Sunday, May 28, 2017
Sunday word, 28 May 17
Ascension Sunday A (28 May 2017)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J., on 8-day and Soil and Soul retreats
Befriending People and Our Earth
I easily forget two things: the Ascension of Jesus is about us as well as Jesus; his Ascension was not the first leave-taking Scripture offers. Scripture contains other leave-takings in which people be-gan anew, announced God’s desires and fulfilled their lives. One example was Moses: his dying allowed Joshua to succeed him.1 Another was Elijah: he was taken up into heaven2 so his protege, Elisha, could receive a double portion of his mentor’s prophetic spirit.3 God’s spirit empowered Joshua and Elisha after their mentors left them. Likewise, Jesus’ successors received the fullness of his Spirit when he ascended.
Even when a gift is given leave-takings are difficult. 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—that they would continue Jesus’ work—the angel’s question feels appropriate: Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking at the sky? The angelic question propelled the disciples to prepare for their mission to proclaim Jesus as Messiah—to continue what Jesus had begun.
The angel’s question reminds me the Ascension of Jesus is about us as well as Jesus: we are the contemporary successors of Jesus’ first followers. Someone may object, How can we succeed his first followers when we never saw, heard and walked with Jesus as they did? That’s my temptation, too. Physical presence isn’t everything. Jesus’ physical presence made him available only to those immediately with him in space and time. Entering God’s presence—what ascension tries to convey—risen Jesus “began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.”4 Those words of an early pastor echo our faith-conviction that physical presence isn’t everything. The same truth—Jesus is “indescribably more present in his divinity” to us who never have known the human Jesus—encourages us to let risen and ascended Jesus free and empower us to fulfill our lives as stewards of the earth and friends of everyone. To celebrate Jesus’ Ascension on retreat invites us to be freshly aware of the way his Spirit reassures us and refashions us as risen Jesus’ witnesses in our time where we live.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise