May 15, 2015

Ascension of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading for this important feast day in the Church, the celebration of the Lord’s wondrous ascension into heaven.

This reading begins as if it were a letter. It is addressed to Theophilus, as was the Gospel of St. Luke. Who was Theophilus? Was he a person with this as his name? Was he a devout Christian? The second is plausible because Theophilus means “friend of God” in Greek.

Regardless, both Acts and Luke were sent, as it were, to the same person, arguing for a common authorship of these two revealed works of the Christian Scriptures.

In this reading, Acts states that it continues the story of salvation in Jesus begun in the Gospel of Luke. It describes the ascension of the Lord into heaven as an event occurring after Jesus had risen from the dead and had been among the Apostles and others disciples.

As the moment of the ascension approached, the Apostles still were confused. This confusion simply reveals that they were human. Their ability to grasp the things of God and the mind of God was limited to say the least.

Jesus eases their confusion. He affirms that they are limited, but said that this is all part of God’s plan. The Apostles have been commissioned. To enable them to fulfill their commissions, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be with them. The Spirit will guide them to proclaim the Gospel even “to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians provides the next reading. The reading is a prayer. He begs the blessings and guidance of God upon the faithful Christians of Ephesus. They need God, as all humans need God. God’s strength will be mighty. After all, divine strength raised Jesus from the dead. It is a power over everyone and everything.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the last passage from the Gospel and a resurrection narrative.

The Lord, having risen on Easter, appears to the Eleven, the surviving Apostles reduced by one in number because of the suicide of the despondent, traitorous Judas.

In a final commission, Jesus sends the Eleven into the world, far and wide. They are to proclaim the Gospel to all creation. He has prepared them, instructed them, guided them. Anyone who accepts this proclamation will be saved. Anyone who believes in the Gospel will be capable of marvelous deeds. The Lord will protect them.

The graphic examples must not be taken literally, but they nonetheless are profound in their meaning. No true believer will ever die an eternal death.

Then, the story says that Jesus ascended into heaven. Faithful to the Lord, the Apostles went forward and proclaimed the Gospel as they had been commissioned.

Reflection

Celebrating the Ascension of the Lord in the form of a special liturgical feast day is revered in the Church.

Once, in early Christianity, seemingly, it was celebrated together with Pentecost. For 17 centuries, however, it has been a feast of its own.

Such is proper. The Ascension revealed much. Fittingly, the Eastern Church sees in the Ascension a particularly meaningful revelation for Christians.

Many lessons come from this feast. It again reveals Jesus, divine and human, crucified but risen. It reveals that we are not alone. Christ did not leave us. He lives with us and teaches us still through the Apostles, and the structures and sacraments of the Church they formed in the Lord’s name and at the Lord’s command.

In summary, Jesus loves us and gives us life. Whatever threatens us, the power of God will protect us from everlasting death. †

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