“Reasons to be Cheerful: One, Two, Three” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, May 12, 204

When I came over from England to live here in Ottawa, I wasn’t initially assigned a parish, so I had a lot of free time to help out in different parishes, as well as saying Mass in the prison here in Ottawa.  I remember being asked to celebrate Mass one Sunday at the Croatian parish. It so happened that that day was also the feast of the Ascension, as well as Mother’s Day, plus I was asked to confer confirmation on a few of the young people in the parish. On top of all that, it was also the feast day of the particular saint the parish was named after. Try to get all of that into one homily! At least today, I only have to link the Ascension of the Lord with Mother’s Day. All our confirmations were carried out last weekend by Bishop Yvan Mathieu, who did an absolutely superb job, and even managed to throw in a mention of St. Philip, whose feast day was last Friday.

 I’ll be going off on holiday in a few weeks’ time to visit my family in England. I’m looking forward to seeing them again, as I wasn’t able to travel last year, due to my heart surgery. I assume my siblings are looking forward to seeing me as well, at least I hope so. I would be seriously ticked off if I was to find out,  when I return back to Ottawa, that, the minute I departed,  they all went off to have a party to celebrate my leaving  them. But that, believe it or not, is what the apostles did, after Jesus had said goodbye to them and ascended back to his Father’s right hand side in heaven. The apostles, we are told at the end of Luke’s gospel, when Jesus left them and ascended to heaven “returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24: 52). Imagine! These so-called friends of Jesus, no sooner had he left them, then they went to the temple and praised God!

What is going on here? 

Why are the apostles so happy that Jesus has gone away from them into heaven?  They are now left on their own, to put into action the program Jesus had left them in our first reading from Acts of the Apostles: that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). You would think that they would be very sorrowful, and nervous, instead of joyful, wouldn’t you? 

In my earlier years, there was a pop song, that was wildly popular, entitled “Reasons to be cheerful, 1, 2, 3”. Forgive me, brothers and sisters, but I am going to give you 3 reasons why the apostles were so cheerful that Jesus had left them and gone into heaven. And also, why you and I can be cheerful also.

First reason. Although Jesus was leaving them, he would still be staying with them. At the end of our gospel today, we are told that, after Jesus ascended up to heaven, that, as the apostles started going about preaching the gospel, the Lord “worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it”. Remember that, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sent out the apostles to “make disciples of all nations”, but ended by telling them “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). For good measure, in John’s gospel, Jesus promises his apostles: “I will not leave you orphans; I am coming to you . . . I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. If you love me, my Father will love you and we will come to you and make our home with you” (John 14: 18, 23).

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? But hold on, there is more.

Second reason to celebrate over Jesus’ departure and ascension into heaven. Although Jesus was leaving the apostles, he was taking them with him. How could that possibly be? Well, when Jesus was still with the apostles, he promised them: “I am going now to prepare a place in my Father’s house, and when it is done, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14: 3). That’s a nice, consoling thought, isn’t it, brothers and sisters? I quote that a lot at funerals, to give some comfort to the grieving family, to the effect that their deceased loved one was taken up by Jesus to the place in heaven that he had already prepared for them, and they would be seeing them at the end of their life when Jesus would be coming to bring them along to the place he has prepared for them also. But there is a reality even more wonderful than that. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, writes: “God has made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-6). In other words, and please follow me closely here, brothers and sisters, in God’s mind’s eye, he who is outside time and space, he sees us already seated with him in heaven. He sees us where he wants us to be at the end of our lives, where he always intended us to be, and where he is always working with his Son to bring us there. How does that strike you? Pretty great, eh?

And finally, the third reason to be cheerful today. Even though Jesus is no longer physically present on earth is, nonetheless, he remains sacramentally present with us, in the great sacrament of the Eucharist. Recall what our Catholic faith teaches us about the Mass. During the liturgy, through the words and actions of the priest, at the consecration, Jesus becomes present to us, body blood soul and divinity, in and through the elements of bread and wine. When we take that bread and wine into us, Jesus enters us and fills us with himself. Every time we come to mass and take the chalice and/or the host we come into instant communion with Jesus. The same is true of the other sacraments: it is Christ himself who baptizes, confirms, forgives, anoints us. Jesus is only ever a church away from us.

So, how is this incredible truth possible? 

How does Jesus get to leave us, but still remain with us? How do we get to leave Jesus, but still remain with him? How does Jesus make himself sacramentally and spiritually present and available to us, even though he is now physically absent from us? The answer to all these questions, brothers and sisters, and the reason we can be cheerful today on Jesus’ departure from the earth can be summed up in three words: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the continued presence of Jesus (and the Father) within us, The Spirit raises us up with Jesus and seats us spiritually beside him (and the Father) in heaven. The Spirit of God changes the bread and wine, at the priest’s words of consecration at Mass, into the Body and Blood of Jesus. In the Mass, the Spirit gives us Jesus, so that Jesus can then give us his Spirit. And so, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to do with us, what our gospel today says he did with the apostles: he accompanies us and works with and through us to bring the message of salvation to the world. 

Do you see why we must move on, and do move on, from here to the next step on the road to salvation- the celebration of the feast of Pentecost next week? We should not be like the apostles in our first reading today, staring up to heaven, wishing that Jesus would come back soon. Through the Holy Spirit he is continually with us and within us, and, if we want more communion with him, we only have to ask the Spirit to fill us up with the divine life of Jesus. And so let us do that now. By the way, what is the link between the Ascension and Mother’s Day? Simple. This is the month of May, the month of Mary. Mary is our spiritual mother. She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. We can ask her to intercede for us with her spouse, the Holy Spirit, and with her Son, Jesus, to fill us with the life of Jesus in the Spirit, so that we can get on with the tasks and mission God has given each of us, knowing that Jesus is taking care of business in heaven, preparing a place for us to come to when our earthly race is run.