Over the past few months, the shared experience of pretty much the entire world has had a sure and palpable impact on the way we look at our world and the manner in which we relate to each other. Even our lexicon has expanded to include the expression “social distancing.” This refers to everything from keeping six feet away from others, wearing masks in public, and scrupulous washing of hands. Imagine: the most basic gesture of goodwill and civility, the handshake, has all but disappeared. At the same time, we are all conscious, both as human beings, and as Catholics, of the need to come together. Physical presence, touch, and public assemblies are integral to our development and well-being. Indeed, the Greek word for Church, ecclesia, means a gathering of believers “called together” by the Lord. Strictly speaking, it is impossible to be a Christian in isolation. We experience the presence of God through his word, the sacraments, and each other. With that we turn to the readings.
Today’s Scriptures give us, really, two accounts of the same event, one from the Acts of the Apostles, the other, from St. Matthew’s Gospel. In both cases, Our Lord commissions the apostles to go to the whole world, and witness to him and to the kingdom of God. St. Matthew adds that they are to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians adds that followers of Christ act by the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us knowledge of Christ.
In addition to the message of the Scriptures, I’d also like to call your attention to the prayer of the Church for Ascension Thursday. In a few moments as we prepare the gifts for consecration, the Church will pray that Jesus ascended, “not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.” What a strange paradox to think that, by returning to heaven, Our Lord, instead of distancing, draws us even closer to himself, and so guide us to our true, heavenly home.
Friends, our faith emphasizes and celebrates the entire mystery of the Incarnation, that is, the coming of God in the flesh. Jesus was not simply a phantom, a disguise of God. No: he is true God and true Man. In the forty days between his resurrection and ascension, the Lord appeared to his disciples in his glorified body. But notice: Jesus ate with them, he let them touch him, and he spoke with them. There is continuity between our existence here below and what we hope one day to enjoy in heaven. We human beings are not simply our bodies, but our bodies are the means through which we live, and learn, and love. Our Catechism states: Jesus’ “apparition [to his disciples] ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory…”
Friends, you and I are invited to share the glory of Christ in Heaven. We long to gather together in the flesh, as well we should. In the meantime, let us pray to be united in heart and mind.