Solemnity of the Ascension, Cycle B

Our Lord has ascended into Heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand, but before he goes he makes sure we know that his mission is now our mission, and promises that the Holy Spirit will help us, a fact that we’ll celebrate soon on Pentecost.

In today’s First Reading Saint Luke reminds us that with Our Lord’s Ascension our chapter as Church of helping salvation history to continue begins. It’s not by chance that Saint Luke wrote two books: when Our Lord’s work on earth concludes, his earthly ministry, the Gospel as the story of what Our Savior said and did during his earthly lifetime—from Incarnation to Ascension—ends. As the events of the Gospel end, ours begin.

Saint Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles with a recap of what happened in Our Lord’s earthly life before launching into how the Church took up Our Lord’s mission and continues to carry it out. The Apostles didn’t act right away. Our Lord took the lead during his earthly ministry, but also promised them the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is poured out in a special way to help the Apostles take the lead now. Ascension is followed by Pentecost, the day the Easter season draws to a close. The Lord is Risen and Ascended and now it’s time for us to take up the work.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul prays that we have everything we need to carry out Our Lord’s mission. We need wisdom and revelation, and the Spirit gives us the wisdom and revelation to know God. We need the insight of an enlightened heart to know that which is truly worthy of how hope and how wonderful it is. An enlightened heart also believes in the power of God, the power that raised his Son from the dead and set him above all things, including his Church. We may be taking up Our Lord’s mission, but Our Lord is still in charge in a vital and intimate way, just as a head is vital to the whole body, ensuring its health and growth.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord makes it clear that the work is just beginning. In today’s First Reading the Apostles seem confused, thinking the work is over, but the Lord makes it clear that there is a lot of work to do. The stakes are high: people need something to believe in, and just as Our Lord came so we could believe in him, we must go out and invite others to believe in him as well. There was a whole world that did not know Our Lord, and even today too many don’t know him. Our Lord wants to reach them through us.

Our Lord has Ascended. He intercedes for us and directs us from the right hand of the Father, but he is now counting on us to spread the faith. Have you spread the faith with your family, your friends, your co-workers? There are many people in our world who don’t truly know Our Lord and live incomplete lives. We can help them to live.

Readings: Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20.

Image result for ascension of the lord

Ascension of the Lord, Cycle A

Today we’re celebrating Christ going home to Heaven. His mission on earth is accomplished. The angels are cheering at his return. The souls that were waiting for many years, since the beginning of human history, for Jesus to come and re-open the way to Heaven are celebrating too from their new and eternal home.

We are also thanking Jesus for the first thing that he did, and now continues to do, as soon as he got back to Heaven. Jesus is now at His Father’s right hand forever, asking him to help us get to Heaven too, and everyone we love. Like Jesus promised at the Last Supper, he and the Father are sending the Holy Spirit to help us get home by bringing us grace. Christ has ascended and now the disciples are waiting for the “whoosh” of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s First Reading the disciples are still confused and have doubts, even though they’ve seen that Jesus has risen from the dead. They were expecting, like all of Israel expected, one big whoosh right away: they thought the Kingdom of Heaven was coming right now. They were waiting for one last bang and for everyone to be in Heaven and evil to be ended. They ask Jesus when it’s going to happen. Jesus answers: wait for the Holy Spirit to come, and they still didn’t get it, which is why the angels have to tell them to move on. When Jesus tells them it’s not for them to know the times or seasons, he’s teaching them what the whoosh of the Holy Spirit is like: unexpected and big. The disciples thought there’d be one big whoosh and everyone would be in Heaven. Jesus is telling them to hold on to and be ready for the whoosh.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul prays that we too receive this “whoosh” of the Holy Spirit when Christ arrives home. This “whoosh” will bestow on us wisdom and revelation, not just on the level of knowledge, but in our hearts as well. Paul describes well where Our Lord is headed today: to his Father’s right hand, where he’ll be put in charge of all things and be above all other powers. It also says he’s being given to us, the Church, as head over all things.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord prepares the disciples, and us, for Pentecost. He may be ascending soon, but the Holy Spirit is coming in force. In the Gospel today, and for the rest of this week [or ten days], we’re waiting for that first big whoosh of the Holy Spirit that came to the Church on Pentecost, which is what we’ll celebrate on [Pentecost] Sunday. Jesus tells the Apostles to go out and baptize the whole world. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit whooshed down on him. Whenever we receive the sacraments, whenever we pray, and whenever we love each other the same thing happens to us. The Holy Spirit also fulfills the promise Jesus made in the Gospel today: by the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine today in Mass will become the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ – and Jesus will stay with us in the Eucharist “until the end of the age” when he will return with the last big whoosh that will bring us all home to Heaven.

The two men dressed in white in today’s First Reading are asking us the same thing today that they asked the Apostles, “why are you standing there?” Waiting for the whoosh doesn’t mean standing around and doing nothing. The Apostles were active as they waited. They didn’t know when the moment of grace, the whoosh, would come, but they knew they had to continue to do Our Lord’s will. He promised them power when the Holy Spirit came, but they were already at work. Sometimes we don’t want to do anything until we perceive a whoosh: a boost of grace, some insight into Our Lord’s will. We must remember that, in faith, we know the floodgate of grace is open and we are being soaked in it. He’s given us the sacraments, the Scriptures, and the help of the Church. We have plenty of grace to get to work.

Readings: Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9; Ephesians 1:17–23; Matthew 28:16–20.

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

On the Solemnity of the Ascension the Church celebrates Our Lord reaching the finish line. After forty days of being with the disciples after his Resurrection, which we have celebrated during these forty days of the Easter season, Jesus has crossed into Heaven to take His place at the Father’s right hand, as the prophecies foretold for the Messiah. The Father has crowned him with the glory he merited by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and in turn he is eternally asking the Father for each of us–by name–to receive the graces we need to join him in eternity.

The disciples thought this was the end of the story. Every Jew in those days knew the Messiah was supposed to clean house and establish a kingdom that would last forever, which is why they asked Jesus right before his departure if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. We can think the same thing. Something’s not quite right with the world. There is a despair and decay and violence, and sometimes it seems evil is winning. We want God to come and clean house. We even expect it. Which is why we have to remember Jesus’ answer in the First Reading: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons.” We can’t blame them. We all want results and tidy endings. They were still in such shock that the angels had to come and tell them, “why are you standing there?”

We’re often so guilty of the same thing because we don’t realize that Christ reaching the finish line doesn’t mean that the race is finished: we still have to cross the finish line. Jesus is just the first runner across. We’re all in a race like an open marathon. Some run it, some walk it, some make it a family outing, but everyone is heading for the finish line. There are runners who train all year long, who’ve been running morning after morning, training for the hardest race of their life, striving to be the first across the finish line. In the race of life these runners are the saints, who suffered and sacrificed and beat their bodies into submission with their eyes fixed on the eternal prize. We all want to have that glory of blowing through the finish line tape. But we know to that there are those who have been longing for it, and at the end, battered, cramped, wheezing, just manage to drag themselves across. In this race getting across the finish line is what counts. The common denominator for all of us is that we have to set our sights on the finish line and keep moving. We shouldn’t wait for angels to come and ask us “why are you standing there?”

As we prepare over these next ten days for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us on Pentecost Sunday, let’s ask the Spirit to show us that one thing in our lives that is an obstacle to uniting ourselves more closely to God; let’s ask the Spirit to help us pick up the pace in order to blow through the only finish line that really matters: eternity.

Readings: Acts 1:1–11; Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9; Ephesians 1:17–23; Mark 16:15–20. Author note: in some dioceses the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost Sunday instead of ten days before Pentecost, which is the traditional day for the solemnity. I have opted to reflect on the liturgy today, and on Sunday I’ll reflect on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.