Sunday May 8, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier The Ascension of our Lord (Observed)
Reading I (Acts 1:1-11) Reading II (Ephesians 1:17-23)
Gospel (St. Matthew 28:16-20)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened, that we might know the riches of the call of God. Now if we are going to know the riches of the call, we first of all have to recognize that God would call us. And in order to be called by God, we first have to recognize our own dignity. God is not going to call someone who does not have the dignity of a child of God. God is not going to call someone to the glorious inheritance of which Saint Paul speaks if that person is completely unworthy and unable to enter into that inheritance. The inheritance is nothing less than God Himself. It is eternal life in heaven. And so if Saint Paul is telling us that what we need to recognize are the riches of God, the riches of the call that we have each been given, we have to ask ourselves, “Then what does it mean in the light of today’s feast?”
The riches of this call, the great glory that God is calling us to, requires first of all that we understand that we are made in His image and likeness. The devil in his vile lies has told us all so many times how rotten and worthless we are. Other than Catholics, almost every Christian believes that human nature is evil, that it is completely depraved. This is a heresy. It is completely contrary to the teachings of the Church and completely contrary to the teachings of Sacred Scripture. Recall from the first chapter of Genesis that when God created us it was something that was entirely different from the first five and a half days of creation. On those occasions, God saw that what He made was good. Then He made us and He saw that it was very good. That is the reality of who you are. You are very good in the eyes of God by your nature. It does not mean that what we do is very good, but it means that who we are is very good; so good, in fact, that God Himself has taken our humanity to Himself in the Incarnation, uniting a human nature to the divine nature. So good is this humanity that it became the means to salvation because our human nature united to the divinity of Christ in His Person is the very reason why He could suffer and die. It is that exact same human nature that rose from the dead. And it is that exact same human nature that has ascended into heaven.
As we celebrate today the Ascension of our Blessed Lord into heaven, we realize that our own humanity is now in heaven. Not merely looking at God the way that we hope one day we will be able to do, but the humanity of Christ is substantially united to His divinity and it will never, ever change. We might be tempted to think that once He had died and risen from the dead He could slough off His human nature because it was not necessary anymore. That is not true. The union of the human nature and the divine nature in Jesus Christ is a substantial union, meaning that it can never, ever be separated. For all eternity, the humanity of Jesus Christ united to His divinity shares in the glory of the Most Holy Trinity and is seated at the right hand of God, our Almighty Father. That is how good our humanity is to God.
Now we also need to be able to recognize that without the help of God there is nothing we can do except sin. We can sin all by ourselves. Other than sin, there is absolutely nothing that we can do by ourselves. Nothing. And so when Saint Paul is talking about the might that God has displayed in raising Christ from the dead and seating Him at His right hand, and he is telling us that God is showing that same power in us, it is first and foremost the power to forgive sin, that if God has the power to raise the dead and bring them to heaven then He certainly has the power to forgive our sins.
But more than that, Saint Paul, in speaking about our inheritance, is telling us that the power of God shown in raising Christ from the dead and seating Him at His right hand is going to be at work in us too, because our bodies which participate in the fullness of our humanity (humanity requires in its fullness both body and soul) will rise from the dead. Our bodies will be reunited with our souls, and they will live for eternity in only one of two possible places. The human body of Jesus Christ is the only means to heaven. Saint Paul makes that very clear in his Letter to the Hebrews when he says to us that Jesus has passed through the veil into the sanctuary not made by human hands but rather the one that is eternal in heaven. And the veil, Saint Paul tells us, is His flesh. Without His human nature there would be no salvation. There would be no forgiveness of sin. There would be no Resurrection because if He did not have a body there would not be anything to rise from the dead. Without His body, there would also be no Ascension into heaven. What would there be to ascend if He did not have a human body?
We might look at this, consider the Gospel, and find ourselves in the same boat the apostles were in. They saw Jesus risen from the dead, they worshiped Him, and Saint Matthew says: but they doubted. We can look at it and say, “Well, how is it going to happen that my body is going to rise from the dead? What’s going to happen to make me go to heaven?” (Or the other way, if we choose.) How it is going to happen, we cannot explain. That it is going to happen is a guarantee because it is a guarantee from the mouth of Our Lord Himself and it is a guarantee from the mysteries that we have been celebrating over these last seven weeks: the Passion, the death, the Resurrection, and now the Ascension of Our Lord. It is in His humanity that He has done this with all the power of His divinity. But all that power, Saint Paul tells us, is at work in us.
So when Saint Luke, at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles which we heard in the first reading, addresses all of these words to the beloved Theophilus, he is addressing them to you. Theophilus means “the lover of God.” If you love God, all of these words are addressed to you. Yours is the inheritance that is nothing less than God. Imagine that! Your inheritance is God Himself! How much does God love you? Not just enough to be able to forgive your sins, not just enough to raise you from the dead, not just enough to put you in a place where you are going to be exceedingly happy for eternity, but God loves you so much that He is giving you Himself as your inheritance. Does God think you are some worthless thing? Absolutely not. God looks at your dignity and He has called you to Himself.
This is why Saint Paul is praying that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened to be able to know the richness of our call and the glory which is ours in Christ, the glory which is nothing less than heaven. Of course, to get to heaven we need to understand the call because it is a call to holiness. It is a call to be saints. How else are you going to get to heaven? The only way is if we are holy. That is the richness of the call: to be able to share in the life of God Himself. Not merely in the life of God as He descended from heaven and took on our human nature, but to share in the richness of Christ as He is right now seated at the right hand of God the Father, to share in His life, a life of glory.
Now we need, again, to be very clear. It is easy to be able to look at the glory of God in the sense that the humanity of Jesus shares in the fullness of the divine power and the divine wisdom and glory. But remember at the Last Supper, Our Lord said, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. And what was the glory of the Son of Man? It was to be crucified. If we want to share in the glory of Christ, if we want to be able to recognize the richness of our call, it is indeed to be able to share in the glory of heaven, it is truly to be able to recognize that our inheritance is God Himself, but it is also to recognize that we must share His earthly glory in order to share His heavenly glory; that is, to share in His Passion in order to share in His Resurrection and in His Ascension and in His ultimate glorification in heaven.
That is the richness of the call which is yours, O beloved Theophilus. Yours, if you love God, is the call to be holy. It is the call to be united with Christ. That, again, is what Saint Paul is talking about at the end of the second reading, that God has put everything under His feet – that is, under the feet of Christ – and has subjected all things to Him. Then he talks about the power which is in Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church, of which each one of us is a member. So if we are going to be able to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened, it must begin by recognizing the dignity that we have as being called by God, as being His children, because if we think that we are somehow evil, worthless, depraved, rotten, and all the other things that we can call ourselves – all the lies that the devil has been telling us since we were little, tiny babies – if we believe his filthy lies then we cannot believe in the richness of the call of God. We cannot believe that ours could be a share in the glory of Christ because we cannot believe that our humanity can have a share in the inheritance which is promised to us.
Our Lord took our humanity to Himself, and now He has taken our humanity into the glory of eternity and He is calling us to share in that glory. He has promised us an inheritance because as members of Christ our inheritance is His inheritance. His inheritance is His Father, and so our inheritance is His Father. If we are going to worship Him but doubt, we are cutting ourselves off from our inheritance, we are rejecting the call, and we are rejecting our own dignity. We need to look very carefully at what Saint Paul spoke to the Ephesians, and what the Holy Spirit, through that letter, is speaking to us. It is precisely what we see in the second reading today. Look at that reading, look at the call which is yours, and apply all of this to yourself. Doubt no longer but believe, Theophilus. Love God with your whole heart and soul and strength. Seize the richness and the glory of the call which is yours, and strive for that holiness which is possible only in Jesus Christ so that you may share in His glory now in order to share in the glory of your inheritance – which is nothing less than God. If you love Him now, you will love Him for all eternity, O beloved Theophilus.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.