Ascension, Year B
Acts 1:1-15; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
The Ascension of Jesus seemed to accomplish his mission on earth: birth, growth, death and resurrection, but really it is his new way of presence in the Church through the Spirit. According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of the Father (Mk 16:19).
The Acts of the Apostles recorded: He was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud, which took him from their sight (Acts 1:9). Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians told us: He showed in raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his right hand in heaven (Eph 1:20).
The Ascension teaches us many lessons. As Christ did go before us to prepare a place for us, we should know where we stand, what we are to believe, what we are to do, why we are born into this world, and where we are going? That is what the Church professes in the Gloria at mass: You are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer and in the Apostles’ Creed, the Church professes: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
So what is heaven? In the popular opinion of Vietnamese people, heaven is the sky, a space similar to an infinite vault covering the earth. Heaven is also understood as the supernatural power, playing the role of creation, governance, punishment and reward. When understood in this sense, the Vietnamese often add a title ‘Mister’ before heaven and called Mr. Heaven. Mr. Heaven of the Vietnamese is in a sense, God of the Christians.
According to the Bible, heaven is a natural phenomenon; it also carries a theological notion. The Jews at that time considered heaven as a dwelling place of God, above the skies. Christianity considers heaven as a place of happiness, or a state of resting for the soul of the just, purified from sins. Poet Nguyen Du of Viet Nam must have read about the teaching of Christianity when he wrote in the novel of ‘Doan Truong Tan Thanh’: Where is hell, where is heaven?
The Ascension is an indicator of our goal in life. Though we might regret home and property in this life, yet someday we will have to leave this life. Even though man is considered the center of the universe, man still has to look for his goal as to return to his origin and roots. If not, man’s life on earth would lose its meaning and pass away like animals, plants and flowers. Today, each one of us should ask himself or herself some questions as follows:
Did we ever raise our mind and heart towards heaven, towards lofty thoughts, thoughts of love and charity? Directing our mind and heart toward heaven should help help us prepare to detach ourselves gradually from material things, even though we still have to use them. Directing our mind and heart toward heaven should help us prepare to settle accounts with God (Mt 25:19). Directing our mind and heart toward heaven should help us prepare to leave this world gradually as to face the judgment seat of God. We also prepare for our children and grandchildren how to treat one another when we will have gone for good. How much time have we reserved for the kingdom of heaven: to go to church to worship God and to pray each week? How much time have we worked for the kingdom of God? Alternatively, have we been busy seven days a week for worldly affairs. Have we considered heaven too far away in time, space as if heaven is above, and earth is low? Therefore, we put our destiny and end in this world for convenience.
In the Gospel of Saint Mathew, Jesus said to us: Seek first God’s kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides (Mt 6:33). When we meditate on the Ascension, the second glorious mystery of the rosary, we pray, asking God to help us love those things of heaven. Are we aware of what we ask for or are we just praying in a mechanical way and in a routine fashion? If we are aware of what we ask for, do we put them into practice? What are those things of heaven? Those things of heaven are the values of the Gospel: truthfulness, justice, honesty, and charity. The things of heaven are the Beatitudes.
Happy are those who are so and so; for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. When Saint Martin of Tours was dying, he lay on his deathbed, staring straight up meditating on the path of Christ going to heaven, letting his thoughts centered on heaven. Jesus’ Ascension into heaven is a sign of hope for us on earth.
That is what Saint Paul tells the Ephesians: May he enlighten your innermost vision that you may know the great hope (Eph 1:18). The Ascension should remind us that our eternal home is in heaven and we must strive for it. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus promised to come back to meet us when he said: I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am, you shall also may be (Jn 14:3). Jesus prayed for that intention: Father, all those you gave me I would have in my company where I am, to see this glory of mine, which is your gift to me (Jn 17:24).
Prayer for love for those things of heaven:
Oh Lord Jesus!
Through your Ascension
you taught us our eternal home
is not in this life, but in the life to come.
Stir up in my heart a love for things of heaven.
Grant that I may be welcome
into the heavenly kingdom. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong