The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord (C) 05-20-07 Scripture Readings First Acts 1:1-11 Second Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23 Gospel

Luke 24:46-53 Prepared by: Br. James Cuddy, O.P. 1. Subject Matter
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The Lord’s Ascension as a source of our hope. (Opening Prayer & Preface) The invitation to be witnesses to the Lord’s Resurrection to the world Promise of the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost Christ, in his humanity, appears pleading before God on our behalf.

2. Exegetical Notes

A cloud took him from their sight: Clouds in Scripture are at once obscure and luminous, revealing the living and saving God while veiling the transcendence of his glory (cf. CCC 697). Other Scriptural references to clouds: Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exo 24:15); The tent of the meeting (Exo 33:9); The wandering in the desert (Exo 40:36); Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation (Lk 1:35); The Transfiguration (Lk 9:34). Why forty days? “Perhaps twenty might have been enough; thirty would have sufficed; but forty days is the divine arrangement for this whole world” (St. Augustine). Other Scriptural references to the number forty: the flood (cf. Gen 7-8); years the Israelites ate manna in the desert (Exo 16:35); Moses on Mount Sinai (Exo 24:18); Reign of David over Israel (2Sa 5:4); Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb (1Ki 19:8); Solomon’s reign over Jerusalem (2Ch 9:30); Jonah prophesizes the fall of Nineveh (Jon 3:4); the Lord’s fast in the desert (cf. Mat 4:2). Jesus raised his hands and blessed them: This recalls the blessing of the loaves and fish before the feeding of the five thousand (Luk 9:16) and over the elements at the Last Supper (Lk 22:17-20). He blesses them so that they can become a source of blessing to others. And that blessing sustains us when we can no longer see the mortal face of Jesus. (Cameron)

Jerusalem plays a key role in Luke’s Gospel: The annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist (1:13); the Presentation in the Temple (2:22); The young Christ teaching in the Temple (2:41-51); Crowds come to Jesus from Jerusalem (5:17; 6:17); Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem (9:51); the cleansing of the Temple; His Passion, Death, and Resurrection; Jesus wept over the city (19:41). The same emphasis continues in Acts. Clothed with power from on high: There are baptismal connotations linked to being clothed (e.g. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – Gal 3:27). The power that we have seen on display in Christ and through his works in Luke’s Gospel (cf. 1:35, 4:14, 5:17, 6:19, 8:46, 19:37) as well as the power that he will have in heaven with the Father (22:69) is the very power which he will bestow on his disciples through the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:8, First Reading).

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3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

661 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." Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the "Father's house", 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. 662 The lifting up of Jesus on the cross signifies and announces his lifting up by his Ascension into heaven, and indeed begins it. Jesus Christ now appears in the presence of God on our behalf. There he permanently exercises his priesthood, for he always lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through him. 672 Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love and peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by "distress" and the trial of evil that does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching. 519 All Christ's riches are for every individual and are everybody's property. Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation for us men and for our salvation to his death for our sins and Resurrection for our justification. He is still our advocate with the Father, who always lives to make intercession for us. He remains ever in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us. 2741 If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts. 1122 Christ sent his apostles so that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations." "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The mission to baptize, and so the sacramental mission, is implied in the mission to evangelize, because

the sacrament is prepared for by the word of God and by the faith which is assent to this word.

904 Christ fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith and the grace of the word.

4. Patristic Commentary & Other Authorities

“Christ showed himself to them that they might by conversing during these forty days be confirmed in their faith. But he showed himself more by withdrawing himself from their eyes so that they might begin to learn to think of him as God, and that he who on earth had spoken with them as a brother would now as their Lord assist them from heaven.” (St. Augustine) “Let me go from before your eyes. Let me take from your sight this mortal body, assumed because of your own mortality. Let it be raised up to heaven that you may learn what you are to hope for.” (St. Augustine) “He did not want to put off this garment he had willed to put on here below. Had he put it off, all men might despair of the resurrection of their own bodies. He but raised it to heaven. If God proved this in his own body, will he deny it to man?” (St. Augustine) “Our Lord desires to open the way for our ascent to those heavenly places and to prepare a safe passage for us by making smooth the road that had been previously impassible. For heaven was then completely inaccessible to us – human foot had never trodden that pure and holy country of the angels.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria) “For Christ has not ascended in order to make his own appearance before God the Father. He was, is, and ever will be in the sight of him from whom he receives his being. But now the Word, who had never before been clothed in human nature, has ascended as a man to show himself in a strange and unfamiliar fashion. And he has done this on our account and in our name so that he might transmit to all of us the glory of being children of God.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria) “Sitting at the Father’s right hand means, therefore, that even in his human nature Christ shares in God’s world-encompassing power.” (St. John Damascene) “Be consoled, flesh and blood, for in Christ you have taken possession of heaven and of God’s kingdom!” (Tertullian) “To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer.” (St. Thomas Aquinas) “The very witness of a Christian life is effective in drawing men to the faith and to God. This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers.” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 6)

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5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars

The opening of heaven is a joy to all the saints and a sign of hope to all who are “on the way”. St. Bede the Venerable (672-735) died just after first vespers for the Solemnity of the Ascension. Bede is most famous as an historian of the Church in England. As a Church historian Bede recounted the action of grace among the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. Specifically, he wrote about the spread of the Gospel and growth of the Church in England. The solemnity of the Ascension has a strong ecclesial character in that the Church celebrates the commission to preach mercy, the entrance of Christ her head into glory, the glorification of our human nature in Christ, the promise of the Holy Spirit for the work of the Church, and Christ’s intercession for all those who are, according to St. Paul, growing into “full stature”. (see Eph 4:11-16) These elements speak of the fullest meaning of the history of the Church.

6. Quotations from Pope Benedict XVI

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“The meaning of this final gesture of Jesus is twofold. In the first place, ascending on high, he clearly reveals his divinity: he returns to where he came from, that is, to God, after having fulfilled his mission on earth. Moreover, Christ ascends into heaven with the humanity he has assumed and which he has resurrected from the dead: that humanity is ours, transfigured, divinized, made eternal.” “The Ascension reveals the most high calling of every human person, called to eternal life in the Kingdom of God, kingdom of love, light and peace.” “Christ’s ascension expresses our belief that, in Christ, human nature, the humanity in which we all share, has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. Heaven in not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater, something that requires far more audacity to assert: Heaven means that man now has a place in God.” “We go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, “ascension into heaven” can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.” “The feast of Christ’s exaltation, which we are celebrating today, is evidently marked by great seriousness. And yet its basic mood is joy. God has a place for man! Should we not react to this Good News as the disciples did who returned home from the Mount of Olives with great joy?”

7. Other Considerations

The ascension is usually misinterpreted. It is not the temporary absence of Christ from the world, but a new, definitive, and irrevocable presence by participation in God’s royal power. (Ratzinger)

“Unless the bodily form of Jesus is taken away from us before our very eyes, we resist taking account of the divine activity of the Holy Spirit. We need a new way of perceiving and appreciating the full offering of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus gives us that in his Ascension.” (Cameron) There is an interesting tension in the Gospel between the charge to preach forgiveness of sins to all nations in the name of Christ and the Lord’s charge to the disciples to remain in the city (i.e. “I command you to preach the Word. I command you to sit and wait until you are clothed from on high.”)

Recommended Resources Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985. The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, ed. M.F. Toal, Swedesboro: Preservation Press, 1996. Cameron, Peter John, To Praise, To Bless, To Preach: Spiritual Reflections on the Sunday Gospels – Cycle C, Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2000.

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