May 27, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Ascension reminds us to be witnesses to Christ

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“As he blessed them, he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Lk 24:51–53).

Yesterday, May 26, was Ascension Thursday, but in our archdiocese, as in many others, we will celebrate this solemn feast day on the following Sunday, May 29. The primary reason we transfer this major feast is to allow as many people as possible to observe this sacred festival in the liturgical calendar and to participate actively in this solemn celebration.

The Lord’s ascension into heaven is an article of faith. In the Nicene Creed, we profess our firm belief in Jesus Christ, saying:

He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

The Ascension of the Lord celebrates our Lord’s return to the Father after living among us as a man, suffering unimaginably and being put to death on a cross, then rising again on the third day victorious over sin and death.

The significance of the Lord’s ascension is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows:

“The veiled character of the glory of the Risen One during this time is intimated in his mysterious words to Mary Magdalene: ‘I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ [Jn 20:17]. This indicates a difference in manifestation between the glory of the risen Christ and that of the Christ exalted to the Father’s right hand, a transition marked by the historical and transcendent event of the Ascension” (#660).

The weeks between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension were a time of transition. Our Lord used this time to demonstrate to those who loved him and believed in him that he was not a ghost or a figment of their imaginations. Although he was clearly different than before, he ate with them, let them see and touch his wounds, and in every conceivable way spoke to their hearts, showing that he truly was alive and active in their world—here and now!

In this way, the risen Jesus was preparing his disciples to take on his work in the world. The catechism refers to this as “the final stage” of his redemptive mission.

“This final stage stays closely linked to the first, that is, to his descent from heaven in the Incarnation. Only the one who ‘came from the Father’ can return to the Father: Christ Jesus. ‘No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man’ ” (#661).

Jesus has conquered sin and overcome death, but in order to complete his work, the whole world must be transformed. All of God’s children—broken and scattered as we are—must be healed and gathered. We must be reborn in the waters of baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can carry on the saving mission of our Redeemer.

Unless Jesus returns to the Father, we will not assume our appointed role as missionary disciples. Unless we open our minds and hearts to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will be unable to proclaim the Gospel, heal the sick, and forgive sinners in Jesus’ name. What’s more, as the catechism says:

“Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the ‘Father’s house’ [Jn 14:2], to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us” (#661).

Jesus remains with us in the Holy Spirit, in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), in the word of God, and in our loving service to one another, especially to those who are most in need of our help. He tells us that he has gone to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:2), and he waits for us there with eager anticipation and profound joy.

The first reading for The Ascension of the Lord (Acts 1:1-11) tells us that the disciples had to be persuaded by Jesus that his ascension was a blessing: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord this weekend, let’s renew our baptismal promise to be witnesses to Christ to the ends of the Earth. † 

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