HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION (B)

Fr Michael O'Shea



The East Window behind the altar in Bride Street Church in Wexford depicts the Ascension of the Risen Lord in the presence of the apostles from the Mount of Olives as we find in the writings of the Evangelist Luke. In the stained glass the artist has left two footprints from where the Lord arises. When one visits the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem one can see where someone else has carved two footprints in the white limestone that makes up the hill county of Judah in commemoration of the same event.

Luke gives us two accounts of the Ascension. The first is on the day of Resurrection. The Risen Lord walks with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They recognise him at the breaking of bread. Later he appears to the assembled disciples, and then walks with them to the region of Bethany where he is carried up to heaven. This brings the Gospel of Luke to a conclusion.

Luke’s Acts of the Apostles begins by telling us that the Risen Lord’s appearances continued for a period of forty days, and again reference is made to the Ascension. Now the emphasis is on the beginning of the mission to the world. Soon the Holy Spirit will come at Pentecost and the process will commence.

Today’s Gospel is taken from what is known as the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel. As the Risen Lord is about to be “taken up into heaven” he commands them: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

In the Hebrew Scriptures the awareness is of God the Father. In the Gospels it is of God the Son. After the Ascension it is of God the Holy Spirit.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council, helps us understand when and where we encounter the Holy Spirit. The Church is the place where we know the Holy Spirit. We encounter the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures he inspired, especially when proclaimed in the liturgy. Every time we celebrate one of the seven sacraments we encounter the Holy Spirit. When the priest anoints a sick person in the Sacrament of the Sick, the Holy Spirit of God is present. When the sacrament of Marriage is celebrated the Holy Spirit is present. The couple themselves celebrate the sacrament. The Holy Spirit is present to the couple throughout their married lives. By being active members of the Christian community, the married couple will enrich the community. The Holy Spirit always works at building community.

In the spiritual world there is always the danger of going off at a tangent. By keeping close to the teaching of the Pope and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, we are following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

At various times when there is a particular need the Holy Spirit gifts an individual with a charism for the good of the Church. Such a charism is found in each of the religious orders of the Church. Each charism is different. For example, the Sisters of Zion specific charism is to develop and grow warmer relationships between the Jewish people and the Christian community. When one witnesses such a charism at close quarters the action of the Holy Spirit is obvious.

It is said that if one wishes to know how the Church understands a particular feast, one will find that understanding in the Preface of the Liturgy for that day. The Ascension has a choice of two Prefaces. In the first we hear that “we might be confident of following where he has gone before”. In the second “that he may make us sharers in his divinity”.

The Easter liturgy is full of references to our next stage of existence.

In a sense the Ascension is the clearing of the decks in preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the day we should quietly pray “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” Also “Come, Holy Spirit, come!”