Thursday, May 5, 2016
There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church tonight, it has been 40 days since we gathered to celebrate the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – 40 days. Think about that for a moment. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land after 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to Ascension?
Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.
First a word on ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, in a way, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we are free from sin, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.
There is a story about the famous Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” A bit confused, Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply remember and commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” And Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of eternal life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!
Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature. We’re called to remember that commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today. We’re called to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed; have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where He has gone, we too may follow.
May the Lord give you peace.