Saturday, June 4, 2011
Solemnity of the Ascension. "You will be my witnesses": Ascending to the right hand of the Father Christ gives power to the Church
What happens far away impacts each one of us here and now.
Images of tornadoes, floods and other disasters are almost immediately available to the curious through telephones and the internet. We gain powerful impressions of their size and scope through the pictures of damaged homes and land, and most tragically, lost lives.
With all the data that is available to us about these and other events and people in our world, what can often be lacking is the process of meditating on the meaning of these events. We were made to think and to seek understanding about our world and ourselves and without this process our humanity is incomplete. The sheer size and constant flood of the tsunami of images and news reports tends to prevent the needed process of meditating on the import and meaning of these things for us personally, thereby allowing us to move beyond our first instinctive fears aroused by these disasters toward a more serene sense of resolution.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, an event that takes Him far away from us, to the highest heavens and to the "right hand of the Father". We could stand around in wonderment like the Apostles did in amazement at this cosmic and awe-inspiring event. We could continue to gaze longingly toward the heavens. But it is better for us if we take the advice of the angels and get busy about the work we are given, to be witnesses in the power Christ sends, thus looking forward to His coming again in power and glory when he "will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven".
How do we "process" this amazing event, moving beyond the news report in today's Gospel about our Lord's glorious Ascension, as wonderful and awe-inspiring as it is, and discover its true importance for us? This is necessary if we are to have a share in His glory which is manifested in the mystery of His return to the right hand of the Father.
You are here today, in this liturgy of the holy Mass, that you might enter into a deeper meditation upon the mysteries of faith and thus gain insight and understanding "through the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way." This fullness is above all of love, for just as no body can go on living without a heart, so the Body of Christ must draw its lifeblood from the heart of Christ, infinite in divine Love.
First we are promised: "you will receive power". This power is given through the sacramental life, at the hands of our bishops and priests.
"To proclaim the faith and to plant his reign, Christ sends his apostles and their successors. He gives them a share in his own mission. From him they receive the power to act in his person."(CCC 935)
How do we receive power? First, through the forgiveness of sins. The power given to the Apostles was for the sake of forgiving our sins, particularly through the Sacrament of Confession.
"The Apostle's Creed associates faith in the forgiveness of sins not only with faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with faith in the Church and in the communion of saints. It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (CCC 976)
Second we are promised: "You will be my witnesses". When we proclaim the Faith through our actions we invite others to take the risk of believing.
"By virtue of their prophetic mission, lay people 'are called . . . to be witnesses to Christ in all circumstances and at the very heart of the community of mankind' (GS 43 § 4)." (CCC 942)
Handing on the faith through the witness of lives filled with God's mercy is the calling of a disciple of the Lord who is now seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for His Church as the source of salvation for the world.
We are sent: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations".
We cannot give what we do not have. Before making disciples of others we must become disciples ourselves. The gift of the Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Lord's promise that we will "receive power". When we receive Him in a state of grace, that is with all of our sins forgiven through His power in Baptism and Confession, and with adoration and love, we grow in the grace of loving and obedient discipleship.
"From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings. Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him: 'Abide in me, and I in you. . . . I am the vine, you are the branches.' And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours: 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.' " (CCC 787)