Sunday, May 12, 2013


Deacon Jerry Franzen   Cathedral May 12, 2013

Acts 1: 1-11       Hebrews9:24-28,10:19-23           Luke 24:46-53

We just heard two accounts of the Ascension:
one at the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles,
and another in the very last verses of the Gospel
according to St. Luke -
at the end of one book and at the beginning of another.
The authorship of both books is attributed to St. Luke.
The Ascension certainly represents a pivotal point in Christianity.


We are not privileged like the disciples
to have seen Jesus’ ankles rising from the earth.
But, like the disciples in Acts, we also have an upward vision.
We know that heaven is not really “up there,”
but we do have a definite focus on the “place”
to which Jesus went. 

We are accustomed to praying
that Jesus would come from that “place” down to us,
that he might be with us during a test or exam, during surgery,
as we drive to work, as we buy that lottery ticket.
We do have this “upward look”
and we call Christ “down” to be with us;
we ask for his blessing to come down upon us.

The feast of the Ascension reminds us to look “upward,”
toward that place to which Jesus went, heaven.
We, being here on earth, have a tendency
to think of our being with Christ only here on earth,
in  the Eucharist, in the Word,
in the celebrant at Mass and in the people gathered.
Our hope is not so much that Christ will return in a human body;
our hope is that we will ultimately be with the Lord in heaven.
This “upward” view of the Ascension reminds us
of that “other place,” heaven, to which we must be aiming.
It should stir our imagination and expand our capacities to see
and to feel and to hope.
It keeps fresh in our minds the ultimate purpose of life –
to get to heaven, to attain eternal salvation,
to be eternally in God’s presence.

Maintaining our “upward” perspective,
keeping this goal in view, is extremely important.
On clear days,
when mountain climbers can see
that breathtaking peak of snow-capped rocks,
when their goal is in clear view,
they make great progress.
They walk briskly, cooperate unselfishly; they climb as one,
all working toward the same summit.
On days when the summit is shrouded in clouds and out of view,
when the goal is not in clear sight
the climbing is tougher, eyes are downward,
thoughts are inward, tempers may be short.
Weariness is an uninvited companion.

The same is true of our spiritual journeys.
If the risen Christ who calls us from the mountaintop
is not clearly in our view,   
one can hear the groans of the travelers
as they stop on the spiritual trail.
Why continue if there is no goal in sight?
Without the clear sight of heaven
we become pilgrims without a promised land; we set up camp.
We trade our hiking boots for loafers
and our staffs and climbing equipment for new recliners.
We become spiritual couch potatoes.

WE cannot let that happen.
We must keep that “upward” look,
 keep eternal salvation as our clear goal. 


In today’s Gospel account there is no mention of looking up.
Jesus reviewed with his disciples what had happened
and predicted that
“repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name to all the nations,
beginning in Jerusalem.”
He told the disciples to stay in the city until they were
“clothed with power from on high.”
They then went to Bethany where he blessed them and ascended.
According to the Gospel,
they then went back to Jerusalem with great joy.
In the Gospel account there is no mention of the two angels
as recorded by the same author
 in the Acts of the Apostles.
Recall there that, after the ascension,
the angels had asked the disciples:
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

I think that there is a connection between the question of the angels
to the disciples in Acts and the account in the Gospel,
in which Jesus spoke of preaching repentance
in the Lord’s name to every nation
beginning in Jerusalem.
The angels posed the question,
because the focus of the disciples and of US
on joining Jesus in heaven
must go beyond our standing around and looking up.
There is a “downward” perspective to the Ascension.
This view directs us to our discipleship down here on earth.
We must follow in the footsteps of the disciples
who were the ones directed to preach repentance to all nations. 

Like the disciples, we must go forth and preach everywhere.
How do we do that?
Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Preach always; use words when necessary.”
We do it by our actions of working with and for the Lord,
by our being the signs of salvation to the world,
by all that we do in our lives.
Then we, too, will be lifted to the eternal kingdom.

What Jesus has accomplished must be brought to all mankind.
Jesus suffered, died, rose from the dead and ascended
for us and everyone.
The Church’s extension of the mission of Jesus
began with his Ascension.
We must carry on the work of Jesus as the work of the Church.

In the Gospel reading,
there is a clue as to how we will be able to do this.
Jesus said the following to the disciples before he ascended:
“And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you,
but stay in the city
until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The Promise of my Father is the Advocate, the Paraclete,
The Holy Spirit,
the one that Jesus said that His Father would send.
The disciples were to stay in Jerusalem
until they were filled with the Holy Spirit;
then they were equipped to go out into all the world.
Jesus was describing to them what would happen on Pentecost.

We have been “clothed with power from on high.”
It is by the power of the Holy Spirit,
the power that we all received
at our baptism and confirmation, our own Pentecost,
the power by which we can carry on the work of Jesus.
We each have been equipped for the work of Christ’s ministry.
This is all part of the “downward”
or earthly perspective of the Ascension.
The Son, who had come from heaven to earth,
returned to heaven in order to exercise the divine generosity
of giving the gifts of the Holy Spirit to all Christians.


The Ascension is not just the historical event of the past.
It is not bon voyage to Jesus.
The Ascension has a downward earthly dimension,
and that is where we play a part.
Jesus ascended so that we could get on with his and our work,
the work of bringing ourselves back to him
AND the work of bringing others to him.
So let’s get on with it. 

Let’s be joyus, wise and knowledgeable,
but also humble, gentle, patient, willing and eager.
We are the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists,
the pastors, and the teachers.
By our baptism and our confirmation,
we are equipped for Christ’s ministry.
Christ has left the spotlight at the center of the earthly stage
on which he played out the redeeming events
of his earthly life.

He continues to control the action of the drama
from the timeless sanctuary of heaven.
But, with the gifts that he has given each of us
with the power of the Holy Spirit working in each of us,
it is time for each of us to step into that spotlight.