FEAST OF ASCENSION YEAR C HOMILY 2022
DEPARTURE & MISSION
Lk 24.46-53 AA 1.1-11 Eph 1.17-23
Ascension is here, and we await the coming of the Holy Spirit, but who actually arrived here early, yesterday, when 90 or so of our young people were confirmed by Bishop Terry Curtin, in a happy celebration of faith and commitment to growth as disciples and friends of Jesus. I like to emphasize the fruits of the Spirit more than the gifts, as they reflect the concrete reality of how to live the Christian life well and productively. The gifts which we all know off by heart form rote in the 1960’s, at least, of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord, are there to contemplate, while the fruits are Paul’s summation of the qualities to be applied, derived from Jesus’ life and teachings in the Gospel. He writes to the people of Galatia of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You and I can hardly question that these are not positive aspects of how to live life well in the context of faith. And wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if these qualities were lived by all? It’s just not the reality, but the challenge is there for us to take them seriously, and apply them to our lives.
Last weekend I referred to my good friend Eric Hodgens, who now has died, and thankfully finally at peace, a faithful priest for over 60 years, and who had a very practical approach to explaining and living his Catholic faith, with a broad perspective on life and the challenges of the Gospel. As many have responded to his death by providing reflections and memories of the way he influenced their lives in a powerful way, enabling them to think for themselves and to better understand how to express and live their faith. I’ve already mentioned the great influence he had on me personally over the last 52 years, since meeting him when at Melbourne University in 1970, and then over the 44 years of my ministry as a priest. So he’ll be sadly missed but fondly and gratefully remembered. Now it’s time to celebrate his life and legacy, back in the parish community he pioneered in 1974.
We’re back to endings and beginnings as our theme here, with Jesus’ final farewell recorded at the end of Luke’s Gospel and then as he introduces Acts of the Apostles, and the journey of mission goes on, to go to the ends of the earth, which was perceived to be much smaller, and probably flat back then, although the Greeks knew it was round! Luke gives us the 10 day gap between Ascension and Pentecost, while John has it all on the same day, with the message of peace, mission and farewell, all in one.
Whatever the details, the message is clear, that Jesus has set a template for the Christian life to be lived well, and the word not constrained to a small, elite band of followers, but their role is to get out there into action, to build Christian communities and to lead by example. We remember the line in Acts of the Apostles, where Christians were identified by the way in which they loved one another, and shared their resources, responding to the needs of all, in an open, not closed community.
Luke’s themes are of peace, fellowship or friendship (as I prefer to refer), fulfilment, faith, as Jesus returns, or journeys to the Father, as his followers are commissioned to continue living and proclaiming his message, impelled by the gift of the Spirit, for which they wait, before continuing to pursue their own journeys of faith. And so for you and me. Where to from here is for us to decide? As Jesus departs, his message is not to look up at the sky, but to look around at what needs to be done.
Again, I quote Brendan Byrne SJ: “What Luke is basically conveying by this, is the continuity between the ministry of Jesus and that of the disciples, who, when empowered with the Spirit of Pentecost, will become eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word. So the disciples are not dismayed, nor do they lament the departure of Jesus. They have a task to fulfil; they will be equipped for that task. They have Jesus’ promise that he will return.” Beyond and along with this scriptural depiction of the event, at a more deeply theological level, the feast of the Ascension celebrates the Christian sense of Jesus’ exaltation…”. It’s a message of hope, to sustain us on our faith and life journey.
For the first time, the apostles worship Jesus, having moved from doubt to faith, as he blesses them for their future mission in his name. The Jerome Biblical Commentary describes this as the high point of Luke’s Christology. And now “God’s ekklesia must must leave a posture of joyful worship and travel the highways of the world.” But only after the descent of the Spirit as Jesus ascends, returning in glory to the Father. Christological universalism is the message for all.
john hannon 29th May 2022