian life constitute living faith. Living faith actively encounters Jesus by encountering others and responding with humility and love. Sacramental presences of Jesus empower us to make Jesus present by how we live, how we choose, how we serve and how we evangelize by our deeds.

Jesus’ sacramental presence with us bids us act. The question the angelic messengers posed to the disciples when they lost sight of Jesus propelled them and propels us into action: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” Their question implies a command: “Don’t just stand there, do what Jesus taught you by his example!”

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, allow yourself to become more keenly aware of the love the Divine Persons have for you. Ponder the ways Jesus is present to you in sacramental ways: sacraments you celebrate; the sacrament of the church; the sacraments of other people. Ask the Men of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples, to present you to Jesus so you may converse with him about the many ways Jesus encounters you. As you converse with Jesus, be alert to one clearer way Jesus draws you and moves you to be Jesus’ hands, Jesus’ eyes, Jesus’ feet, Jesus’ heart. Resolve to live what you notice Jesus invites you to do in his name. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which helps us bring our faith alive and to restore human dignity one day and one person at a time.
/1/ First Preface of Christian Death.
/2/ Luke 24.39.
/3/ John 20. 20
/4/ Pope St. Leo, Homily 74, “On the Ascension.”
/5/ Ibid.
/6/ Ibid.
Both Wiki-images of the Resurrection and the Ascension are in the public domain.