Going home to Mom—and to our Heavenly Father

This is a translation of the Spanish homily I preached.
Ascension of the Lord, Year C: May 12, 2013
Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47; Eph 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. For 40 days after our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, he appeared alive to his disciples, spoke with them, ate with them, and unfolded to them the mysteries of what he had done and what he was about to do. And then came the day when he parted from them; when he was taken up to heaven and a cloud took him from their sight; and, as we heard in the first reading, the apostles were left looking intently at the sky—now alone.

So often our Lord’s Ascension is told from this perspective; and so we might fall into thinking of it as the day that Jesus left, and compare it to other leavings we have experienced, so that we think that he was here and now he is gone, leaving us alone. And the first thing we have to realize is that this is not so. A few weeks ago, our Holy Father Pope Francis spoke to us about this. He said:

Dear brothers and sisters, the Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us.

But we need to go still further than this. We need to see the Ascension not only from the perspective of the apostles, which was an experience of parting; but also to see it from another perspective, from the viewpoint of someone else, from the viewpoint of God the Father—which turns out to be a very different experience. In this way the eyes of our hearts can be enlightened so that we can better grasp the hope, the riches, the greatness that this mystery of the faith gives to us—this mystery of the Ascension of the Lord.

As it happens, this Sunday when we are celebrating the Ascension of the Lord in this diocese is also the Sunday when Mother’s Day is celebrated in the United States and in more than 80 other countries around the world. And so on this day we remember the many, many acts of love that our mothers have given to us, and other mothers that we know have given to their children. We remember, among many other things, the 9 months that she carried her child in pregnancy and then gave birth; then the constant care for the child, holding, feeding, washing, clothing, and comforting; care that changed over the years into many forms of teaching and guarding and guiding.

Because, of course, a mother is preparing each child to live as an adult—to have a family of their own, their own children, their own house and job, their own acts of love and service. A mother is preparing her child to go forth, often separate from her, and to live fully the life he or she has been given. But, of course, the expectation is not that the child will be gone forever, but will return often, on Mother’s Day and many other days, and communicating in many other ways, expressing appreciation and love, and continuing that loving relationship of mother and son or daughter. She prepares them to go forth, so that they can also return.

Something similar happened in God’s creation of the world. For God created in total freedom, with no necessity involved; in total love. He gave being to us, bringing us and all creation out of nothing. And of course he created us in our great variety, different from each other, each creature showing forth God’s own goodness and beauty in a different way. And it was very good.

Creation went forth from God—theologians call this in Latin the exitus. But here too there was supposed to be the return—the reditus. The whole universe was to return to God in love and thanksgiving. And who was supposed to be leading the universe in this reditus but human beings—not because we are the greatest of creatures, for those are the angels, but because we alone among creation combine both a rational soul and a material body and thus sum up the universe. So we were supposed to lead all creation back to the Father in love and thankfulness.

But did we do it? No! Instead we fell into sin and corrupted the universe. Imagine a Mother’s Day when no child came back—because the child was mired in a life of evil and suffering. Actually, as we know, some mothers don’t have to imagine that—they experience it; and of course it is something that causes them to suffer as well. This was the situation of God, looking at his beautiful creation twisted and enslaved by original sin.

And so God the Father sent forth God the Son: God the Father, who from all eternity had generated, had begotten the Son; God the Son, who “receives everything from the Father, and gives everything back to the Father in love.” (Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 16) The Father sent forth the Son to become one of us in the Incarnation, Jesus Christ; taking on our human nature; and taking up the leadership of the human race as the New Adam. For he, as true man, lived his earthly life as a perfect gift to the Father of obedience and love; and he brought that sacrifice to completion in his offering of himself upon the cross; and then he rose again to new life, transformed, opening to us the new, powerful reality of the Resurrection.

And do you see what comes next? Jesus Christ, God the Son, is then the New Adam at the head of a new humanity, leading the whole universe back to the Father. And what comes next is the reditus. From the perspective of the Father, the Ascension is not when Christ leaves; it is when the beloved Son came home, having faithfully, perfectly, accomplished the mission for which the Father had sent him forth. And he does not come home alone! He returns in the flesh, bringing with him the Father’s adoptive sons and daughters. And if a mother’s joy is increased when a child brings home also a spouse and grandchildren—all the more so does God the Father respond with indescribable joy at the countless faces that mirror the face of his Beloved Son: us, his beloved creation, now his redeemed, his adopted. (Fr. Jean Corbon, Wellspring of Worship, pp. 65-66)

This, then, is the joy of the Ascension. On this Mother’s Day, may we return to our mothers with love; on this Ascension Day, may we return also to our Father, our heavenly Father. Where our Lord Jesus has led, may we follow, in our hearts in this Mass, and with our entire lives, journeying back to the Father, full of love and joy.

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