The Ascension of the Lord [C]
Acts 1:1-11 + Ephesians 1:17-23 + Luke 24:46-53
May 8, 2016
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses….”
Every time a loved one, a friend or a mentor dies, part of us goes with them. Part of—a chapter of—our life ends: part of our life is over, because our life is about our relationships with those whom God has put in our life. With the passing of each of our family members and friends, we become more divided between this world and the next.
Although I’ve not been blessed by God with a vocation to Holy Matrimony, as a priest for twenty-one years (this month), I’ve sat with, prayed with, and prayed over many spouses who have suffered through the experience of their husband or wife dying. Those spouses have had to learn each day to live alone, after decades of married life. Those widows and widowers are torn between this world and the next. Their departed spouse carried part of them—memories, hopes, regrets, and lost opportunities—with them on that day of death.
Of course, being torn between this world and the next is not entirely a bad thing. Saint Paul the Apostle was torn in this way. In his epistle to the Philippians he wrote: “to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, (for) that is far better. Yet that I remain (in) the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” The tension between wanting life on earth as well as life in Heaven is a healthy tension. But as long as you remain on this earth, you are here for a reason.
+ + +
All that’s by way of background to reflect on the mystery of the Ascension of Jesus to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven. The Church celebrates the mystery of the Ascension through her Sacred Liturgy: firstly, through the Scriptures, prayers and antiphons of today’s Mass. These include the Preface that the priest chants or recites right before the “Holy, Holy”. There are two prefaces for the Ascension. In the first, the priest professes our belief—that is to say, the belief of the entire Communion of Saints—that “the Lord Jesus, the King of glory, / conqueror of sin and death, / ascended today to the highest heavens” “not to distance Himself from our lowly state / but that we, His members, might be confident of following / where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”
The Church’s celebration of Jesus’ Ascension is about the virtue of hope: about you and me and every other member of the Church on earth living the virtue of hope in our daily lives at home, at work, and among our family and friends.
Hoping for Heaven is challenging because for most of us, Heaven is still a long ways down the road. After all, on the practical level, for most of you, your “tomorrow” is going to look pretty much like your “today”. Regarding your hopes for “tomorrow”, you likely hope for sunny skies and 72°. You likely hope for your investments to show at least a modest gain, or your boss to give you a raise, or your grown child to call to see how you’re doing, or your husband to take you by the hand, look into your eyes and say, “I love you. Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to our children.” All of these are perfectly natural things to hope for.
But we tend not to hope for Heaven tomorrow. That is to say, unless you reside in the Shady Lanes Retirement Community, there are probably a whole lot of tomorrows left between “today” and the end of your road. And so, practically, we put our hope in things that lay closer to hand. As a result, Heaven becomes not so much an object of hope, as a vague and fuzzy ideal far, far off on the horizon.
But our Blessed Mother Mary can help us to hope more realistically. We honor her throughout this month, and especially this weekend on Mother’s Day. She more than any other disciple of Jesus can show us—and help us—to place our hope each day in her Son, Jesus who is the Way of true hope for your daily life.
Mary remained at the foot of the Cross, and remained among the living here on earth, both after Jesus’ death, and after His Ascension. Why? Because Mary lived her daily life in the virtue of hope. She accepted the fact that hope calls us to live in a tension between Heaven and earth. We cannot have everything now, and God does not mean for us to.
When you pray the Rosary on Tuesdays and Fridays this month, you’ll be praying the Sorrowful Mysteries. The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery is the Crucifixion. During this month of our Blessed Mother, imagine that mystery of the Crucifixion from Mary’s point of view. When Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He spoke to few persons, but Mary was one. “Woman, behold your son”, Jesus said, nodding his crowned head towards St. John, the Beloved Disciple.  After Jesus’ Ascension, Mary gathered with the Apostles in the Upper Room where Jesus had given the Eucharist at the Last Supper. But why was Mary there? Why was Mary still on this earth? Wasn’t her vocation over? Wasn’t she just—so to speak—treading water until her Assumption? Of course not.
In Mary’s earthly life, she lived for others, not for herself. She lived with the hope that St. Paul wrote about to the Philippians. We can imagine our Blessed Mother, pondering in her heart the Mystery of her Son, and in that Mystery pondering her own life and its tension. We can imagine her saying in her heart, “I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, (for) that is far better. Yet that I remain (in) the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” When St. Paul wrote those words, “your benefit” meant the benefit of the Philippians. But we might ask: for Mary, for whose benefit would she have meant these words?
Mary is the Mother of the Church. During her earthly life, she hoped to be with her Son in Heaven, but the way—the daily path—by which she lived out that hope was by being with the Beloved Disciple and all those whom Jesus had entrusted to her care, those who were and are her sons and daughters because they’re members of her Son’s Body, the Church. Mary is your mother, inasmuch as you are one member of her Son’s Mystical Body. Mary is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope”, because she gathers with us just as she did with the Apostles during the ten days after her Son’s Ascension.
 Philippians 1:21-24.
 John 19:26.