HOMILY FOR THE SEVENTH (7TH) SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A (3)
HOMILY THEME: Heads Up, Feet Down!
By: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
A rich man had everything in life. Yet he wanted to know about the formula of true happiness. He went around the world searching for it. Finally, he met a Chinese wise man. When asked about the formula of true happiness, the wise man said, “Grandfather dies, father dies, son dies, grandson dies.” The rich man was angry: “What kind of formula is that? How can it give happiness when everything you said was all about dying?” The wise man patiently explained: “You see, everybody dies. And the normal sequence is the older one dies ahead of the younger ones. You would not like to bury your son or grandson. That will surely make you unhappy.”
This makes some sense. But basing one’s happiness on death is very unfortunate. As Christians, however, we know that death does not have the final say. This is what the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord is telling us. Our destiny as God’s children does not end up in death. Rather, as followers of Jesus, we will share in his glory. As the Preface of this Mass beautifully puts it: “Christ… has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”
This is based on the promise of Jesus to his all his disciples: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:2-3). Hence, we ask God in our Opening Prayer, that we may “follow him into the new creation, for his ascension is our glory and our hope.”
This, indeed, is good news for us. With the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we are given the complete assurance that heaven is our final destiny, not death. In fact, we naturally long for heaven. We all want to go to heaven. However, there are two main requirements to enter heaven.
First, we have to leave this world. And that means we have to die. We cannot go to heaven if we do not want to let go of this world. We cannot have both heaven and this world. Yet, so many people do not get it. They want to go to heaven, but they strongly resist death. Detachment, therefore, from this world is a necessary condition for reaching heaven. And the second requirement is that we must be like Jesus. We cannot claim to be followers of Jesus, and thereby sharers in his glory, if we do not follow his teachings and imitate his example. That was the exhortation of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Eph 4: 22-24).
In short, going to heaven is not only a matter of dying but also of living. We have to die to this world. But we must also live Christ’s teachings, to the point that we can say like St. Paul, “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Such is the unity that Jesus is saying: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4). Then, wherever the head goes, the body surely follows. This truth, therefore, should fill us with joy and confidence for, indeed, “his ascension is our glory and our hope.” The ascension of the Lord gives us two important lessons: first, we have a heavenly home. Jesus goes ahead, and then he will come back to take us there. We are not earth-bound; we are heaven-bound. This is the meaning of the liturgical dialogue we have at Mass at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest says, “Lift up your hearts.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains it: “For truly, in that awesome hour, we should have our hearts on high with God, and not below, thinking of earth and earthly things. The Priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household worries, and to have their hearts in heaven with the merciful God.” This, then, should be our basic stance and orientation as we go through life. Our eyes and hearts are lifted up towards heaven, our true home.
But this does not mean that we should be totally engrossed in thoughts of heavenly glory, that we set aside or neglect our daily tasks and responsibilities. As we lift our heads up, we must be sure our feet are planted on the ground. Let us remember that we are still in the world. That was what the angels said to the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” It was a reminder to them of the last instruction of Jesus: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20).
Hence, the second lesson is: we have a job to do, a mission to fulfill. This is never easy. But he assured us. First: “I will not leave you orphans. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you always, the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16). That is what we will celebrate next Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Second: “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He fulfills this promise in the Eucharist. St. Thérèse of Lisieux expressed it accurately: “Ascending once again to the Inaccessible Light…You remain still in the ‘valley of tears,’ hidden beneath the appearances of a white host.” Though in heaven, Jesus never left us. He truly remains with us in the Eucharist. In Holy Communion, as we receive Jesus and lift our hearts to him, we get a glimpse and a taste of heaven on earth. Pope Benedict XVI said: “We go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into Him. Jesus Himself is what we call ‘heaven.’”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches Caloocan City 1422