Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

May 16, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 4:1-13
Mark 16:15-20

As we liturgically celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord today, we hear the proclamation of the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel. In our Gospel reading, Jesus makes an unusual claim for those who believe: they will be able to drive out demons; they will speak new languages; they will handle serpents without harm; they will drink deadly poison without effect; and they will heal the sick. It seems strange that Mark would report these predictions of Jesus since we might be tempted to misunderstand our religion as if it were our introduction to powers.

Many of us are attracted by such power. We can think that our faith is intended to make us impervious to suffering. We can think that our faith enables us to need nobody else but God, and only when we decide that we need Him. There is a report in the Acts of the Apostles about a man called Simon who would astound the people of Samaria with his magic. When he saw the miraculous works of the Spirit done through the Apostles, he offered them money for a share in their power. Peter had to inform him that his priorities were a bit confused because the practice of our faith is not a matter of gimmicks or for show.

Magic conjures and attempts to manipulate events in our lives by cajoling spirits or luck. Faith entrusts events to God’s Providence with a confidence that He brings about His will in ways that might surprise us and in ways that involve our freely willed actions. We are mistaken when we approach our faith as a superstition. We are not called to become disciples to perform spectacles. We become disciples because we hear the call of the Lord and are attracted to Him and want to know Him better and want to spend our lives living and loving our neighbor as He did and showed us how to love.

When we are confident in Jesus’ love for us and genuinely love the Lord in return, we grow more deeply in the awareness that even though Jesus has ascended into glory, He has not abandoned us nor left us to fend for ourselves. We are able then to live an authentically holy life and love our neighbor through concrete actions.

These great actions do not often include handling snakes or drinking poison or casting out demons. However, there are some daily demons we must deal with: pride, anger, bitterness, destructive habits and addictions, lust, laziness, lying/gossip/hurtful speech. Our discipleship requires us not to give into the power of these temptations and saves us from discouragement of understanding these sins as inevitable and impossible for us to reject.

Considering this, perhaps casting out demons and healing the sick happens a lot more frequently than we usually imagine with flights of the spectacular and power. Sensitivity and awareness of another person’s suffering prompting us to offer a word that brings encouragement or to perform a kind act for someone else. The desire to keep our promises and intentionally following up and keeping the promises we made. Honest actions performed with full intention when nobody else is around to see us also are ways that the Spirit’s healing can work through us.

The message of the Ascension is that the difference between life in heaven and life here need not be that different or far apart. Jesus departs to prepare a place for us and because He is fully human and one with us; we are in some sense already present in heaven by how we serve and love God and our neighbor here. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “Heaven: this word heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united forever. Man’s being in God, this is heaven. And we draw close to heaven, indeed, we enter heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him. For this reason, today’s Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to be in profound communion with the crucified and Risen Jesus, invisibly present in the life of each one of us.”

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