Ascension Thursday
(Forty Days after Easter,
Holy Day of Obligation)

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The Ascension of Christ - by Pietro PERUGINO - from Musée Municipal des Beaux-Arts, Lyon


Acts 1, 1-11

In my first account, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up to Heaven, having first instructed the Apostles He had chosen through the Holy Spirit. In the time after His suffering He showed them in many convincing ways that He was alive, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking to them about the reign of God. On one occasion when He met with them, He told them not to leave Jerusalem:

"Wait, rather, for the fulfillment of My Father's promise, of which you have heard Me speak. John baptized with water, but within a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

While they were with Him they asked, "Lord, are You going to restore the rule to Israel now?"

His answer was: "The exact time it is not yours to know. The Father has reserved that to Himself. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth."

No sooner had He said this than He was lifted up before their eyes in a cloud which took Him from their sight.

They were still gazing up into the heavens when two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking up at the skies? This Jesus Who has been taken from you will return, just as you saw Him go up into the heavens."



Ascension of the Lord

by Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua

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Today, in our minds and hearts, let us place ourselves on the Mount of Olives with Mary, the Mother of God, with the Eleven Apostles, the holy women and the crowd of disciples. The Risen Christ is in their midst. The past forty (40) days have been filled with many emotions. They saw Jesus crucified. They saw their beloved Master die a horrible death. They watched from a distance as His body was placed in a tomb. Their hearts were crushed and they felt all their hopes and dreams slip away.

On the third day, Easter Sunday, at various times during the day, they suddenly saw Him alive. Scripture tells us of His appearance to Mary Magdalene and the holy women. We also are informed of His appearance to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The Gospels also relate how Jesus appeared to all the Apostles at various times over forty (40) days. Each of these accounts explains the overwhelming joy which the disciples felt at seeing Jesus. And now, we are invited to join them as Jesus appears a final time and is taken up in glory to take His place at the right hand of the Father . We can imagine their awe, their joy and wonderment as Christ ascends into Heaven. What an exhilarating happiness they had to feel watching Christ go up to Heaven! We almost can feel their emotional "high".

Now, think for a moment what they felt when they realized that Jesus had left them. They would see Him no longer. Not until they would join Him in Heaven . Suddenly, they had to feel a certain sadness, maybe even a little lonely. How heavy their hearts must have been! But, before He ascended, Jesus assured them that He would be with them and He gave them an enormous task to do: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel!" The apostles were not to go home defeated. Their mission was only beginning. They were to be filled with the Holy Spirit, on fire with Christ's love, and they were to tell the world about Jesus. And they were to remember that Jesus would be with them always.

Scripture, Tradition and History tell us of what the Apostles, this small band of simple, uneducated men, were able to accomplish. They entered the arena of pagan gods and proclaimed One (1) True God in Three (3) Divine Persons. They preached to an ancient world immersed in debauchery of every sort and conquered it with a code of moral teachings that would change the way people lived. They faced violent, bloodthirsty crowds and offered their lives, willingly, because they loved Christ. Their courage changed hearts. Their faith changed the world. They accomplished all this because Jesus was with them.

Today, we also find ourselves in the Church of the Apparitions, this beautiful shrine erected to honor Our Lady of Fatima. The Church's celebration of Our Lord's Ascension is complemented by the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate on August 15th. Mary was the first and closest disciple of Jesus. She gave Him life. She watched Him grow. She quietly followed Him. She courageously and steadfastly united herself to the sufferings of Christ. She rejoiced in the Resurrection of her Son. And, when Mary's life on earth ended, she was taken up to Heaven, body and soul, to share forever in the glory of Her Triumphant Son.

In the glory of Heaven, Mary has been given a new role. She is the Mother of the Church. She is a compassionate Advocate who prays to her Beloved Son for all her children on earth. Mary reminds us that where she is, in eternal glory with Jesus, we too should long to be. Mary also reminds us of the love which Christ has for us and, as a loving mother, Mary calls us to conversion.

fatima7.jpg (10381 bytes) Here, at Fatima, Mary appeared to three shepherd children. Young and innocent, these three witnesses were entrusted with a mission from Our Blessed Mother to announce the need to do penance and to pray for the conversion of sinners. At first, very few believed that the children saw the Mother of God. Soon, however, because of the conviction and honesty of the children, many people would come to believe. As a result, devotion to Our Lady of Fatima has spread throughout the world. This shrine is one of the world’s most popular places of pilgrimage and, because of the message of the children, many people daily pray the Rosary. Most importantly, however, the message of Our Lady at Fatima was a reminder of the love and mercy of Our Heavenly Father and a call to conversion: to turn away from sin and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was the first message of Jesus when He began His Public Life. This was the first message of Peter and the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday. This is the message which the Church has preached for 2000 years. Sometimes, however, it takes a gentle reminder from Our Holy Mother for us to remember that we are children of God and that we must be converted and renewed each day as we continue our daily pilgrimage to Heaven.

Our celebration today of the Ascension of the Lord is to help us remain focused on Christ and to long to be where He is. It is most appropriate that we have the opportunity to celebrate this solemnity here in this shrine because Our Lady's appearance at Fatima was to point all humanity to Christ in the glory of Heaven. Today we also recall what the Apostles accomplished at Our Lord's command. During our visit to Fatima, we recall what three little children were able to accomplish at Our Lady's request.

Now, we must consider how we, with the zeal of the Apostles and the example of the children, can become messengers of the Good News. In our own daily lives, we must remain focused on Christ in Heaven. In our own lives, we must experience conversion so that we may point the way to others so that they, too, will look above and be converted to Christ. This is how we are participants in the work of the New Evangelization. By rekindling within ourselves a greater desire to live and share our faith, by daily asking Jesus to renew us, we will be to others "signs of conversion" who show others the way. With Our Lady to guide us, to protect us and to pray for us, we will help others to look above and long to live forever with Christ in the glory of Heaven.


Papal Homily


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