The Three-Fold Mercy of Christ’s Ascension, May 5, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
May 5, 2016
Acts 1:1-11, Ps 47, Heb 9:24-28.10:19-23, Lk 24:46-53

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • This special extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is meant to influence everything the Church does throughout the year, including the way we celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension. The Ascension, moreover, looked at through this prism can greatly nourish our celebration of the Mercy of the Lord. So today we can look at the three things that the Church normally marks on the Ascension — the reality of heaven and Christ’s ascent there; his great commission to the apostles and the Church to continue his work; and the parting gift, the perpetual blessing he gives us to help us complete that mission and one day join him in heaven with many others, the Holy Spirit.
  • The first reality we celebrate today is heaven. Today we celebrate the day Jesus returned home, to the place from which he came to earth to save us. He returned differently than he left, taking our human nature with him across the threshold of death into life. 43 days before 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. And what’s Jesus doing in heaven? He’s not just awaiting us. He’s extending to us his mercy. We ponder that in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. It describes how Christ has entered into the true holy of holies, a sanctuary “not … made by hands” where he has gone as “high priest” to “offer himself… once for all … to take away sin by his sacrifice.” Our response is to approach heaven, to follow him who is the Way along the way to heaven “with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” We’re supposed to approach trusting in his mercy, living out the reality of our Baptism, leaving an evil conscience in the rearview mirror and holding “unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope.” Earlier in the Letter to the Hebrews, after we focus on the compassion of our high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses because he has experienced our human trial, we are told, “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:16). From heaven, Jesus is continuously extending to us the triumph of his mercy and seeking that we approach him with sincerity, unwavering trust, and consciences made clean by his mercy in the Sacraments.
  • The second reality we mark today is the mission Jesus gives us as he ascends: to be witnesses to him, to his message, to proclaim his message of mercy, what St. Luke phrases today as “repentance and forgiveness of sins … to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:47), and St. Peter remembers through St Mark remembers as “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). The good news is that repentance and forgiveness of sins is open to all. But there’s also good news in this very commission. As he was ascending into heaven, Jesus gives us the task to complete the mission that the Father gave him, the salvation of the world. He loved us enough and he trusted us so much that he placed his own mission into our hands. And he wants us to go out to them showing what repentance and forgiveness of sins, what the good news of God’s mercy is all about. As I like to say, Jesus could have stayed on earth until the end of time saving everyone himself, one-by-one, so that our frailties wouldn’t get in the way of this most important mission of all time. But instead he ascended, taking the training wheels off of our discipleship, removing from us any excuse to pass the buck. He wants us to help draw others to the throne of grace in this world and forever. That’s the great commission and it’s a commission to share in his mercy and bring it to others.
  • The third reality we mark is the help he gives us to complete that mission. He sends us the Holy Spirit. In the valedictory address St.  Luke records in today’s first reading, he says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And that’s the power that came down upon them on Pentecost. During the Last Supper, Jesus had 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). He was describing the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence as something even greater than his own presence. And he sends us that gift to help us on the Mission of Mercy. The priest prays in the formula of absolution, “God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” That was the Holy Spirit Jesus breathed on the Apostles in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday before instructing them to forgive and retain sins in his name. That’s the Holy Spirit that God the Father and God the Son in their mercy continue to bestow on us. I’ve always been moved that, as St. Luke tells us in the Gospel, that Jesus “led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he was blessing them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” Jesus departed as he was blessing us. Pope Benedict commented once that the Risen Jesus perpetually in heaven is blessing us and I like to think that the way he is blessing us is as he asked St. Faustina to depict in the Image of Divine Mercy, blessing us with his merciful love. And the substantial blessing he gives us to bestow on us his mercy is the Gift of the Holy Spirit. We’ll have a chance to ponder as we live out this decenarium, or ten-day “novena” to the Holy Spirit in preparation for Pentecost, this connection between the Holy Spirit and Mercy, but I’ll just get us started with some words from the two most famous hymns to the third person of the Blessed Trinity. In the Veni Sancte Spiritus, which the Church sings on Pentecost, we remind him and ourselves, Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium, “Without your mercy, there’s nothing good in man, nothing that is not harmful,” and then we pray, lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium, flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium, which can be translated, “Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded, bend that which is inflexible, fire that which is chilled, correct what goes astray,” all great acts of mercy. In the Veni Creator Spiritus, we pray, “Accende lumen sensibus: infunde amorem cordibus: infirma nostri corporis,  virtute firmans perpeti,” all great acts of mercy: “Illumine our senses, infuse our hearts with your life, strengthen our bodies with your unending strength.” And we continue, “Hostem repellas longius, pacemque dones protinus: ductore sic te praevio  vitemus omne noxium,” “Drive the enemy far away and bring peace close, and with you as guide, may we avoid every poison!” These too are great acts of mercy!
  • Jesus’ act of continual blessing happens here at Mass, as he continues to speak to us and more importantly continues to be with us blessing us from the inside with his own life, allowing us to receive his risen and ascended Body and Blood, which is our participation here on earth in his ascension even now. Jesus pointed to the Ascension when he was describing his continued presence in the Eucharist until the end of time. When his disciples were mumbling in Capernaum about how he could give us his flesh to eat and blood to drink, he said, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?” Living a truly Eucharistic life, entering into Jesus’ consecration in the Mass, is the path of our Ascension. “Amen, amen I say to you, … he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day,” because “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.… He who eats me will live because of me.” Eternal life is knowing Christ Jesus, and we know him in a Biblical way through the consummation of the one-flesh spousal union between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church here at Mass, effected by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is also the means in which we stoke our desire to see the High Priest who reigns in heaven and bids us approach the throne of grace to receive mercy. This is the means by which we become ever more eschatological signs as we “await the Blessed hope and the [second] coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” This is the means in which, united with Christ, we are sent out by him with his blessing at the end of the liturgy, to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!,” the Gospel of Mercy, with the power of the Holy Spirit, that the world so much needs. God has indeed mounted his throne to shouts of joy and wants to transform us by his mercy and the power of the Holy Spirit to become a “blare of trumpets for the Lord!”

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 ACTS 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus,
I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught
until the day he was taken up,
after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit
to the apostles whom he had chosen.
He presented himself alive to them
by many proofs after he had suffered,
appearing to them during forty days
and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While meeting with them,
he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for “the promise of the Father
about which you have heard me speak;
for John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
When they had gathered together they asked him,
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, 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 dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there 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.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

R. (6) God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
For king of all the earth is God;
sing hymns of praise.
God reigns over the nations,
God sits upon his holy throne.
R. God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 HEB 9:24-28; 10:19-23

Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that men and women die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since through the blood of Jesus
we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary
by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil,
that is, his flesh,
and since we have Aa great priest over the house of God, “
let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed in pure water.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.

Alleluia MT 28:19A, 20B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Go and teach all nations, says the Lord;
I am with you always, until the end of the world.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 24:46-53

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.
And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you;
but stay in the city
until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany,
raised his hands, and blessed them.
As he blessed them he parted from them
and was taken up to heaven.
They did him homage
and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
and they were continually in the temple praising God.

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