Sunday, May 28, 2017

Is This Goodbye? - Homily for the Ascension (A)

+ As many of you know, yesterday we celebrated the ordination of two of our own young men: Deacon Clark Philipp and Deacon John Schneier. And it is a great joy for me to announce that Father John Schneier is going to be our new associate.       < Everyone applauds >

… Hey! Thanks a lot! < Everyone laughs >

I think this is wonderful for the parish and I am very happy for you. As you all already know: Father Schneier is gonna be great.

As I transition to become the pastor at St. Theodore in Flint Hill, I must admit that I’m really not good at goodbyes. It’s just awkward for me and, you know, there’s the whole emotions thing…. That’s actually one of the reasons why I never like the last day of school: too many goodbyes, too many tears.

This was all on my mind as I was thinking and praying about today’s celebration: the Ascension. And something hit me: where’s the crying? I mean, Jesus is leaving! Where are the tears?!

In fact, we hear the exact opposite:

            God mounts His throne with shouts of joy.

Joy?! What’s going on? Isn’t this a goodbye?

*          *          *

I think the key can be found in the second reading, where Paul says that Jesus is the “head” of the Church—the Church which is His “body.” What Paul is getting at there is that Jesus and the Church are one. Just like the head and the body of a person are one (else the person is dead!), so too Jesus and the Church are one.

            Jesus is head of the body, the Church

Paul says in his letter to the Colossians (1:18). Or, in his great tome on the topic (1 Corinthians 12), Paul writes

For just as the body is one and has many members… so it is with Christ. (v 12)

What this means is that, if Jesus is ascending into heaven, our hope is that we are too!—for where the head goes, goes the body. This is what we prayed in the opening Collect of the Mass:

Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God… for the Ascension of Christ your Son is our exaltation, and, where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.

There’s a fine analogy I like to give to my kiddos that helps us understand the Ascension. Imagine I jump into a pool. (That’s a pretty funny thought—especially if I’m wearing my cassock!) But it’s summertime, so imagine I jump into the pool. Of course, when we jump in, the water goes over our heads and so on. Eventually, we come up out of the water. But, how do we come up? Is it feet-first? No. It’s always the head. And then out of the water comes the body.

By analogy, then, the pool is our earthly existence, the air above is heaven. Jesus jumped into the pool of our earthly existence and, becoming one with Him in baptism, as He emerges from the water—that is, as He enters into heaven, so too will we.

Provided that we remain united to Him.

*          *          *

In our modern culture, some people divorce Jesus from His Church. So, when the Church teaches something difficult, they say “Well, that’s what the Church teaches, but that’s not what Jesus would have taught.” They are separating Jesus from the Church—decapitating the head from the body. The same thing happens when people say that I can love Jesus without the Church. They don’t realize that Jesus and the Church are one and the same.

This is actually the scandal that Paul points out in Ephesians, chapter 5, when he talks about the marriage between Jesus and the Church and that Jesus is now “joined” to us and, indeed, has become “one flesh” with us. Jesus Himself foretells this when He says to the Apostles:

            Whoever hears you, hears me; whoever rejects you, rejects me (Luke 10:16)

And just to prove further that the Ascension is not a goodbye and that Jesus is not separated from the Church, when Paul himself was persecuting Christians, Jesus says

            Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4)

*          *          *

What does this mean for us? Well, in the second reading, Paul gives three very brief points for prayer. He prays:

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may [1] know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
[2] what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and [3] what is the surpassing greatness of his power

Let’s unpack that very, very briefly.

First: hope. Jesus our Head is in heaven; if we are united to Him, we shall also be with Him. He shows us that our pilgrimage, this Exodus, is finally over. So, never lose hope. Indeed,

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into  [heaven]… where Jesus has gone as a forerunner (Hebrews 6:19-20)

The anchor on this ship goes up! The anchor keeps us calm in the storm. He will bring us to port.

Second: riches of glory. You have a father in heaven; we are the Prodigal Sons. If we repent, then when we return to the Father, we shall be clothed in His glory, a ring on our finger, and the sandals of freedom on our feet. And then the feast!

Third: His power. Jesus’ power is so great that everything is subject to Him. Jesus reigns as King of Heaven and Earth—

death has no power over him (Romans 6:9).

Indeed, every kingdom on earth is now subject to Him. And He will conquer every evil. For everything is placed under His feet (Ephesians 1:22)

Notice: it says “under His feet.” The feet are part of the body—that is, the Church! Do you understand what this means?

It means that if you are in His body, if you are even the lowest part—the feet—that evil no longer has power over you. With the power of God’s grace, right now, the devil no longer has power over you. Indeed, Jesus promised this for His Body, the Church, when He said:

            And the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)

So, yes. This is cause for celebration!

*          *          *

Let us turn to God in prayer; for, at the very beginning of Mass we prayed:

            You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us. Lord, have mercy.

What we are professing there is that, if Jesus is truly ascended into heaven and if we are truly united to Him as we are in His Body, the Church, then when we pray in union with Him, our prayers are literally at the right hand of the Father. That is, when you pray, your prayers are literally going up through the Body, to the Head—Jesus Christ—and your prayers are literally there at the Father’s ear. And He hears you. The Father hears you!

So ask. Ask! And rejoice. Our Lord and Head is in heaven. May we, the Body, be with Him!

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