This was my homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension (moved to Sunday in our area).
1. Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? When Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples stood there, I presume with mouths open, staring at the sky. Who wouldn’t have? Jesus had died a brutally horrible death and was buried. Then He rose from the dead. He could walk through walls, appear and disappear, but He would still eat food and drink wine and they could touch Him. Now all at once, He ascended into the sky body and spirit and everything. No wonder they were looking up at the sky.
2. So there they were, staring into space, wondering what was going to happen next. What was going to happen next was that it was time for them to get to work. Jesus had promised that He would come back, but they had a few things that they had to do first, like tell everyone in the world about what happened, baptized them and bring them into the Church. The angels had to get them started.
3. But first, the disciples had to do some serious prayer. They had to prepare themselves to receive one more gift- the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit of God would make all the difference in the world to their attitude, their knowledge, their abilities. But they had to prepare themselves with prayer and meditation. So for the next 9 days, the disciples would gather in the upper room and pray. They did not know what the gift from on high would be like, or what it would do to them. There was only one there present who had experience the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that was the Virgin Mary. So she accompanied them on their journey of prayer, fasting, and meditation.
4. In just a few days, they would indeed receive the Holy Spirit, just as we did at Baptism. But before we focus on the gift of the Indwelling of the Spirit of God, maybe we should look at what the Ascension teaches us. Was the Ascension significant for the Church?
5. There are a few things that the Ascension helps us to realize and believe. First, it is another reminder that the Resurrection to new life in Christ is not a resurrection to the same kind of life we have here. It is not even a resurrection to a new and excited kind of life of walking through walls while eating and drinking. The new life Jesus has obtained for us is life in the house of His Father in heaven. Jesus promised that He would go and prepare a place for us in His Father’s house.
6. Second, when Jesus ascended, He did not leave His body behind. If He had, the disciples would have been looking at Jesus' cadaver, and not up at the sky. No, Jesus took it all to heaven. We say in the creed that we believe Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. That is, the new life we are to live with Jesus forever in heaven will not be as disembodied spirits, nor as angels. We will be human, with human bodies, although glorified like Jesus’. The opening prayer this morning says that Jesus’ ascension is “our glory and our hope.” It is our glory and our hope because everything that happens to Jesus is so that it can happen to us- resurrection from the dead, and ascension into glory.
7. Third, which brings us back to what the disciples had been commissioned to do, we are called to make everyone a disciple of Jesus Christ. Now it is true in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus is speaking to the Eleven- that is, to the Apostles. But the great commission He gave them was not for themselves alone to accomplish, nor even for their successors the bishops. We are all called to make disciples of all nations, each according to a particular circumstance.
8. For example, when married couples accept the gift of children from God and present those children for Baptism, they are helping to make disciples. When those same parents fulfill their duties to teach their children how to pray, what to believe and how to go to Church, that also is making a disciple. When someone volunteers to be a catechist or a classroom aide for Religious Education and prepares lessons, that person is helping make a disciple. When we share our faith with our co-workers or fellow students, we are helping to make disciples. When we visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, or other merciful acts, we might even be helping to make disciples even then.
9. Even children can do it. One of my great-grandfathers was not a baptized person. He may never have even stepped foot in a Catholic Church (in those days you got married in the rectory if one of the parties was not Catholic). But his grandsons got up every morning during Summer Vacation at 6am to go serve 6:30am Mass. That simple service of God not only made great-grandfather proud of his grandsons, but it made him begin to think, “What was worth getting up at 6 in the morning on your vacation?” And then he began to desire it. And so great-grandfather was baptized on his death-bed and received communion and confirmation. We never know what expressions of faith will bring someone into faith in Jesus Christ.
10. But before we can accomplish these important goals, goals which Jesus promised to help us achieve, we must pray. We must learn to wait on God first, and depend on Him as if for everything (because in fact, we do depend on God for everything). And then when it is time to work, work like it all depends on us.