(Ascension Thursday 2014: This homily was given on May 29, 2014 at St. Pius X Church,
R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts
1: 1-14; Ephesians 1: 17-23.) Westerly
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension 2014]
What’s important about the Ascension is not only that Jesus left; what’s also important about the Ascension is what Jesus left behind: what he left behind when he left.
Hopefully you were able to follow that.
For forty days after the Resurrection Jesus appeared in his risen body to many people. St. Paul makes a partial list of them in 1 Corinthians 15. There he says:
“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas [that’s Peter], then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”
And then came Ascension Thursday, when our Lord ascended to heaven, took his seat at the right hand of the Father to complete the work of our redemption—and then stopped appearing in his risen body to his friends here on earth. (At least he stopped appearing on a regular basis.)
In that sense, he left.
But when he left, he left some very important things behind.
First of all, he left HIS TRUTH (the truth of his Gospel), and he left HIS CHURCH—which he had established on the “Rock” of St. Peter—to guard and to defend and to proclaim that saving truth to all the world!
Do you believe that?
I’m sure most of you do—or you wouldn’t be here for this holy day Mass.
But the sad reality is that many people today—especially in the hedonistic and materialistic western world—don’t believe that. They openly reject Jesus and his Gospel—even if they were born and raised Catholic!
A perfect example of this was given to us recently by Fr. Richard Lifrak. Fr. Richard preached at all our Sunday Masses a few weeks ago, to seek financial support for the missionary work of his religious order.
His personal conversion story was very interesting: he was born Jewish; in adulthood he became a biologist and what he refers to as a “scientific atheist”; he dabbled in Zen Buddhism for a while; and then—finally—he was converted to Catholicism and eventually discerned a vocation to the priesthood.
But the reason I mention him today is not because of his conversion story; it’s because of where he told us that he served recently as a missionary, and where he intends to serve as a missionary again in the near future: Belgium.
I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, that if a missionary priest had come to St. Pius 50 years ago and had said, “I have been engaged in some very challenging work as a missionary in Belgium,” he would have been laughed out of this church!
Those in the know would have said to him, “With all due respect, Father, you can’t be serious. Belgium? Belgium is one of the most Catholic countries in all of Europe. It’s the home of the great Catholic University of Louvain—where Bishop Sheen got his doctorate in philosophy. It’s not a mission country like some of the third world nations of Africa and South America. You say you’re a ‘missionary’ in Belgium? Well then you must have the easiest job in the world!”
Oh, how things have changed!
At the present time Belgium is one of the most anti-Catholic countries out there! I read the other day that only 5 percent of the Catholics in that nation go to Mass regularly.
Here’s how bad it is in Belgium: In February of this year, the Belgian Parliament passed a law that allows children to be euthanized. Belgium became the first nation ever to do that! This means that if your 5-year-old son has a serious illness and decides that he wants to end his life, Belgian law now permits him to do so. And you as a parent have absolutely nothing to say about it. Oh yes, by the way, the vote in Parliament was 86 to 44—which means it wasn’t even close!
Fr. Lifrak has his work cut out for him. I’m sure he’d rather be in a poor, third world country where people are really hungry for God, as opposed to being in the midst of a lot of proud, arrogant, wealthy people in a beautiful country like Belgium who think that they know more than God knows—or who think that they don’t need the Lord at all in their lives.
Jesus left behind his truth and his Church precisely because we don’t know everything, and because without these things (his truth and his Church) we are lost—as so many people in Belgium and in the western, industrialized world are now lost.
But even when we know the truth and believe in the truth that the Church teaches, it’s still very hard to be faithful to it in our daily lives—which is why Jesus at his Ascension also left behind THE SACRAMENTS.
For example, he left behind the sacrament of the Eucharist to give us the power to live his Gospel, and he left behind the sacrament of Confession to get us back on track whenever we fail to live it as we should.
Hopefully we take advantage of BOTH those sacraments as often as possible.
And the availability of these sacraments gives us HOPE which is one of the most important and necessary things that Jesus left behind for us at his Ascension.
Without the hope of eternal life which flows from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this life has no ultimate meaning. We’re just here to “do some time”—and then we die!
St. Paul knew how important the gift of hope was for us, which is why he said these words to the Ephesians (which we heard a few moments ago in our second reading):
“May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the HOPE that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones.”
I’ll end my homily now as I began it, by saying that what’s important about the Ascension is not only that Jesus left; what’s also important about the Ascension is what Jesus left behind.
I’ve highlighted some of those “left behind” realities for you this morning.
The bottom line is this: Jesus Christ at his Ascension left behind for us on this earth EVERYTHING THAT WE NEED! He left behind everything that we need to deal with our difficulties and our sins; he left behind everything that we need to navigate our way successfully through this mortal life and into his eternal kingdom of heaven.
And for that we should thank him—profusely!—at this Ascension Thursday Mass.