Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: Preach and Live Jesus Christ
The Gospel for this year’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension is taken from the canonical ending of the Gospel of Mark, Mark 16:9-20. Scripture scholars agree that the earliest editions of the Gospel of Mark ended with Mark 16:8. Immediately after Jesus’ death, His body was placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimethea. On the morning we call Easter three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body. But he is not there. A young man, an angel, sitting inside the tomb tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead as He said He would be. He instructs them to go tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. The women leave bewildered.
A new writer living in the first days of the Church adds today’s Gospel onto the Easter account. Now don’t be concerned. This is still declared to be under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit no matter who penned the details. Today’s Gospel presents how the disciples understood their mission and how we must the understand our mission, the mission of the Church.
Jesus tells the disciples to go and proclaim the Good News to the entire world. Those who believe it and accept baptism will be saved. Those who reject the Gospel will be condemned. Signs will accompany those who accept the faith. Demons will be expelled. People will speak in new languages, they will be able to handle serpents, drink deadly poisons without harm, and the sick upon whom they lay their hands will recover. Then Jesus was taken up into heaven, the Ascension. The Gospel of Mark says that the disciples went and preached everywhere. The Lord continued to work through them and confirm their message with miraculous signs.
The Lord ascends to the Father, but at the same time he is with his disciples, working through them and confirming his presence with miracles.
The early Church experienced these miracles in the disciples and apostles. At Pentecost the disciples spoke in such an ecstatic manner that people from various nations heard them speaking in their native languages. Even before the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus had given his disciples the power to expel demons and heal the sick. You can find this in Luke 10:17-18. In the Acts of the Apostles, that wonderful history of the first days of the Church, we hear about Ananais curing Paul of blindness by laying his hands on him. Acts 28:3-6 mentioned that when Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta, he cured many people by laying hands on them. On that island he picked up a piece of wood and a poisonous snake bit him. The people expected him to die immediately, instead he just shook the snake off into a fire. Certainly these are some of the events that the writer of today’s Gospel refers to.
This small band of disciples proclaimed Jesus Christ to the world. And Christ worked through them. He still does.
We proclaim the life of Jesus Christ, and He still works through us. Proclaiming the gospel means far more than teaching articles of faith. Proclaiming the Gospel means making the presence of Christ a reality to the world. This is the commission that we Christians have received from the Lord. We have received the Lord. He dwells within our bodies. We are called to nurture his presence and make his presence real for others. Jesus works through us attracting others to himself.
People do not become Christians through of the words of Christianity. People become Christians through the presence of Christ.
We cannot allow anything to destroy the presence of Christ within us. We can’t give ourselves over to the forces of evil that wage war on the Lord. The battles of the Book of Revelation are waged daily. The early Church believed that every Mass, every prayer, every work of charity, was a skirmish in the fight against evil.
The forces of evil continually find new ways to wage war. The Eighteenth Century saw this in the so-called Enlightenment when rationalism challenged faith. The Nineteenth Century saw the enemy embrace the industrial revolution as a way to turn people against each other, against God, and toward the worship of materialism. The first half of the Twentieth Century saw the battle change to the political front with the ideals of fascism and communism twisted to eliminate the presence of the Lord. The second half of the last century up to our present time has seen evil attack personal holiness through the media, the internet and other advancements of technology. The battle for the Gospel continues. The Lord fights with us. His power, his presence is greater than all evil, even the evil we devise. No serpent can destroy his life within us. The devil, like the serpent that bit Paul, is thrown into the fire by the Power of the Lord, the Holy Spirit.
“And signs like these shall accompany you....” Are miracles so extraordinary for the believers of Christ? No, not really. The miraculous is an everyday occurrence. We receive communion daily. What can be more miraculous than taking God within us? We pray the Mass daily. Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross is renewed.
Recently a man asked me if I believed in the power of the sacrament of the sick to heal people physically. I said, “Of course.” He asked me if I believed that I could heal people. I responded, “Absolutely not. But Jesus can and does through others.” When I asked the man why he had these questions he told me that his wife had received the sacrament of the sick and had been healed physically. Why is this so extraordinary? We live with miracles taking place all around us. I explained to the man that the Lord’s healing a person is not as extraordinary as His transforming bread and wine into His Body and blood.
We are surrounded by miracles. Our children are our miracles. These little images of a man and woman’s love for each other now loving them back make the sacrificial love of Jesus real for their parents. Many times parents will say, “My daughter, my son, said something extraordinary to me. I don’t know where their faith came from.” Their faith came from the Lord, working through them, and it came from the Lord working through you.
Jesus ascends into heaven, but he does not leave his disciples. The extraordinary has become ordinary. He is present in the proclamation of the Gospel, not just in words but in the lives of us who have been commissioned to Go out and preach with our lives that Jesus lives.