In our midst

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. It was traditionally celebrated on Thursday of the sixth week of Easter, exactly 40 days after Easter Sunday, but in the Archdiocese of Miami and in many other places it has been transferred to this Sunday. Interestingly, in very secularized European countries such as France and Germany, the Ascension is still a bank holiday, a fact that goes to show the Catholic roots of European culture, even as the continent suffers from what Pope Benedict decried as “amnesia” forgetting and even sometimes reneging its own cultural roots.

The Ascension of the Lord reminds me of a beautiful passage in chapter 55 of the book of the prophet Isaiah where the Word of God is compared to the dew that comes down from heaven, makes the earth fecund and then returns to heaven. This beautiful metaphor helps me understand the deepest meaning of what we are celebrating this Sunday, for Jesus Christ is the Eternal Word of God made flesh who came down from heaven to bring creation to its consummation in God and now, having accomplished His mission, returns to the Father leaving the earth transformed. His Incarnation, His Passion, Death and Resurrection have made the earth fruitful, fecund.

His going back to the Father, as the prayers for this day make abundantly clear, does not mean that he disengages from the world, but simply that having embraced our common humanity, he returns to the seat of the Trinity to complete as it were the glorification of human nature. The Incarnation is irrevocable and everything human is meant to be an avenue for communion with God.

His mission has been accomplished, yet there is still work to do. The Kingdom of God is indeed in our midst but not yet. The Resurrection has transformed reality in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine bringing the universe to its consummation in God, yet its full effects are not visible.

Pope Francis reminded us a few days ago that the Evil One has been indeed defeated, he called him “a loser,” but again, as the Pope reminded us in his latest apostolic exhortation, he is still present and at work in the world. Of course, again as Pope Francis warned us, fighting with the devil is not a task for us and we ought to stay away from him, safely under the mantle of the Blessed Mother, but we do have a mandate to do good to others.

The Lord Jesus having returned to the Father, relies on us to continue to work for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in time.

Our baptism has washed us clean from original sin, it has incorporated us to the Church, the Body of Christ, it has configured us to Christ and made us partakers of His mission as priest, prophet and king. It bears repeating, lest there be a misunderstanding that the ordinary priesthood of the baptized is obviously not the same as the sacrament of Holy Orders received by those who are called to the ministerial priesthood. However, all of the baptized are called to sanctify the world by their presence and their actions. We are only able to do that to the extent that we are in communion with the only one who is good, the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ, true God and true man.

All of us who are baptized have also been constituted prophets. A prophet is not a person who foretells the future or announces impending doom, but someone who calls people to conversion, who leads the people back to God. In the Acts of the Apostles we are repeatedly told that it was the Christians’ way of life, the way they loved one another that drew others to Christ. The Church does not grow by proselytism but through attraction. It is the credible witness of Christians who live out their baptismal calling day in day out that catches the attention and imagination of the world and leads all to an encounter with the living God.

The opening passages of the Acts of the Apostles in the first reading are an eloquent reminder that the Church must continues the mission of Christ in time. To carry out her mission she has all the means she needs at her disposal. Firstly, the Eucharist which is Christ continued presence in our midst, the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and then, the prayers of the saints and the humanity of those of us who are journeying in time who have been baptized and are called, by virtue of our baptism, to be Christ to others. We have a duty to cooperate in the coming of the Kingdom of God that will be fully manifest when Jesus returns in glory and majesty as announced by the angels to the apostles who had witnessed the Ascension of the Lord.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid