May 16, 2021 ~ Ascension of the Lord

This Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. The Risen Lord spent 40 days with His disciples after His Resurrection, instructing them in the faith and strengthening them to believe in the Resurrection. He gave them the mandate to go into the whole world and preach the Good News! He further instructed them to wait for the “Promise of the Father,” that is, the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday we conclude the Easter Season with Pentecost. I invite everyone to wear red, the “color” of the Holy Spirit, next Sunday for Mass.

The question of what to wear to church often comes up at this time of year. We used to speak of wearing our “Sunday Best” to church. Throughout the country, children are making their First Holy Communion at this time of year. Little girls wear white dresses, and boys wear ties and sometimes jackets for First Communion. Teenagers ask the question as they dress for prom. Graduates don special robes. With the wedding season beginning, brides and grooms, brides maids, and groomsmen adorn themselves. The newly baptized are clothed in white. Newly ordained priests too will wear the chasuble, the sign of the gentle yoke of Christ! 

What are you wearing? Although Mark’s Gospel gives only the missionary mandate, Matthew’s Gospel mentions being “clothed with power from on High,” and the Acts of the Apostles mentions the two men dressed in white garments who say that “Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” 

As his disciples looked on, Jesus was lifted up into heaven and a cloud took him from their sight. Jesus has been “lifted up.” In the Old Testament “to lift up” referred to royal enthronement. Christ’s Ascension means the enthronement of the Crucified and Risen Son of Man, the manifestation of God’s kingship over the world. Jesus, who humbled Himself in the Mystery of the Incarnation, and, as St. John Chrysostom says, took off the robes of glory, now is robed in Majesty – in glory from on High for His fidelity to His Father.

Jesus was “taken up.” Where? The Ascension represents not so much a journey, but rather an action of God’s power. The Father brings Jesus into the space of Divine Intimacy. The presence of the cloud that “took him out of their sight” connects the Ascension with the history of God’s relationship with Israel.

God was always close to His People – from the cloud of Sinai and above the tent of the Covenant in the desert, to the luminous cloud on the mountain of the Transfiguration. To present the Lord wrapped in a cloud, as St. Luke does in Acts, recalls the same mystery expressed in the symbolism of the phrase, “seated at the right hand of God.” As Christ ascends into heaven, He takes His humanity with Him. Humanity enters into intimacy with God in a new way; man now finds room in God forever.

Jesus ascended to heaven. We too want to go to heaven. However, heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something bolder: it indicates Christ Himself, the Divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever. To be in God, this is Heaven. We draw close to heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with Him. The Ascension invites us to draw close to Him, invisibly present in our lives. 

The disciples returned to Jerusalem with joy. The Ascension was not really a separation, nor the Lord’s permanent absence. The Ascension did not imply Jesus’ absence from the world but began the new form of His presence through His sharing in God’s royal power. His Presence remains in His Church – in her Sacraments, sacred ministers, in the hearts of believers. Jesus also promised His disciples that they would be clothed with power from on high – a clear reference to the Holy Spirit – the Promise of the Father – who gives us courage to carry out our mission.

Jesus has ascended to the Father, but the mission of making God’s love known remains for His disciples. We are His disciples. The disciples were told that they would be witnesses and that signs would accompany us. The Apostles and many of the martyrs of the Church were witnesses to these things – His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. They dipped their robes in the blood of the Lamb and so were clothed in the glory and entered heaven – communion with God. What are you wearing? 

The woman “clothed with the sun” is the Blessed Virgin Mary. I invite all families to begin the 33-day Marian Consecration (33 Days to Morning Glory) on May 16th. It will conclude with the consecration of the Archdiocese to Mary and the conclusion of the Marian pilgrimage, which will stop at St. Ignatius on June 15-16.

This Friday, May 21st, will be 8th grade graduation. We offer them our heartfelt congratulations, especially after enduring these two difficult years at St. Ignatius. We wish our graduates well and look forward to seeing them in church and in our community, hoping that they know they always have a home at St. Ignatius. The school year will conclude the following Friday, and I wish to thank our principal, administrators, staff, and teachers for their heroic efforts. In a special way, I wish to acknowledge and thank Laura Sieve, our Vice Principal, who is retiring after more than three decades of service to St. Ignatius School. May God reward her for her kindness, generosity, and sacrifices.

Finally, May 18th marks the anniversary of my priestly ordination. I am grateful that I am able to serve the people of St. Ignatius. My “first Mass” was offered on Pentecost. As Pentecost approaches, let us pray for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our parish, the Church, and the whole world. – Fr. Fernandes

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