May 24, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL
Acts 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1, 17-23 + Matthew 28, 16-20
It is impossible to understand and enter into this day’s Celebration without reflecting upon the Incarnation. What began on the twenty-fifth of December ends today. This concludes the revelation that God initiated by sending of his Son to be born among us. For too much of my life, and probably yours as well, we have been left with images of the Ascension by various artists too influenced by Old Testament writers describing the departure of various prophets. I can still see in my mind, two feet hanging out of cloud. With that, at some point in my life, I stopped wondering about this and just left it be. More recently, I have decided that perhaps the best physical image we could have for this day is an empty crib, because what started there is now complete, and something more and greater has begun.
That old image still stuck in my mind suggests that Christ left us which is not true, because Christ is present to us now in a different and probably much better way. Thinking that Christ left would be bad news. But we don’t celebrate bad news. We are celebrating good news that for the first time something truly human, something out of our own history was taken up into God. This is an affirmation, a validation of our humanity. It means that all that is human is destined for life in God. In Christ we believe that God has entered human history. In his resurrection and ascension, he has taken the human into heaven, lifted the mortal into immortality. Has carried our humanity into God. This means that we matter, that what happens to the least of us matters. Human history is destined for something beyond itself.
The reality of this truth is what always disturbs me when I hear people excuse their failings or sins by saying: “I’m only human.” Wait a minute! If we have really found ourselves in Christ, if we have been baptized into Christ, being human means to be Christ-like. His Incarnation has changed what it means to be human. Human life has been divinized. If that is true, then sinfulness is not human – it is to act in a way that is inhuman, less than human.
There is reason to believe these days that we are living in a “Post-Christian” era. There is evidence everywhere that this is true. Given what Christ commanded at his Ascension, we are living in the Apostolic time. If our society and culture fail to be “Christian” it might be because we have failed to be Apostolic. The failure to give witness to humanity transformed, to live as a people who are born into and fed on the very Body and Blood of Christ is what allows the memory, the teaching, the values, and a vision of God’s Kingdom to fade away and be ignored and dismissed by so many.
This blessed day, the day of the Ascension, reminds and affirms who we are in the sight of God, and what we have been created to become. Our Catholic faith is not a philosophy, a collection of dogmas, or a system of worship. We shall understand the good news and be saved by it when we begin to live as if death has been overcome. We will know Christ in us by allowing his grace to move us in forgiving, patient, loving service to others. Then we shall finally experience living in a real apostolic community in the making.