The theme of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven offers us a rich fount for spiritual and theological reflection. In this homily, I wish to share just two simple personal thoughts on ascension as homecoming and mission.
The Lord’s ascension marks the return of Jesus to his heavenly glory after fulfilling his saving mission from the Father which began with his incarnation and culminated in his passion, death and resurrection. The ascension thus was an exaltation of Jesus at the end of his earthly existence as he gave his final report of a “mission accomplished” to his Father.
I love to think of the ascension as a homecoming. After accomplishing his mission on earth, Jesus comes home to the Father. The ascension also points to our own homecoming. At the last supper, Jesus told his disciples that he would go ahead to prepare a place for them. “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (Jn 4:2) Jesus’ ascension then is his assurance of our own homecoming in heaven.
As Jesus’ ascension marked the culmination of his life and mission on earth, ours too will be the glorification of a life lived like his, a life of faithful discipleship. “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” (2Tm 2:11-12)
I bet nothing can equal the unique joy and excitement of one who comes home. I remember our experience as seminarians from Cebu studying in Pampanga of returning home for vacation. As our ship from Manila entered the Mactan channel, we would excitedly point to familiar places and landmarks. Then as we approached the port, our attention would shift. We would be searching for familiar faces in a crowd of hundreds below us. And when we finally recognized our parents, relatives or sundo, we would suddenly burst in an uncontrollable joy.
I am now in my early seventies, and I have no illusion of having many more years ahead of me. After all, the psalm tells us that seventy years is the span of a man’s life, and eighty for those who are strong. (I’m living on a bonus then.) How I wish that when my end comes, it would be a homecoming experience, and not a painful struggle of resisting and holding on.
The unique joy of homecoming comes from seeing familiar faces and open arms stretched out in welcome. This new realization has changed my manner of praying. I now begin by asking God to receive me in his presence that I may “see” and know him, in the hope that when my time comes, I would just be too excited to recognize a familiar Face welcoming me home.
While ascension marks the end of Jesus’ physical presence on earth, it also marks the beginning of his new presence in the Church. Through the Holy Spirit sent by the Father on Pentecost, Jesus continues to remain among us. “I am with you always; to the end of time.” And through the Church, he continues his saving mission. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
With the mission, Jesus also gave the Church great power, such as casting out demons, picking up serpents and healing the sick. We see this happen in the early Church. But, is this still true today?
The Holy Spirit was given to the Church so she could be an instrument in the realization of Jesus’ mission. Through the hands and feet and mouth of the baptized, Jesus continues his messianic work until the end of time. The more we allow him to work in us, the more his action and power shine through us.
St. John of the Cross talks of God as an All-Bestowing God, a God who wishes to share himself totally to us, his life, his love, his divinity, his power…if only we allow him. All he asks is that we empty our heart of self (nada, nada, nada) to make space for him – to surrender our will to his.
I just had an angiogram a few days ago. As I lay in bed waiting for the procedure, I realized that my life was in the hands of doctors and nurses whom I do not even now personally. But I also realized that they know better, and so I could only surrender and put all my trust in them.
If only we could have the same trust in God, he would be able to do more in us and unleash the full power of his Spirit.*