Ascension & Mother’s Day 2018 Homily
Intro: A comment to the children about the vestment I am wearing…showing Jesus’ feet only, in the picture on it, as He has mostly risen up off the mountain, with all His disciples looking up at Him, in which they would be transfixed upward for a long time of wonder…
This season of the Lord Jesus’ Rising and His appearances does have great bookend feasts: Easter (with its Vigil) and this feast of Ascension. Even while the Sunday rain got us a bit wet coming in, we began Ascension Mass with a Renewal of Baptismal Promises and the Sprinkling Rite, because of how we have been sprinkled and cleansed in Jesus for new life and for the holy indwelling of God in our souls. This renewal is come about because of Jesus’ Victory. He is the Lord of Glory. He ascends into Heaven so that He could reign for us as the God/man Redeemer and have sent forth to believers the Paraclete, Another Advocate, the Spirit. As Jesus sits on the throne as our Mediator and Representative and Head of the Body, we can rejoice that it leads to a very special connection now between heaven and earth. We can even be made children of the King of Kings now!
We shall explore the Mystery of the Ascension, but first let us celebrate today as Mother’s Day in America. I want to wish all mothers here a good day indeed! As a specific community to the parish and with its vocation of service to the family, you are greatly appreciated. You are loved not only by us, but by God—Who has called you and given you this fruitful life. God loves mothers, and so much so, we know, that in Christ Jesus He chose to come to earth and be born to a mother, Mary. You are in our prayers in a special way today and we will include you in a special recognition after the General Intercessions today.
I thank my own mother for guiding me aright in many things. She is probably attending St. Edward’s in Bowie today. I thank my two grandmothers for their influence upon me, as they lived, and in how they raised my parents in a good Catholic pre-influence.
I think it is beautiful that Mother’s Day and Mary’s special month coincide in May. The Blessed Mother is a key figure in the original days of Ascension to Pentecost in the Church’s waiting days for the Fire of the Spirit to fall. We see Mary in the middle of the Pentecost blessing, when the Spirit comes. Mary would have been the apostles and disciples’ strong guide in the nine days of waiting from the Ascension. We are sure of that because Mary was with them there in Jerusalem and how she already knew the Holy Spirit well and had lived in His grace for almost 50 years, in perfect human holiness and obedience to His promptings and guidance. From that great experience, Mary could strengthen the Jerusalem gathering after the Ascension. She could teach them the same patient expectation that she had with God’s coming in her pregnancy, and in her same experience in waiting upon Jesus’ ministry time to start, until He revealed how He was the Lord’s Anointed. She had also the perfect faith of waiting for Jesus’ Resurrection after Calvary, as she definitely believed it was coming. Now, she was in the center of the believers, helping them to receive the Spirit Whom her Son Jesus had promised them. It would come after their novena of days of waiting and praying. Then, on a Sunday, the Pentecost event happened, as the Fire of the Paraclete fell upon them like flames of holy energy to the soul and body.
It would be good to ask Our Lady’s help as we go through this 2018 Novena to the Pentecost Feast. Bring her intercession into your prayers. I especially direct you to the Holy Spirit Novena in our bulletins and do urge you to pray it or some other form of nine-day petition for the work of the Holy Spirit to move you onward and deeper inward in your faith. (If you start it today, then pray Day One for daytime, and Day Two for night-time, and then one a day until Saturday, when you do a daytime and a night-time novena prayer, and then you have nine prayer time before Pentecost Sunday.) A Novena to the Holy Spirit was invented and given by Jesus at His Ascension, and I don’t think it was only meant for that burgeoning First Church community to do, but it’s something we should do each year between the dates of Ascension and Pentecost on the calendar.
Today we are celebrating the great mystery in the life of Jesus and the life of His Church — of the mystery of His Ascension into heaven. By the Ascension of the Christ, God is making a wonderful promise to us — that where Jesus goes, we can go. Heaven can be our home, the end of our journey. If we follow Him on earth, the path that we follow will lead us to heaven. This is the promise of today’s celebration, the Ascension. Jesus goes up off into the clouds of angels back to Heaven.
Yet the direction the Ascension points to isn’t just about going up, in the finish of our life. You get that message in Luke’s description as he begins the Acts of the Apostles, like we heard proclaimed in Mass.
Surely, first, it is upward we look, for Jesus Christ has gone to the Throne of Glory as Head of the Body of believers, and as our Friend and Representative to God. Jesus reigns there, as Son Eternal, and as the God/man glorified, the Savior and Redeemer. But angels come to instruct the awe-struck followers that it is not just upward we look. Hear the account in Acts 1 again: “As they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men (angels) dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, …why are you standing there (still) looking at the sky? This Jesus Who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.”
It was to mean, that, you witnesses of Jesus are to get to the next step now, which is lateral, so gather and garner yourselves and your faith for the New Counselor, the Divine Advocate, Whom Jesus has said is to come upon you ahead. Join in faith and prayer, O people, for action, so as to be charged with living in Jesus Christ, Who will indwell in you, by His Spirit. You are then to share His life dwelling within you as an anointed blessing to give out to the world. Jesus reigns in glory, and He lives in you.
Stage two of believing is having this indwelling of God, “Christ in you, the hope of Glory (as Paul put it to the Colossians 1:27).” That’s the message of the angels after the Lord’s Ascension. They say: ‘You are not to just keep staring upward, but also now you are to look inward and sideways. God is to come in as to be the Center of Your Life and God is to be shared out to your neighbor on your left and on your right.’
We have this Novena to the Holy Spirit devotion to ponder this stage. Jesus reigns on the Throne but also wants inroads in your soul to live there via our witness. “You shall be My witnesses” is the Lord’s call to us. Then, the whole story in the Acts of the Apostles to follow is of the early Church living that Jesus’ faith. The Acts of the Apostles goes on for many chapters, describing the actions of the apostles and early believers, who would become empowered in The Spirit.
For, as we know, the Ascension is not the end of the story of Jesus. His work on earth is finished, but the work of his Church has just begun. And the Church’s work, my dear brothers and sisters, is our work — your work and mine.
Jesus is ascending into heaven today — and He is sending us out into the world.
I like what St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Wheaton has put up over their doors going out of church. It comes from the Ascension Scriptures: “As the Father has sent Me into the world, so I now send you into the world.”
Or as we hear often in Confirmation Masses from the bishop presiding and preaching in them, like on last Thursday’s one here, Jesus did say He would send the Spirit to us and He said these last words to his disciples — “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem …and to the ends of the earth.” Those were His parting words to His disciples — and they are His “first words” to us.
The Church’s mission started with the disciples in Jerusalem, and this mission continues with us today. You know that, in a sense, the Washington D.C. area and Archdiocese (with its state of Maryland) is the “ends of the earth” from Jerusalem. We are a long way from where the Church was begun — we are on another side of the world and in another time—yet we are spreading the witness of Jesus here in the mission in Maryland since 1634. One of the great Catholic saints in our state’s history was a woman and mother, Elizabeth Ann Seton, who managed both her mothering roles of five and in leading a strong Daughters of Charity movement in the Church. Maryland’s greatest Catholic witness was a mother, and a single widow/mother for even much of the way. How’d she do it? In the Holy Spirit. And likely with help from Our Lady. So, we can ask St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s help, and of the Blessed Mother Mary, for our part in witnessing Jesus to the people of our time and place. It is a witness of not just looking up to Heaven for that life to come in Glory, as we know Jesus reigns there—but also towards looking to do the work of Jesus to our left and to our right—from His blessing within us. Like Seton did.
Here in the Burtonsville region, we truly are witnesses of Jesus Alive, as being called Resurrection Parish! So, let us live to our name. Pope Francis has spoken in a Wednesday audience at St. Peter’s of the Vatican about how every Catholic is called to be witnesses of the Resurrection. He said, “Every Sunday, we should leave our churches to go during the week into houses, offices, schools, places of meetings and entertainments, into hospitals, prisons, retirement homes, the places packed with immigrants, the peripheries of cities.” He said, “This is the testimony we have to take every week: Christ is with us. Jesus ascended into Heaven (and He reigns) but He is with us, as well. Christ is alive! (And we are alive in Him.)”