Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of May 4, 2008
ASCENSION OF OUR LORD (YEAR A)
1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46; 2nd Reading: Eph 1:17-23; Gospel: Mt 28:16-20
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:1-11)
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Mt 28:16-20)
The first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles and the passage of the Gospel of Matthew tell the same great event: the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven. To better understand the Word of God, details too are often very important: both pieces refer to episodes that occurred after Jesus’ Resurrection. Although Christ had manifested several times after the Resurrection, some disciples still doubted. "The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted." (Mt 28:16) In these verses there is a translation error. Surely after Resurrection the Apostles had no doubt as they saw, talked and ate with Jesus: Saint Paul reminds us that if Christ had not risen our faith would be completely vain; then the Apostles no longer doubted Christ after His Resurrection and are witnesses to this event.
It is logical to ask why our Lord, having once manifested to the Apostles and to other disciples after the resurrection, did not return to the Father at once, but remained on Earth for forty days. Sometimes we are superficial and hasty in reading the Word of God, we have never dwelled on this point that can only be understood in function of Christ's Love. He stayed forty days on Earth to complete His doctrine and teaching in the light of His Resurrection to make the Apostles better understand the meaning of His teachings, especially the one repeatedly proclaimed: the Annunciation of the Passion, Death, but also Resurrection. Jesus wanted that His Apostles had no doubt and uncertainty on this mystery. I am convinced that Jesus' teaching, just as it was the case in His public life, continued even after the Resurrection, not only to the whole Apostolic College but also to every single Apostle.
This does not emerge from the Gospel, but it is inferred from Jesus’ heart and intelligence, who related to each Apostle respecting their character, feelings, culture, and sociological substratum in such a way that the teaching is, at the same time, common and universal for everyone, but also personal and private for each one.
Jesus is behaving like a good parent who knows He is soon going to die and go up to Heaven and is calling each child for the latest recommendations. If we men normally behave in this way, all the more so did Jesus. So there was a greeting and a last teaching to make it clear that He was He and not just a ghost. Do you remember the Apostles’ bewilderment as Jesus appeared suddenly when the doors were shut? Christ ate with them several times and it is logical to think that another great marvelous event took place: the Eucharistic co-celebration with His Apostles. The Sacred Scripture is silent about this particular, it recounts the establishment of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but no one is telling how and when the Apostles began to celebrate it. I love to think, and no one can forbid it, that it was Jesus Himself to start the Eucharistic celebrations with his Apostles; this is my idea, suggested by my heart, it is no certainty and I hope to find this wonderful detail in Jesus’ life that, as He announced, will be written by me under His dictation. In this regard, the Apostles would have well understood what Jesus said: "I will be with you until the end of time" that is "I Jesus the Eucharist." Today’s two passages, the Gospel and the first reading seem to contradict if they are not read with attention and intelligence: in the Gospel we resolved that Ascension probably occurred on Mount Tabor, that of transfiguration, while Jerusalem is indicated in the first reading. The passages must be integrated, one is the historical concatenation of the other: as Luke is saying in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus, during the last earthly supper, gave some recommendations, thereafter the Apostles went to the mountain where, together with other five hundred Disciples, watched His Ascension to Heaven. After Ascension they returned to Jerusalem because the promise of Pentecost had to be fulfilled, and there, together with Our Lady, they prayed and waited for the descent of the Holy Spirit in the cenacle. Here, the Mother of the Eucharist encouraged them to resume the Eucharistic celebration that she too attended with an exceptional faith, with a particular attraction and immense love because she would relive, together with her children, the Apostles, the same great experience of the last supper on Holy Thursday. You see how the word of God becomes clear, loving and understandable. "I go" Jesus said "to prepare a place for you in Heaven."
I always maintained that we should not think of Heaven as a physical and material place, but it is a condition; is the vision of God, it is His contemplation, is the enjoyment of the manifestation, as far as possible and understandable to man, of the Trinitarian mystery and God's very life. For us men, as long as we are on Earth, this reality is unconceivable. On the Heaven we can only stutter something, something that is beautiful and is the manifestation of God, but we cannot go any further. Not even those, and St. Paul is among them, who have been able to have experience of Heaven, were able to describe it, because there are no suitable words or concepts that can make it understandable to us men. It is a reality that goes beyond the human experience and nature, so it is true that God does not manifest Himself to men for what He is until men live on Earth. God's manifestation takes place in Heaven, because only then the human nature is made by God capable of sustaining His vision and understand His life. You know in fact that God is showing to Marisa through images, never for what He is. Then the Heaven becomes a desirable, attractive reality we are longing for, as we recite in the prayer "Jesus, sweet master". Especially in times when human nature is subjected to the hard law of suffering, the Heaven becomes a desirable reality for those who are tired and exhausted. Some materialist philosophers believe that the Heaven has been invented by us Christians as a compensation for the sufferings that man has experienced during his earthly life. I said it already and I repeat it again, this is their concept of Heaven, for us Christians it is not just this. The Heaven goes beyond human nature, it is the most beautiful, high, intelligent, noble and perfect thing that there can be and we find it only in God. So isn’t it a spontaneous and legitimate desire to possess it? Thus it is not just an escape from the terrible earthly reality, but it is also an aim, a goal and the most important and greatest goals require a big effort and suffering to be achieved. In fact, Jesus said: "The Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force" (Mt 11:12), only the strong, the violent ones, or those who fully manifest their greatest strength, can conquer the Heaven and finally join with God; we too hope to be among them. The Heaven must always be our aim, the ultimate aim; we must live this expectation as Mary and the Apostles did, with the faith coming from Jesus. We must live this expectation with the help and grace coming from Jesus the Eucharist, even if sometimes we feel like collapsing, violently shaken by contrasting winds. Christ, who instituted the Eucharist and celebrated it with His Apostles, is inviting us to join this banquet to be then admitted to the eternal banquet, which is that of infinite joy with God.
Praised Jesus Christ.