ON THIS ASCENSION SUNDAY we celebrate the ascension of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, into heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. And this, folks, is where we turn our eyes to Jesus, in heaven. We celebrate the day Jesus returned home, to the place from which He came to earth to save us and redeem us. He returned differently than He left, taking our human nature with Him across the great threshold of death into life. But we also celebrate the fact that Jesus awaits us there – each and every one of us. The whole point of our human life journey is to prepare us for life with God, here in this world, and eternally with Him in the next. Prior to His Ascension, during the Last Supper, Jesus told His closest followers about this connection between his ascension and our assumption. He said, “I am going to the Father, … the one who sent me” (Jn 14:17, 16:5). But he also said, “You have faith in God, have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Heaven is the place where Christ has prepared for us so that we might rejoice with him forever. The mission that Jesus gives each of us as His disciples is simply this – to be zealous and faithful witnesses to Him, to His message, to proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins … to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47), to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). As Jesus was ascending into heaven, He gives us a share in the mission which the Father gave Him – the salvation of the world. He basically has us look at the reality that there are many people on that wide road leading to eternal perdition and says to us, “What are you going to do about it?” Jesus gives us the mission to proclaim to them, by our words, by our deeds, by our love, by our service, the Good News – call everyone to repentance, to baptism, to Jesus. This is the greatest mission we’ve ever received or will receive — a share in Jesus’ own mission of salvation and redemption. He loved us enough and He trusted us so much that He placed his own mission into our hands. He died for those on that wide road, that broad dead end, but he sends us to try to help them turn back, to get on the uphill road that leads to life. After his massive conversion from a dissolute life, St. Augustine went back to his friends and said to them, “I don’t want to be saved without you!” We’re called to do likewise. To help us accomplish this mission, God has given to each of us an incredible gift. During the Last Supper, Jesus said something startling: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). The Holy Spirit would be sent as tongues of fire, so that we could preach this mission with ardent love. Thus on this Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And we learn from the example of the first apostles. As soon as the Lord ascended, they went back to the Upper Room, surrounded themselves around Mary, and prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nine days later, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Those who previously were cowards and abandoned the Lord on the night He was betrayed, now gave fearless witness to Him, such was the help that the Holy Spirit gave. We ask Mary to teach us how to pray, so that we might respond just as courageously. If we do this, if we live with our hearts set on the Lord, set on heaven, set on eternal life, we will be fearless.
THE BISHOP’S ANNUAL APPEAL is underway. I will be speaking at all of the Masses this Sunday at the Cathedral, and next Sunday at Holy Cross, about our respective parish BAA goals. All of us have a part to play in supporting the BAA which supports the mission and works of the Diocese, and the “forced overage” which benefits our two parishes. Please give!