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5/5/16 THe Ascension of the Lord - Fr. Reggie

Today we do a strange thing.

Today we celebrate our Savior's departure from earth. He became man and was born on Christmas. For thirty years he lived a hidden life in Nazareth, sharing the mundane struggles experienced by every working family. For three years he travelled around Israel preaching the gospel, performing miracles, and training his Twelve Apostles. Then, when that work was finished, he redeemed fallen humanity: he reversed the tragedy of Original Sin through his sacrificial passion and death. Finally, to guarantee the trustworthiness of his teaching and his sacrifice, he rose from the dead and appeared to his follower’s multiple times.

But forty days later, which corresponds to today, with his disciples and Apostles gathered around him on the mountaintop, Jesus mysteriously ascended back into heaven, back to his Father's side, back to where he had come from at the moment of the incarnation.

And today we celebrate that.

But shouldn't we mourn it instead? Shouldn't we regret and be sad that he is no longer among us? Doesn't it seem that he has abandoned us?

Not at all. 

In today's Preface (the prayer the priest prays at the start of the Eucharistic prayer) the Church tells us why: "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."

If Jesus had not ascended into heaven, body and soul, humanity and divinity, we would not be able to hope for heaven ourselves.

The ascension is the direct source of our hope. It means that we are never alone.

 Many years ago there lived a very poor family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by the name of Carpenter. The oldest boy loved the outdoors and knew them well, but he didn't know much else. He was a teenager before his father took him on his first trip to the city, where he saw paved streets, skyscrapers, and electricity for the first time. The boy wanted to stay there and get an education. His father arranged for him to board with some family friends, who generously financed his studies when he decided to become a doctor. He graduated with honors, but declined all job offers to practice medicine in the city. He said he was going back to the mountains, where there were many sick people and few doctors.

For many years he ministered to the sick. Some paid, most couldn't. He gave his very best and helped everyone he could. In his old age he was in broken health himself and almost penniless. Two small rooms above the town grocery store were his home and office. At the foot of the creaky stairs leading up to his office was a sign with these words: "Dr. Carpenter is upstairs." One morning someone climbed those stairs to find the devoted doctor dead. The entire community was plunged in grief. They wanted to erect some kind of monument to him. But they decided to simply write these words on a large tombstone: "Dr. Carpenter is upstairs."

Jesus is the divine doctor of our souls. He is "upstairs" in heaven, where he ascended after his resurrection. 

But he is still alive and eager to help us through the sacraments, the Bible, and the Church

Every time we turn to him in prayer, we climb the stairs to his office.

Because he is upstairs, Dr. Jesus is always in.

This is the reason we can trust the Church. Jesus is already enthroned in heaven, and that throne can never be usurped. He rules the Church from that unassailable throne, heaven, through his vicar on earth, the pope.

He has chosen to do it that way so that we could all share in his work of redemption.

As members of the Church, we are members of his body.

We continue in our own lives the work that Jesus did in his earthly life: spreading the Good News of God's mercy and salvation, healing those around us by loving our neighbors as ourselves, and offering our own sufferings to God in union with Christ's sufferings.

In this way, the salvation that Jesus won for the world is gradually being spread throughout the world - through us. This is why Jesus said, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations... And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." He invites us to be his partners in the business of salvation. Instead of directing all of our efforts immediately, as if we were his puppets, he guides us through his Church. There we are sure to find grace in the sacraments and truth of Christ's teaching. And the guarantee of the trustworthiness of that grace and that truth is, precisely, Christ's ascension - the fact that he is established firmly on an everlasting throne.

And so, when we obey Church teaching in faith and morals, we obey Christ.

If we want to be assured of the fruitfulness and victory of our own efforts in life, we have only to stay united to Christ by staying united to his Church.

Today, as we renew our bond with Christ and his Church through Holy Communion, let's promise that we will.


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