Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Ascension Homily

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20

The feast of the Ascension is one that consistently gets shortchanged by many believers today. Part of the problem lies in the fact that we have such literal descriptions of the event, such as we heard today from the book of Acts and also the gospel of Luke about Jesus "rising" up to the heavens. Added to that we have such magnificent paintings of the event by many noted artists: Perugino, Rembrandt, Andrei Rublev, and the one on the cover of this missalette (Il Garofolo). The problem lies in the fact that people stop there, seeing the Ascension as merely the way of getting Jesus from earth into heaven after his Resurrection.....and nothing else. Thus, the full meaning of the Ascension is shortchanged.

In the second reading we heard this morning, from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we are given the real meaning, the basic faith significance of the Ascension: "God has put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things...." Through his death and resurrection God has made Jesus Christ the beginning, the measure and end of all things. He is the yardstick by which the value of everything, everyone and every human action is measured. The primary meaning of Ascension is not physical, but in a total spiritual sense. It was "through him" that everything was made; "with him" that every action finds its value; "in him" that everything and everyone will be judged. The Ascension stands as one of the pivotal beliefs of Christianity.

It also encompasses the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. How did those first followers of the simple Galilean preacher in the first century, those who recoiled in horror and fear at his eventual and sudden crucifixion and death, come to make such an extravagant claim about him? We simply don’t know the exact process by which it happened. That’s why we can only assert that it happened as a gift of faith from God. But the fact of that claim is clearly attested in the oldest Christian literature we possess, the letters of St. Paul. There it is clearly attested that the early Christian community most certainly worshiped Jesus Christ as the Son of God, risen from the dead and made Lord of all things.

That faith continues to this day. We reaffirm it every time we celebrate the Eucharist. At the end of every Eucharistic prayer, when the priest raises the consecrated bread and wine, he prays: "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever." Your "Amen" is reaffirming the Mystery of the Ascension! It is also affirming the Mystery of the gift of Faith.

But let’s go back to that thought that Jesus has been made the yardstick by which the value of everything, every one and every human action is measured. We need to take this beyond an intellectual affirmation of who Jesus is and what he does. It needs to be fully integrated into our spirituality and prayer life. One of the great developments that happened as a result of Vatican II was the entrance of this kind of spirituality in our Eucharistic prayers. As we shall pray in just a few moments: "While he lived among us he cured the sick, he cared for the poor and he wept with those who were grieving. He forgave sinners and taught us to forgive each other." We need to hear that often and begin to integrate it into our personal spirituality. That’s living the Mystery of the Ascension. And may we pray that it may be so for all of us!

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