Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection

Ascension Sunday, Year B
May 24, 2009

It is easy to fall into the temptation of thinking that the Ascension of the Lord has to do with good-byes, with departures, with going away, with disappearance of someone we hold dear – never to be seen anymore. It is easy to think that such a departure means loss, a certain deprivation, an impoverishment. Such a thought would be a perfect story line for telenovelas, perfect for a society like ours, which, owing to labor migration, may be said to be a people in diaspora, ever on the move, ever in search for greener pastures, for whom physical separation counts among our set of daily experiences. Who among us does not at least have a relative, close or distant, who is not in some distant country in this shrinking world?

Departures connote disappearance from sight, and disappearance entails sadness.

But today’s solemnity has nothing to do with either of the two. Ascension is not about disappearance from sight, but all about a new presence. Ascension is not about endings but about new beginnings. Ascension is not about good-byes, but about ongoing good news! Ascension is not about sadness, but about joy. Ascension is not about disappointment but it is about an appointment with truth.

What sort of truth does the Ascension offer us?

I would like you all to look back at the immediately preceding days up until yesterday. The Gospel readings, all taken from the Gospel according to John, chapter 16, speak of Jesus preparing his disciples for two other aspects of the mystery of his glorification connected with his resurrection: his ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Last Monday, we hear him speak about “endurance in the face of persecution” because of the Spirit whom he would send. On Tuesday, he spoke about “returning to the Father” and the sending of the Paraclete. Last Wednesday, we were told about who this Paraclete is, “the spirit of truth who will come and guide [us] into all the truth.” On Thursday, the Lord assured us saying that “in a short while we would lose sight of him, but soon [we] would see him again.” On Friday, he was more specific: “after suffering for a while, Jesus will return and transform pain into joy that no one can take away from us.” And yesterday, we were reminded that no longer would the disciples ask questions nor would Jesus speak in veiled language. All of Jesus’ teachings would be seen in a new, direct and wondrous way.

Today, Scriptures tell us: “as they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9) “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19)

Based on the carefully sequenced set of readings, then, it is clear that at least biblically, the ascension of the Lord is not about disappearance, but about a promise of ongoing, albeit new, presence of the Lord in our midst. It is not about endings, but about a new power given to us his disciples. St. Paul describes this power of his presence to us thus: “This power working in us is the same as the great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”

All this is matter for hope, I guess. Everyday, we face that great temptation to make our daily lives come close indeed to, and reflect the reality presented by telenovelas and soap operas in our times: endless psychic pain that comes with a series of never-ending twists and turns in the story line. This may well explain the popularity of telenovelas. It may well be a case of life imitating art, (or art imitating life!)

The lesson of today’s liturgy seems clear enough for us all. No, there is no room for hopelessness, no room for despair and sadness. There is no reason for us to feel left in the lurk. Ascension tells us today to claim that power that has been given us by Jesus died, risen and ascended to the Father’s right hand. Perhaps the words of the angels could help us here: “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.” (Acts 1:10-11) Why sulk? Why wallow in despair? Why grovel or shrivel in sadness? Why stand there petrified and paralyzed? Rise up in hope. Rise up in a fresh resolve to live fully. The Lord is risen and ascended, not to disappear but to be with us in a new way, for in truth, we are all now empowered, not abandoned!