He Gave Gifts: Ascension Homily

Ascension Day Homily

Our bodies are frail. That is why the Holy Sacraments are vital and necessary and essential to our well-being—especially the Sacraments of Private Confession and the Holy Eucharist.

For our bodies are frail. They are easily overwhelmed by stress, harmed by accidents, undone by the unexpected, and overcome by tiny microbes. To think or even speak of our frailty makes us anxious and fearful because, to be quite honest, we want and plan for and expect a long life.

Our frailty is a result of our unhuman condition. ‘Unhuman’ because it was not what Our Father originally designed or wanted for us. But fragility, together with the certainty of death, was passed down to us as a consequence of our tendency to go our own way, think chiefly of our convenience, and focus mostly on our material and bodily desires. Ironic, isn’t it: the more we concentrate our efforts on length of days and quality of life in this world, the more we lose sight of and endanger never-ending life and the possibility of greatest joy and bliss.

Perversely, we prefer the unhuman. Partly because we can’t imagine life without our mis-ordered affections. And because we won’t consider what humanity beyond this life can be.

Yet the purpose of Our Lord’s Ascension is to reverse this inclination to look only at what we can see, and base our behaviors on materialistic science, and believe in our own self-satisfaction, and thereby continue in fear and increased anxiety.

This feast is often overlooked because we can’t see what it means. We naively think it’s the anticlimax to Our Lord’s life on earth. Or the crown jewel of His battle against Satan and evil.

But Our Lord does not ascend to impress us. And He doesn’t ascend for His sake. He does nothing for His sake.

Our Lord ascends to help us see what better really is. To see what our bodies can truly be, and what heights they can attain. Our Lord ascends to lift up our eyes. So that we see that our fear is misplaced, and our anxiety is misleading. Our Lord ascends not just to give us hope, but to locate our hope. Not in some ethereal, indistinct beauty. But in the concrete, physicality of His own glorified, transformed, human nature. A nature that He took from us, so that He could restore and renew our nature.

So when Jesus ascends, it not just Jesus ascending. It is us ascending—now, in Him actually and spiritually in heart and mind. And then later, in Him actually and completely, in body and soul.

By ascending, Christ is raising our human nature—everything who we are, all we can be in Him, the whole of what we are designed to be with God—He is raising our human nature to sit in heavenly places, in the glory that He shares with His Father.

That sounds lofty. And it should. For lofty, exalted, admired—that’s exactly where the Lord aims us when He pulls us out of the font and says, “I have called you by name; you are mine.” Not mine, as in ‘my property.’ But ‘you are mine’, as in ‘my love, my beauty, my beloved, the one dear and the one close to my heart.’

Those loving words, and the true love they reveal—like all true love—ennoble, dignify, and empower us—to live better than we believe, apart from our lusts and desires, completely for another.

We demean those words when we determine that our identity is tied not to Jesus but to our self-chosen narrative and truth. We diminish our baptism when we live as if we matter more than the Lord’s will and more than others. And we devalue our Lord’s ascension when we let our fears govern how and whether and when we will receive the Lord’s gifts.

For when He ascended, not only did our Lord lead into captivity Satan, our cravings, and our guilt—all of which sought to scare us into hell. When He ascended, Our Lord also gave us gifts. The sacramental gifts. The gifts where our salvation is most certainly located. The gifts which give us not the hope of hope, but Christ Himself; not the idea of deliverance, but the One whose deliverance we can taste, and share, and claim as our own.

Our Lord, in His Ascension, gave us these Sacred Mysteries, so that faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold. This is the strength of our life. It is light that intensifies the spirit of those who believe—so that we put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; so that we fix our desires on what is beyond our sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible. For this reason, our Redeemer’s physical body both ascended into heaven while, at the same time, is delivered into the sacraments to be distributed to you. (cf St Leo the Great)

These sacraments mock our human frailty, not because we think we cannot die but because we are now sure that our anxiety is counter-productive and actually harms us more than we believe. At the same time, these sacraments increase our faith in what we will be, what we will have in fullness, even as they increase our desire for the life to come.

With faith nourished by these holy Sacraments, our forebears have lived “unshaken through oppression and imprisonment, through exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead.” (St Leo the Great; Sermon 74)

Let us, therefore, drive away all fears of what might be or of what we might miss out on. And do not let earthly desires hold down our soul which is called upward to greater living. Instead, let us come quickly and often to receive our ascended Lord as He now comes to us, for us, and within us in His Holy Sacraments. These, and these alone, will lift up our hearts and minds. These Sacred Mysteries will give us the strength to travel safely through whatever lies ahead. And these Blessed Gifts will give us the courage to bypass fleeting experiences so that we might embrace the certain pleasures that Our Lord gives us in overflowing abundance.

With such faith we will be unafraid to help the downtrodden, and unconcerned with what others may say or do. And we will be committed to live not for our own gain, but so that the lover, the friend, the co-worker, the stranger, and the enemy may seek to join us because they see, by our words and deeds, the hope that the Sacraments have enlivened within us.

Nothing is stronger against worries and apprehension of what will be; nothing is stronger against the fear of our mortality—than the kindness of mercy and the generosity of love which Our Lord has lived for us, plants in us, and lives through us. And all that is demonstrated in His Ascension through which we are enabled to taste and see the Lord’s goodness; to whom belongs all glory, honor, worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.