"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
June 5: Ascension Sunday
• Acts 1:1-11
Awestruck by the Ascension the disciples must be prodded by “two men in white garments” (angels?) to get on with the mission entrusted to them.
In the second reading, St. Paul prays that we may “know the hope of Christ’s calling and the riches of his glory.” The “hope of glory” for which Paul prays is rooted in the lordship of Christ, who is “seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority.”
Christ’s presence in heaven does not mean that he’s far away. He is very much present—in the Church, as this week’s Gospel makes clear. In the Church, especially in her liturgy, the divine glory shines forth.
Key moments in Jesus’ ministry occur on mountains: the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, Calvary and, in this week’s Gospel, in Galilee.
Jesus’ final appearance to his disciples culminates with the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” His promise to “be with them always” confirms what was revealed to Joseph: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us’” (Mt 1:23).
In his Ascension Jesus does not “go away” but rather enters into a higher mode of existence in which he is present in much deeper way.
Key verse: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us’” (Nos. 659, 661).
Pope Benedict XVI: “With these words, faith in Jesus’ return is strengthened, but at the same time it is stressed once more that the disciples are not to gaze into heaven or to know times and seasons, which are concealed in the mystery of God. Their task at this moment is to proclaim to the ends of the earth their witness to Christ” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” Vol. 2).
Life application: The Ascension of Jesus marks the beginning of a new chapter in salvation history. Through the Church, which is his body, Christ is present to the world in new way. Next week, we’ll hear how the Holy Spirit filled the disciples as wind fills a sail, empowering them to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Christ’s work of salvation has been completed. Death has been conquered, man is free and the new creation has begun. The effect of his redemptive sacrifice must now spread to the whole world.
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