Father Donald Senior, CP

May 28: Ascension of the Lord

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20

It is the evangelist Luke who tells us of the ascension of Jesus, the feast we celebrate this Sunday. The ascension is a dramatic turning point when the mission of Jesus that climaxed in his death and resurrection is now completed and the age of Spirit, which will propel the church to the ends of the earth, is about to begin.

The return of the Risen Jesus to his Father completes the Gospel narrative, and the fiery descent of the Spirit upon the Jerusalem community — to be celebrated at Pentecost — dominates the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.

The Risen Jesus’ gift of the Spirit to the early church unleashes its world-wide mission. Before he departs, Christ commissions his disciples to be "my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

This dynamic expansion of the community from its roots in Judaism to the wider Gentile world is what the Acts of the Apostles will narrate, culminating in Paul’s arrival in Rome. The disciples, still dazzled by Jesus’ departure, are instructed by heavenly messengers to stop "looking at the sky" and, instead, be ready for their mission.

The other readings for today also drive home the sense of dynamic purpose that should inflame the church’s mission to the world. The author of Ephesians prays that the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory" would give the disciples "a Spirit of wisdom and revelation … that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe."

The Gospel passage is taken from the concluding words of Matthew’s Gospel and has been known as the "great commission" because it has inspired Christian missionaries throughout the history of the church. On a mountaintop in Galilee, the Risen Christ appears for a final time to his disciples — some of whom, Matthew notes, are still hesitant and "doubting," reeling still from the events of Jesus’ death.

But Jesus approaches them and entrusts to them his world-wide mission — "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations." Equally important, the Risen Jesus promises never to abandon these fragile missionaries: "and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

Pope Francis, by his words and actions, continually reminds us that we are not to be consumed with our own domestic church concerns but to reach out to a world in need. Just a short time ago he traveled to Egypt, offering words of healing to a deeply wounded Coptic Christian community battered by violence, and, at the same time, reached out to Muslim religious and civic leaders in a spirit of dialogue. As the pope’s example demonstrates, the worldwide mission of the church is not to be carried out in a spirit of arrogance or domination but with respect for others, sharing the beauty of our faith in Jesus, witnessing to the Gospel’s call for peace and reconciliation among all peoples, and addressing — in concert with all people of good will — the urgent needs of the poor and vulnerable.

In his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ (old Italian for "Praise you, Lord") the pope spoke of the Christian mission as striving to build a "civilization of love." This is such a beautiful description, one that reflects the spirit of Jesus.

In a world so filled with violence and injustice, such a hope may seem to be a pipedream. But the pope encourages us not to lose hope. Even if we are not in a position of great influence we still can make a difference in our everyday lives with what he calls "small gestures of mutual care" — kind words and encouragement to others; refusing to respond with anger or abruptness; offering a smile instead of a frown. These, the pope observes, are the "simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness … every action that seeks to build a better world."


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