The Feast of the Ascension; May 8, 2016
Acts 1:1-11 Ps 47 Eph 1:17-23 Lk 24:46-53
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
Today we are celebrating the great Feast of the Ascension, which is the culmination of the Easter season in which Jesus is “lifted up” to full participation in the life of God.
Two things are happening: first, in his resurrected and glorified humanity Jesus enters fully into the Trinitarian community of Father and Spirit. As the Son of God, He was always co-eternally united with them. But, now he is doing so in his glorified humanity.
Second, he is present to the Church, to the People of God, that is not restricted by the boundaries of space and time. He’s not limited to the spatial confines of ancient Palestine, but is present to the Church in a new way. That’s why he is present among us at C-facility at New Folsom because “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
To understand the Ascension, we need to clarify some misunderstandings. The Ascension is not some kind of spatial voyage. He has not taken a journey within space and time a la Star Trek at warp speed. What if we imagined that Jesus did travel up to heaven at the speed of light? Even with that, he’d barely be beyond our galaxy after a few thousand years. Today, science tells us that there are billions of galaxies, which cautions us that Jesus’ Ascension is not a journey within space and time.
Next, we want to reject the notion that the Ascension is some kind of mythical event without an objective and true reality. No, the Heaven of the Ascension is the very life of Trinitarian communion. Our Lord is fully united with his Father and the Holy Spirit in his glorified humanity. That’s not a myth; that’s what is really Real!
While Jesus is no longer with us physically, his Ascension does mean that he is more fully immersed in the community of his disciples than he was prior to this Death and Resurrection. That is why he is able to pour the grace of his divine love to all people for all time because he is not restricted by space and time.
Jesus has completed his earthly mission; it’s time for him to move on. In John 17:1,4-5, we hear “Father…I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.” Jesus’ redeeming work is done. This Feast brings to closure his human, physical presence among us. “I…have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (Jn 16:28).
Jesus, the Son of God, has shared with us all that is human except sin. He was a baby; he grew into a teenager; he worked hard as a carpenter, a craft he learned from his step-father, Joseph. He ate, he went to the bathroom, he slept; he loved his friends; he cried when they died. He was sensitive to his natural world and the people around him. In all of this, Jesus has transformed our human life and has given value and meaning it never would have had prior to the Incarnation (the Word became Flesh).
For forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to and reassured his disciples, who had abandoned and failed him in his need, that he understood; that he loved them as he loves you; that he forgives them as he forgives you. And, he wants this community of disciples to share in his Mission of bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Now he comes to his last visible moment with his disciples and he greets them with the promise that they will receive the Holy Spirit: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Then Jesus rises up, leaves the earth, and disappears; he hides himself.
Jesus disappears but he is not absent! Now to the eyes of faith a whole new way of living opens up for the believer: we can participate in God’s way of Being! That’s possible because as St. Leo the Great put it, “He now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those whom he was removed in his humanity”.”
How is the Ascended Lord at work with us? To begin with, brothers, Jesus is continually praying eternally for your good to the Father. Listen to Jesus’ priestly prayer, “I pray for them…Holy Father, keep them in your name…keep them from the evil one….Consecrate them in the truth…I have given them the glory you gave me…I wish that where I am they may also be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me….I made know to them your name and I will make it known that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn 17:9-26).
Brothers, doesn’t Jesus’ prayer on your behalf lift your confidence.? Jesus is ceaselessly praying for your well-being. Jesus is your advocate before the Father. His greatest desire is to share his glory and his love, for you to be one with him and his Father now and forever!
How do we respond to such abundant love. We say “thank you” and roll up our sleeves to continue Jesus’ Mission! The Feast of the Ascension is also the Feast of the Church’s Mission. From this moment on, a new era begins—the Church, which is the People of God, must pick up the mission of Christ in the world. And, it will be empowered to do so in a few days with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Brothers, the Ascension is the connecting link between the mission of Jesus and that of the Church. His work is not complete. He needs you to bring to fruition his work at Folsom Prison. Can’t you sense that in the question of the angels to the apostles: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” (Acts 1:11). There is work to be done, a world to be evangelized. We’ve got our marching orders! “You are to be my witnesses” is Jesus’ final command. The Disciples mission will be to proclaim Jesus as the Saving Lord (Acts 18). Through our fellowship with one another and the sacraments of the Church, we will be in living engagement with the Risen Christ.
Church at Folsom Prison: we are being challenged on this Feast of the Ascension to be willing to explain and defend our faith, to participate in the New Evangelization in our here-and-now situation, and to pray with Jesus that the “Good News” be effectively spread and heard to a world that so desperately needs to receive it. Amen.
POPE FRANCIS TO INMATES IN VELLETRI (near Rome):
God doesn’t count our mistakes
“Do not lock yourselves away in the past, but “transform (your past) into a journey of growth, faith and charity”. Pope Francis offered this counsel in a letter to inmates in Velletri, near Rome, who had sent him a message through the local bishop. The Holy Father described their experience as one in which “time seems to have stopped”, adding that “the true measure of time is not that of a clock,” but hope. “Be always certain that God loves us personally,” he assured. Because for God “it is not important what you have been, the mistakes you have made, the people you have harmed.” Thus, he concluded, “open the door of your heart to Christ and Christ will turn your situation upside down.”
—L’Osservatore Romano; April 29, 2016