Ac 1. 1-11; Ps 47; Eph 4.1-13; Mk 16. 15-20
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The Ascension of Jesus is more about us than about Jesus. That was true for the first disciples, too. To them Jesus had said, “Go into the whole world and proclaim his good news to every creature.” Jesus would abide with them through his Spirit, in a more real way than if they could see him as they had when he was with them.
Ascension is the enthronement of Jesus as Messiah, Lord and Redeemer of the universe. The beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, which opened our liturgy of the word, presented Jesus’ ascension as his enthronement and as something more: the commissioning by Jesus of his successors to continue his prophetic and redeeming work, which he had begun.
That is why we can say that the Ascension is more about us, his contemporary successors, than it is about Jesus. If Jesus had remained physically present, he would have been available only to those immediately present to him in space and time. Scripture contains other leave-takings so that people could begin their ministry, announce God’s desires and fulfill their lives.
One example was Moses, who had to leave for Joshua to succeed him. Joshua, son of Nun, was filled with the spirit of wisdom, since Moses had laid his hands upon him; and so the Israelites gave him their obedience, thus carrying out the Lord’s command to Moses./1/
Another example was Elijah, who was taken up into heaven,/2/ so that his protege, Elisha, could receive a double portion of his mentor’s prophetic spirit./3/ Both Joshua and Elisha were empowered by the spirit after their mentors left them.
Likewise, Jesus’ successors received the promise of Holy Spirit at his ascension. However, leave-takings of every sort are difficult, even when a gift is given. That’s why we sympathize with the disciples gazing heavenward, looking intently...as Jesus was lifted up...from their sight.
Because we know how their mission would unfold and that they would continue Jesus’ work, the angel’s question was more than appropriate. “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” It propelled the disciples to begin to proclaim Jesus as Messiah.
Today is a turning point, then, from looking back to looking forward. We have spent six weeks looking back and savoring the resurrection of Jesus. Today we look forward to our role in the proclamation of his gospel and begin to recall how Jesus’ Spirit empowers us to preach Jesus, dead and risen, with our lives. We look forward to taking up again the mantle, which makes us successors of Jesus and apostles to our world.
Because our mantle is Jesus’ Holy Spirit, the Spirit infuses us with his power and life. We don’t wear the Spirit; the Spirit refashions and reshapes us into witnesses for one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, the source of Jesus’ life for the world.
We join the parents and godparents of Jemma Ann D’Amico, Eugene William Richter and Carly Sandra Heflin as they begin to give witness to their children born anew in Jesus. We are fortunate that you chose to baptize your children with us at this mass: you remind everyone more eloquently than I could say what it means to look forward to giving witness to the good news of our risen Lord Jesus by how we live.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, continue to feel recreated by our triune God. Ask your patron saint to present you to Jesus. Converse with Jesus about your life and the ways you give witness to his gospel with your life. Ask for the grace to be more alert to the prompting of Jesus’ Spirit equip you for building up the body of Christ in your lifetime. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave us to know in practical ways each day how to live as his successors.
1. Deuteronomy 34.9.
2. 2 Kings 2.1; 11-13.
3. 2 Kings 2.9.
Wiki-image of Benjamin West's Ascension of Jesus is in the public domain. Wiki-image of Juergen Kappenberg's photo of a column remembering Ascension and Pentecost is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license.