May 26, 2017

The Ascension of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionMany dioceses in the United States, including those in Indiana, liturgically celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord this weekend. Other dioceses observe this weekend as the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

These reflections will refer to the biblical readings for the Ascension of the Lord.

The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, is from the beginning of Acts. As with the Gospel of St. Luke, the author addresses Theophilus, whose identity is unclear. Was Theophilus his actual name? Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was not. “Theophilus” also is a title, meaning “friend of God.”

In any case, this initial form of address recalls that Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are inseparably linked. Acts simply continues the story begun in the Gospel. At some point, editors divided these books and placed the Gospel of John between them. This arrangement remains today in biblical translations.

This is important. It shows that, in the mind of the holy author, the process of salvation did not end with the Lord’s ascension into heaven. After the Lord went to heaven, the work of salvation continued as the Apostles proceeded with the mission accomplished by Jesus, ordained long ago by God.

A lesson to be learned is how important the Apostles were. In Acts, the text clearly reveals that the first Christians greatly revered the 11 surviving Apostles, that Peter led them and spoke for them, that they performed miracles, just as Jesus had performed miracles, and that they exercised the authority of Jesus in calling Matthias to be an Apostle equal to the others.

Still, despite all these assertions as to their dignity, they are only humans. They need the inspiration of God.

As its second reading, the Church presents a selection from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

This reading is a prayer that all Christians might find true wisdom. True wisdom reposes only in the Lord. Earthly wisdom can be faulty and indeed often is.

For the last reading, the Church gives us a lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Again, the status of the Apostles is the point. The Apostles are with Jesus. They see and hear the risen Lord.

Jesus tells them to go into the world. They should exclude or ignore no one. They should bring all humanity into God’s family by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This last instruction from Jesus is a clear and direct revelation of the Holy Trinity.

Reflection

The Church, having proclaimed the resurrection, now calls us to look at ourselves and our times. Christ still is with it, the Church declares emphatically. As the bond between Luke and Acts tells us, the gift of salvation, perfected in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is open to all, here and now, and throughout all time and space.

Jesus did not just live 20 centuries ago. He still lives. He still gives life, blessing us, forgiving us, and taking us home to heaven. Jesus is with us, even after the Ascension.

He is with us now in the Church, because the Church stands on the foundation laid long ago by the Apostles. It received the message of Jesus from them. It received from them the commission to reach out to everyone with the blessings of salvation.

From them, it has received the power to forgive sin and to bestow the new life of grace. From them, it received the sacraments now offered to us.

The Church brings us to Jesus, and it brings Jesus to us. As St. Paul tells us, the source of truth is in Jesus alone.

We are not dragged, kicking and screaming to Jesus, however. We must turn to Jesus willingly and totally because we humbly realize our need for Jesus. †

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