May 12, 2002 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord
Reading I (Acts 1:1-11) Reading II (Ephesians 1:17-23)
Gospel (St. Matthew 28:16-20)
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord, and this feast tends to be sort of downplayed in the minds of most people. We focus an awful lot on Easter, and rightly so, as the resurrection of Our Lord from the dead is the single most important of all of the events in human history. We tend to put an awful lot of focus on Christmas, on the day that Our Lord was born into the world. Even when we look at those two feasts, we recognize that most people sort of forget that the Incarnation did not take place at Christmas, but at the Annunciation. The Annunciation tends to get very little focus in the eyes of many people. What happened at Easter is fulfilled in the Ascension, and yet many people tend to ignore the Ascension and focus solely on the Resurrection of Our Lord. As I have pointed out before, we need to understand, that if the Lord had merely risen from the dead, but not ascended into heaven, what that would mean is that our bodies could rise from the dead and then we would be stuck on earth for the rest of eternity, not a very happy idea, at least in my opinion. When you have the opportunity to be able to go to heaven, why would you want to stay on earth? Imagine having a glorified body, and being stuck in this world. That is not a good thing.
Our Lord in His Ascension has taken our humanity up to heaven, and in His humanity as well as His divinity, which are completely, perfectly united with one another, He has been enthroned as King of Glory. He is the King of all creation, not because He is God, as God He is King over all because He is the Creator, but to be the King, our King, it is because He died and rose and has ascended into heaven. It is because He took our humanity to Himself. On the last feast day of the Church year, when we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, that is not celebrating the divinity of Christ, but rather it is celebrating the humanity of Christ which is hypostatically united to His divinity and glorified in heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Now having said that we must then understand the importance of this feast for ourselves. First of all, the catechism points out to us that this is the third time that Jesus was raised from the earth. He told us that when He is raised up from the earth, He will draw all men to Himself. He was raised up from the earth when He was crucified. He was raised up from the earth when He rose from the dead, and now He is raised up from the earth in His Ascension into heaven.
It is to Himself that He will draw us all. He draws us all to His cross, and asks that each one of us would share in His cross and in the work of redemption. He draws each one of us to Himself in His Resurrection, in the promise that each one of us will rise from the dead. The ultimate hope and the ultimate glory is that He will call each one of us to Himself in His glory in heaven, where we will share in that glory in its fullness. But we already do! I recommend to you that you go back and look at that second reading of St. Paul from his letter to the Ephesians and just consider what it is that he is telling us. He prays that the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give each one of us a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in a knowledge of Him. Beginning with that, that we would all come to know God, but he does not stop there. Once there is a knowledge of God, then he says, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call.” The “hope that belongs to His call” is that you will be able to go to heaven, that you are members of His Son and that you will be able to have God as your inheritance. Then he says what are the riches of your glory and the inheritance among his holy ones. The “riches of His glory” is Jesus Christ. You are a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently the inheritance among his holy ones, as I just mentioned, is God Himself. It is not merely the opportunity to go to heaven, but your inheritance is God! Imagine that! What you are going to inherit is something which is infinitely beyond yourself, and yet that is what the Lord is offering to you. It is not merely an opportunity to be able to go to heaven and be happy forever, but an opportunity to be one with God. It is not just to be able to sit back and think about this, but to enter into the mystery of God, the fullness of the richness of God in all of His glory.
That is what is being offered to you, and not merely for a short period of time, but for all eternity. With that in mind St. Paul goes on to say. “…and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe in accord with the exercise of His great might which He worked in Christ in raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens.” God wants to show His greatness and His glory in you. Certainly by raising you from the dead and also seating you at His right hand, but even now He wants to show His greatness and glory in you. Because St. Paul again goes on, at the end of the reading to say to us, that Jesus Christ is head over all things and that He has given all things over to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. The Church is the fullness of Him who fills all things in every way, and you are a member of that Church. You are a member of Jesus Christ, and the Church and Jesus Christ are one. So the fullness of Jesus Christ dwells in you as a member of the Church. The glory of God dwells in you already and He wants you to be able to share fully in that glory. This is why Our Lord could promise us in the Gospel reading that He is going to be with us all days until the end of the world.
He is with us in His Church, and His Church is going to remain all days until the end of the world, regardless of the attempts of Satan and his media to try to destroy it. Praise God that that is happening out there, because it is a purification for the Church. It is a purification for each and everyone one of us, as we need to make the decision of who we are going to follow. Are we going to follow the media and their attack, or are we going to follow Jesus Christ? It is not that everything that the media is saying is false, it is not. There is truth in what they are saying. There are horrible, filthy, disgusting scandals that even priests and bishops have perpetrated against the people entrusted to their care. Yet this is part of the divine plan of Jesus Christ. Now when you think of that, that is enough to make some people get up and walk out and say, if that is what God Himself is going to plan, I do not want anything to do with it. We need to look beyond that and recognize that what God is doing in the lives of those people who were victims, and the lives of each one of us who are not victims, is that God is asking us to look beyond the human and look to the divine. We need to be able to look at the fact that while members of the Church are sinners, just like each one of us, let him who is without sin be the first to cast the stone. I would suggest the exact same thing to everyone in the media, let him who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.
It is not about the humanness, the Church is the fullness of Jesus Christ. The Church will remain all days until the end of the world. Jesus Christ is with His Church all days until the end of the world. Jesus Christ continues to be crucified in His Church all days until the end of the world. Yet Jesus Christ continues to be glorified in His Church all days until the end of the world. That means that the Lord wants to be crucified in you, and He wants you to be crucified in Him, but He also wants to be glorified in you and He wants you to be glorified in Him. The question is, are you willing to share in His glory? It is not enough for us just to sit back and stare at the sky and ponder the Ascension of Our Lord. The angel came down and asked the disciples, what are you doing looking at the sky? He has promised us that Jesus Christ is going to return in the same way that we saw Him go. In the meantime, we have work to do. The disciples could not continue to stare at the sky and marvel at what had just happened, it was now time for them to get to work. Our Lord told them that they were to remain a few days until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. It was then that they had to go out.
Each one of us already has the Holy Spirit. Each one of us now is called to go out and to spread the Gospel of Christ. What a glorious time it is to be able to do it, because people will scoff at us for preaching Christ and for preaching the fullness of His Church, because all that they see is the bad. The Lord is asking you now, are you willing to stand with Him, or are you going to hang your head and be embarrassed to be a Catholic because there is all kinds of bad press out there? Mark my words it is only going to get worse. You need to make a decision now, are you going to stay with Jesus Christ or are you going to abandon Him? He promised He will not abandon you. He will remain with you all days until the end of the world. Are you going to remain with Him all days? That is the question. There is no doubt about what He is going to do, it is only about what we are going to do.
Our faith as Americans has never been tested, never. Little tests have been given to each one of us in our lives. We have never had an opportunity as Americans, in our day, to suffer for our faith. We need to praise God that we have that opportunity now. We have the fullness of His power, the fullness of His glory and it dwells within us already. We are seated with Jesus at God’s right hand already in glory. There is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be embarrassed of. You are not a Catholic for a priest. You are not a Catholic for a bishop. You are a Catholic for Jesus Christ and do not ever forget that. Do not ever be embarrassed of Jesus Christ. Do not ever be embarrassed to be a Roman Catholic, because Roman Catholics are not about sin, Roman Catholics are about Jesus Christ. That is what we must be about. Do not hang you head in shame because some members of the Church have sinned. No, every member of the Church, except one, has sinned, and that is our Blessed Lady. You have sinned, I have sinned, everyone of those priests and bishops including our Holy Father, has sinned. And so has every person who is pointing a finger at them for their sins.
We have no reason to be ashamed. We have no reason to be embarrassed. We have reason for hope, because as Catholics we profess forgiveness of sin. We profess Jesus Christ, who died and was raised and has been ascended into heaven and is seated at God’s right hand. You have died with Him in baptism. You have been raised with Him in baptism. You have been glorified with Him, and you are already seated at God’s right hand with Him spiritually. Now we await the day that it is going to happen physically. Each one of us has an opportunity to do that, to be crucified with Him, to rise with Him from the dead, and to be glorified with Him for eternity. The choice simply remains with us. Are we going to do it? Are we going to be embarrassed of Jesus Christ and the shame that is being heaped upon Him and walk away? Or are we going to recognize who He is, and who His Church is? The Church is Jesus Christ. Are we going to be embarrassed to be Roman Catholics and walk away from Jesus Christ? Or will we be crucified with Him in order to be glorified with Him? That is the offer He is giving to each one of us today. Each one of us must make that decision for ourselves. We weak, sinful people, have the opportunity with Jesus Christ to glorify God. Do we want it? Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to die with Christ so as to rise with Christ? If we are willing to do that, we have the guarantee, that the power, the riches, the inheritance, the revelation of Almighty God will be ours. The inheritance of Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, will be given to each one of us for eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.