YEAR B: HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER. ASCENSION SUNDAY
TOPIC: OUR HEAVENLY DESTINY
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Mk 16:15-20
Message # 571: “His Glorious Return”
1. The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother confides that it was she who first saw her Son Jesus after his resurrection (letter b). However, this is not recorded in the Gospels because she is the silent witness of the resurrection: “Thus I became the first announcement, silent and motherly, of his resurrection. I was the first living witness of his glorious return to life” (letter c).
b) While we are still in this world, we should look eagerly for the return of Jesus in glory. His victory in his resurrection will be fully shared by us when he returns in glory. This means three things for us.
c) First, “his glorious return gives new force of life to all redeemed humanity” (letter d). In the midst of the pervasive culture of death in the world, we gain renewed power and zest for life. We should become zealous promoters and defenders of life.
d) Second, “his glorious return gives comfort and consolation, courage and confidence, to the Church” (letter e). Undergoing severe tribulations, the Church does not waver in her fidelity and commitment to her Lord, taking great inspiration and hope in the truth about the sure and certain return of Jesus in glory.
e) Third, “his glorious return gives a new light of grace to all of you, my poor children” (letter f). Darkness envelops us as we are confronted with the dangerous snares of the devil and our own weaknesses and propensity to sin. But knowing that Jesus is coming again to bring us the final and definitive victory, we are confident and full of hope for we know we are being guided by the loving hands of our Risen Lord: “Never in your days does it become so necessary to live this stupendous truth of Easter: Christ is risen living in your midst and is guiding the events of individuals and peoples toward their ultimate fulfillment” (letter g).
f) The future for us is always certain if we just remain focused on Jesus: “Turn your gaze toward Him who is risen from the dead to lead you all into his kingdom of life” (letter h).
g) The Blessed Mother also invites us to look up to her. She will always lead us to her Son Jesus. On his second coming, she will also lead us and prepare us: “Turn your gaze towards your heavenly Mother… who becomes again for you the silent and motherly proclamation of his glorious return” (letter i). In other words, just as Mary heralded the first coming of Jesus in the Incarnation, and just as she was the first to know of her Son’s resurrection, so also she will give us signs and hints as to his second coming in glory.
2. The Sunday Gospel
a) Life in this world is always a cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. Even Jesus, the Son of God, when he entered human history in the Incarnation, underwent the same process. His Ascension completes this process. It all began at the Annunciation, when the Eternal Word was conceived in the virginal womb of Mary; then his birth on Christmas; his growth and public ministry; then his death on the cross, resurrection, and finally he goes back home to the Father in his Ascension.
There are now many attempts by people to skip or evade this cycle and even to reverse it. This is a blatant offense against God, whose Son diligently followed this cycle. So, we see a lot of abuses against nature, and these have their dire consequences. The most glaring and worst example is human cloning. In the guise of curing diseases, it is definitely an attempt to unnecessarily prolong life, and even avoid death. This is man acting God.
Obviously, this is motivated by selfishness and greed. For instance, farm owners who raise chicken use feeds mixed with chemicals and even inject steroids on them so that these can be harvested at the shortest period of time. Farmers use chemicals and insecticides on agricultural products to hasten growth and increase production. The same is true with marine products. Add to this the abuse of the land, not allowing it to fallow, thus denuding it of its natural nutrients. Landslides and floods are the natural consequences. Cancers and food- related diseases and deaths are on the rise due to chemicals in the food products. These are not God’s punishments. These are just the necessary consequence of man’s greed that drives him to violate the laws of nature, the cycle of life. In the end, we come to realize that technology, which is meant to help man, proves to be the curse of man when it falls into the hands of greedy men.
We should never forget that natural law is the concretization of divine law. God forgives us if we sin against Him; but Mother Nature will surely get back at us if we violate her laws.
b) Heaven – Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. For many people, heaven is a place we aspire to reach. But the truth is heaven is a state of being with God. The real cause of perfect happiness of the angels and saints is the presence of God whom they see face-to-face (beatific vision of God). This is what Pope Benedict XVI clarified: “We go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him.” Heaven is a person: “Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven’”. That is why union with Jesus here on earth is already a “foretaste of heaven,” the term used by many theologians and saints to describe the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we are reminded that although Jesus ascended into heaven, he continues to be with us. Pope Saint John Paul II said: “The liturgy we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in the heavenly liturgy.” In other words, the Eucharist is “heaven on earth!”
c) Pope Benedict XVI warns: It would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as “the temporary absence of Christ from the world.” Contrary to what many people believe, Jesus is not absent in the world, even temporarily. Instead of looking at the Ascension as abandonment by Jesus, we should rather look at it as man’s greatest glory. Pope Benedict XVI pointed that out: “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that 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.” It is not that we are left behind, but rather we are taken up by Jesus into the innermost life of God.
d) In the meantime while we are still in this world, the challenge for us is to remain with Jesus, as branches on the vine. If we want to enter heaven, Jesus is our only way. And the good news is that he, who is our head, has gone up to heaven already. And we, as his body, will surely follow where the head has gone. Thus the body must always stay united with the head: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
There are several ways to remain united with Jesus. First, we must follow his commandments. Second, we must follow his will. And third, as the Gospel this Sunday is telling us, we continue Christ’s mission: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all nations.” Proclaiming his gospel is not much in talking, but more in action, particularly in doing what Jesus did. After all, Jesus identified himself with the poor and the lowly, and even made it the basis for the last judgment: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”
e) The Ascension, then, of Jesus, though it marks the end of his earthly ministry, ushers in a new stage in the life of the Church. Now that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, it is the turn of the disciples to do their part. That is why, immediately before he went to heaven, his last instruction was for them to begin their mission: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all nations.” His Ascension, therefore, was not abandonment by Jesus of his disciples. Rather, it was part of the whole process of growth and expansion of the Church. He had to go in order for his disciples to assume active role in the task of evangelization.
In the family, this also happens. At times, the father has to leave, or in more tragic cases, he dies, leaving behind his wife and children. In many instances, this painful event drives those left behind to strive their best, and the results are usually positive. In the parish, this is also true. The priest is transferred, or a parish leader leaves the parish. It becomes an opportunity for the others to step up and assume responsibility. That is always difficult, but that is part of the process of growth and maturity.
In Sociology, there are three stages in the maturing process of a community. The first is dependence. This is when the members are on the passive stance, and just let the leader take full responsibility. But when the leader on whom they depend departs, or when the members get fed up or tired with the leader, that is when the second stage comes: independence. They take the cudgels and begin to assume responsibility and leadership roles. This is good to a certain extent. If there is guidance and formation, the benefits are tremendous. But there is real danger that independence can isolate individuals or groups. Factions and power cliques can begin to form, and this is disastrous. Thus the next stage has to come in: interdependence. This is when individuals or groups, now empowered and responsible, share resources and experiences for the benefit of the bigger community.
The Church experienced this whole process, particularly with the apostles. At first, they were dependent on Jesus. But after his Ascension and especially after Pentecost, they became independent and each went on his own mission to various parts of the world. Each apostle established his own church. The Church of Rome is one, and the rest are the Oriental Churches (their supreme head is called Patriarch, but in communion with the Pope). All these Churches were established by the apostles. But it was clear to them that they have to remain interdependent. This is the reason for their unceasing obedience to the will of Jesus regarding the Primacy of Peter.
f) The Church, through the apostles, readily responded to the call to mission and evangelization. Unfortunately, through the centuries, the proclamation of the gospel took many diverse forms, and there have been many abuses and violations of God’s commandments. Examples of these were the Crusades, the Inquisition (when there were notorious acts of violence and cruelty done to alleged heretics), and the use of military force in the conversion of natives. A great breakthrough towards the rectification of this mistake happened on March 5, 2000 – Day of Pardon of the Jubilee Year 2000. Pope Saint John Paul II asked forgiveness “for the division among Christians, for the violence that some Christians used in the service of the truth and for the behavior of diffidence and hostility sometimes used towards followers of other religions.”
Pope Benedict XVI took off where his predecessor left. Early in his pontificate, he visited the Holy Land. He met with the Jews and Muslims in an effort to iron out centuries-long differences and broken relationships and head towards genuine reconciliation. The Church, being a human institution aside from its divine origin, also commits mistakes as shown in history. But she continues to do the mission of evangelization entrusted to her by Christ. All these defects and weaknesses highlight all the more the need for the more active intervention and guidance of the Holy Spirit and sensitivity to the signs of the times. Eventually, as the second coming of Jesus nears, the Church also comes closer to the fulfillment of the Lord’s prayer in the Garden: “Father, that all may be one as you and I are one.”
g) The Ascension of Jesus is not the end of the history of salvation. We say in our Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.” This is what the Blessed Mother is talking about in her message. It is true and praiseworthy that we have to continue our mission of evangelization. But it should always be in view of the glorious coming of Jesus. Our attitude should be like that of a servant awaiting his master’s return in the middle of the night. We continue doing our duties, always knowing that the Master will come any time. So, the Blessed Mother urges us all in her message: “Turn your gaze toward Him who is risen from the dead to lead you all into his kingdom of life” (letter h).
Song: Mother of Christ (“…when the voyage is over, O stand on the shore, and show Him at last to me!”)
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ang Banal na Misa ay itinuturing na “langit dito sa lupa.” Naniniwala ka ba rito?
2. Kung gusto nating lahat mapunta ng langit, bakit maraming mga tao ang umaayaw at umiiwas sa kamatayan?
3. Si Kristong umakyat sa langit ay muling babalik bilang Hukom. Kung kailan, walang nakakaalam. Ano ang mga dapat gawin bilang paghahanda kaugnay dito?