Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After 40 days of Easter, today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. This is a momentous occasion in the liturgical calendar: the Lord Jesus, after fulfilling his mission on earth, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. The Ascension marks the culmination of Christ’s earthly ministry and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation. With Christ’s Ascension, not only his glorious body ascends to heaven, but all of humanity. This human nature, which the Eternal Word has assumed, is united in Christ to the Trinity in an irrevocable and indissoluble way.
Jesus is no longer subject to the limitations of time and space. He is the eternal Son of God, who transcends all earthly limits. Ascending to heaven, He demonstrates his divine authority and reigns over all creation. He has left this world, not to leave us orphans, but to share with us his victory and glory. If we are his Body (that is, the Church) and He is our Head, He has ascended to go before us and show us the place to which we are all called: eternal glory.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we witness the last moments of Jesus’ earthly presence. After his resurrection, he appeared to his disciples, proving to them that He was alive. For forty days, He spoke to them about the kingdom of God and prepared them for their mission and finally commanded them: «Do not go far from Jerusalem. Wait here for the promise of my Father to be fulfilled, (…) in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit».
The mission of the Church cannot be carried out with merely human efforts, only with divine assistance could they be witnesses of Christ, not only in Jerusalem, but also in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
And this is also why St. Paul, in the second reading, prays that the Ephesians may receive the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened. This prayer is also for us. If in our evangelizing and charitable mission we are not moved at all times by the Holy Spirit, we will be doing a lot of religious activism, but never the work of God.
Finally, in the Gospel passage, St. Matthew describes the last meeting of Jesus with his disciples before his Ascension. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth. And with this same authority all the disciples are sent out on the great commission: «Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and know that I am with you always, even to the end of the age».
This continues to be our mission today, regardless of time and place.
Today I would like to leave you with three ideas, as usual, to end the homily.
First idea: Mission, Mission with a capital letter. Let us embrace the invitation of the Mission. It does not require a special calling to be a missionary in the Church. Mission is for everyone and it has fundamental edges: proclamation of Jesus Christ and works of charity. The friends of St. Vincent de Paul and the «Servants of the Servant» know well what I mean. Here in Jacksonville, 2023, the mission of the Church is sorely needed, and the Church is all of us. Proclaim Jesus Christ with your life, with your behavior and above all, with your charity. There is no stronger witness than that of Charity.
Second idea: Fill yourself with the Holy Spirit. You can do nothing for God or to God if you do not first fill yourself with Him in prayer. You can do nothing for the glory of God if you are not moved by the Holy Spirit. Ask for the Spirit, invoke the Spirit, praise the Spirit. Next Saturday we will have the Vigil of Praise and Worship to the Holy Spirit. Join God’s holy people and have this Pentecost experience in your life. The disciples waited in the cenacle until the day of Pentecost to be able to go out strong to the mission, for only one reason: the efficient agent of the Mission is the Holy Spirit. We are only His instruments.
And third and last idea: Fix your eyes on Jesus. He has ascended to the highest place to manifest his victory and to share this triumph with us. But also to become our beacon and our guide. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the only model to follow. If you set your sights on human beings and human capabilities you will always end up disappointed. But if you put all your hope in Christ, you will never stumble. He has inaugurated his Kingdom and has made us all citizens of that Kingdom by his death and resurrection. No one can take away from you this citizenship proper to the children of God. Surely you will have many trials and temptations along the way, but none will be powerful enough to tear you from God’s hand. It is up to you to remain, it is up to you to cling to Jesus, it is up to you to keep your eyes fixed on him.
Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, may the Lord pour out abundantly upon us the gifts of his Holy Spirit, so that filled with the courage of the apostles, we may embrace the challenge of the mission, following Him alone. Amen.