The Ascension of the Lord: May 10, 2018
Fr. Phillip Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
With the Ascension of Jesus, we can say that the mission of Jesus has come to its completion. Jesus became man, suffered and died in order to forgive our sins and reconcile us to the Father. Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascends into Heaven. With his Ascension, the humanity that Jesus assumed – our humanity, has entered into heaven. The road to heaven has been restored – he has unlocked the way for us, and as the opening prayer for this mass says, “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.” We rejoice on this feast because our humanity has been exalted to the heavenly heights. Jesus has not left us, but has taken us with him, and his going up prepares the way for us to follow. As he has gone up to heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, he will return in the same way – not merely at the end of time, but with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is then, he promises his disciples, that they will receive power to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” As our flesh enters the inner life of God at the Ascension, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the inner life of God enters our flesh to make Jesus present in the world. This is how we become witnesses and teach all nations. It is also how Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always, until the end of the world. As the conclusion of the Gospel of Mark relates, Jesus being taken up to heaven does not mean that he is absent or has abandoned us. Rather, as the disciples went forth and preached everywhere, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
As a diocesan priest who grew up in a parish run by diocesan priests, my experience of the Church has been very local. I’m sure that has been the same for most of us who grew up here in Lansdale or in the Philadelphia area. It is hard for us to get a sense of this missionary aspect of the Church that Jesus speaks about and how his promise is fulfilled and how he continues to act among us in the way he promised in the Gospel. Tuesday evening, I went to hear confessions at St. Rocco parish in southern Chester County. It is a parish formed a few years ago to minister to mostly immigrant families who are Spanish-speaking. The sisters who work in the parish are a congregation of sisters founded in Argentina in 1988. They are the female branch of the Institute of the Incarnate Word or IVE, a religious order founded in 1984. The sisters invited me to the convent for dinner after confessions along with the other priests because they were celebrating the feast day of Our Lady of Lujan, the Patroness of Argentina. There were four other priests around the table besides me, a deacon from the order, and four sisters. I witnessed, just around this table, exactly what Jesus promised. Besides the 2 Philadelphia priests, there was a priest from Mexico, an IVE priest from Argentina, and IVE priest from Virginia, sisters originally from Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and North Dakota. The deacon was from El Salvador. Since the order’s founding, there are now approximately 1,000 sisters in 35 mission areas. The missionaries around the table had been stationed in Greenland, Iceland, the Holy Land, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and the U.S. They are getting a lot of vocations now from Tanzania in Africa. Except for the priest from Virginia and the sister from North Dakota, none of the missionaries had English as a first language, and everybody around the table spoke Spanish. The order also has missions in the Ukraine, Papa New Guinea, Ecuador, the Philippines, Kazakhistan, and Italy. It was beautiful to see this unity of faith among such diversity. Why this mission? It is to evangelize the culture – to bring Christ to the ends of the earth. As Paul says, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.” We want the whole world to go where the head has gone before. This is what gives us joy – that we all attain this full stature of Christ.
We begin with the Ascension the Novena to the Holy Spirit – the 9 days until Pentecost. The Holy Spirit makes all of this possible. We need the Holy Spirit to achieve unity, peace, gentleness, and patience, and to bear with one another with love. If you see this lacking in yourself or in your family, or at school or your place of work, pray to the Holy Spirit. What I saw the other night was the promise of Christ in action. In can happen in our parish and in our family and our lives too if we pray to the Holy Spirit and open our hearts to Him. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they will be created, and you will renew the face of the earth!