Thursday, June 28, 2012

In Christ We Can Be In Heaven by Love

Homily for Ascension Thursday, 2012

The sense that many of us might have in listening to the end of the reading today is one of departure, of goodbye, of loss.  Jesus rises up into the clouds after giving parting instructions to his disciples. 
And yet the Church teaches us on this day not to see the mystery of the Ascension so much as that of a departure as that of an arrival.  An arrival of the body of Christ, the humanity of Christ, in heaven.  And therefore an opportunity to reflect on our heavenly identity, the identity that we share as members of his body.

St. Augustine began his Ascension homily with these words: “Today our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him.”
“For,” he said, “just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.”

We already are in heaven?
I think of some of our parishioners who are suffering with various illnesses, or those who are out straight juggling a million things, or are working constantly – more than they want to – worried about finances.  All of the challenges of life in this world.  And yet St. Augustine says that we are already in heaven. 

But his explanation on this day, I think, can be an inspiration to us.  Listen to what he says:
“Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear.  He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.  Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him?  While in heaven he is also with us; and we, while on earth are with him.  He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love.  We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.”

“In him, we can be in heaven by love.”
Jesus ascended into heaven today by the power that he has as God, St. Augustine tells us.
But we, with God’s grace, are given the mysterious and beautiful ability to ascend to heaven through our love.

That’s something to get your mind around – to think of your life as an ascension – a gradual attainment of heaven, a journey toward final union with God.  But that is God’s hope for each of us – that we, who are members of Jesus’ body, are a part of the ascension that we celebrate today.  That we are joined with countless others to Christ, our head, as he goes home to meet the Father.  That each day, through lives of generous service to God and neighbor, we ascend a little more, rise a little more to the full stature of our calling.

St. Paul encourages us in our work, as he encouraged the first Christians so many centuries ago:  “Brothers and sisters, I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call.”

“In Christ, we can be in heaven by love.”  We all seek heaven – seek intimacy with God.  We seek peace and joy and fulfillment.  St. Augustine also said “Our souls are restless until they rest in you.”  That restlessness can be overpowering sometimes when we feel so limited or overwhelmed by the circumstances of daily life.  And so today is a day to celebrate because Christ has revealed to us that this life need not be merely a restless wait for the return of our savior.  That we can already join him as he ascends to the Father.  When we embrace the pathway of the cross, the pathway of sacrificial love, we are drawn nearer to him and so heaven draws nearer to us.

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