Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday word, 09 May 2013

The Diocese of Erie observes the solemnity today
Living our Freedom
Ascension Thursday (09 May 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
We know death is final. We may escape death; we may postpone it. Yet, death is final when it claims a living body. All of us know that to be true. True as that is one more thing is equally true: we 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 of Jesus, both the solemnity we celebrate today and a doctrine of our faith, frames our change as an entering. The Ascension is the “irreversible entry of [Jesus’] humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated [forever] at God’s right hand.”2 His Ascension guarantees our “irreversible entry” into the divine presence because Jesus promises us he will keep us with him.3

That change happened with Jesus’ resurrection. Risen Jesus is 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.”4 His body never lost its wounds; they were glorified with the rest of him, but the nail marks never vanished. That is how his disciples recognized him.

And more, when Jesus showed them his hands and his side, the disciples rejoiced.5 No more were his wounds hideous and painful. They assured humans to whom he appeared that they saw risen Jesus. The Ascension was the entry into God’s presence 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.”6

Until then Jesus abides with us by his Holy Spirit. His Spirit 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”7 we celebrate in word, in song, with bread and wine until his return.

In our celebration and the rest of our Christian living, Jesus includes us. That makes the Ascension also a feast of ourselves. We joyfully “commemorate and [honor] 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.”8 By ascending to his Father’s right hand, Jesus completed our redemption and restored our human nature’s original dignity. That’s why we Catholics tirelessly defend human dignity each moment; why Catholic families are schools for godly living; why we scrutinize budgets to ensure they leave out no one; and why we promote just social structures so they weave the seamless fabric we call “God’s justice.”

Those and other faces of Christian life embody living faith. Living faith actively meets Jesus by meeting 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 actions. Jesus’ sacramental presence with us ever invites us to action. 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?” The bread of angels9 more than nourishes us. It stirs us to act. Every communion urges each of us: “Don’t just stand there. Do what Jesus taught you by his example.”

  1. First Preface of Christian Death.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 659.
  3. John 14.3.
  4. Luke 24.39.
  5. John 20.20.
  6. Pope St. Leo, Homily 74.2, “On the Ascension.”
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Psalm 78.25. “Food of angels” is synonymous. Phrases appear in Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Bonaventure, and others through the ages. St. Thomas wrote a Lauda Sion Salvatórem (texts, brief history), which ensured a lasting place of “bread of angels” among the faithful.

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