May 19, 2023

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionIn many dioceses in the United States, including the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Church celebrates this weekend the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. 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 is from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. As with the Gospel of St. Luke, the author addresses Theophilus. The identity of Theophilus 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 helps establish that Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are inseparably linked. Acts simply continues the story first given in the Gospel. It is important to remember this.

As the New Testament was compiled into one set of Scriptures, and especially as the Church accepted St. John’s Gospel as part of the authentic word of God, the Gospel of John was inserted between Luke and Acts so as not to divide the four Gospels.

However, this process upset the perception of seeing Acts as the continuation of Luke.

Important in this reading is the identification given the Apostles, 11 in number since the defection and then suicide of Judas. Acts clearly states that the Lord chose the Apostles. His selection was not insignificant or casual. It was done with the power of the Holy Spirit.

They still need the wisdom of Jesus. They are confused about salvation and about the Savior. Will Jesus restore Israel to its old earthly might? Jesus clarifies what salvation means.

He also clarifies the place of baptism in the faith. Finally, Jesus ascends to heaven. The story ends on a note of promise. Two angels tell the Apostles, staring into the sky, that the Lord will return to them coming from heaven in much the same way as his ascension.

For its second reading, the Church offers a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

This reading is a prayer that all Christians might find true wisdom in Christ, the only source of truth.

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. This passage, too, identifies the dignity and limited humanity of the Apostles. They are with Jesus. Even though they see Jesus gloriously alive after the crucifixion, some of them continue to have doubts in their hearts.

The Lord then commissions them to go into the world, excepting no place or anyone, and to bring all into God’s family by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This passage not only underscores the role of the Apostles and their task of continuing to proclaim God’s mercy, but it also reveals the Holy Trinity.


The site in Jerusalem believed by the first Christians and still venerated as the site of the Lord’s Ascension is only a small chapel, surprisingly. Though it is no grand basilica, it still commemorates a momentous event. Jesus bodily ascended into heaven.

At that moment, the Lord wonderfully reassured the disciples at the time and us as well that we will never be alone. He always will be with us.

Indeed, the Gospel of Matthew concludes with Christ’s reassurance, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

No human life is free of difficulty and distress. Conditions surrounding everyone can be vexing. Look at the Ukrainians. Look at people enduring chronic illnesses. Look at the poor.

The Lord’s words are consoling, and they are real. Jesus is with us in the strength of grace, in the hope of eternity with God. He is with us in the Church, begun by the Apostles after the Ascension. He is with us in the sacraments and in the Eucharist.

Before ascending, Jesus empowered the Apostles and then sent them out on mission.

He empowers us and sends us to refresh our world with the Gospel, confident that we are called, blessed and gifted.

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