"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.
May 20, 2012: Ascension Sunday
• Acts 1:1-11
Overview: This week’s first reading from Acts nicely complements the Gospel in which the missionary mandate to preach the Gospel accompanies the Ascension. The cloud into which Jesus vanishes represents the divine presence, reminding us of Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai, the vision of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13 and, of course, the Transfiguration. Jesus’ disappearance doesn’t mean that he’s gone. It means that he has entered into a higher mode of existence and is thereby present to the Church in a new way. He may be invisible, but he’s still present, as he said at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In our second reading Paul prays that the “eyes of your hearts may be enlightened” so you might know what is your hope. Hope, one of the theological virtues, is grounded in the fact that Christ reigns “above every principality, authority, power and dominion.” Those who believe in Christ and the things of heaven have hope because their minds are set on the things that are above, “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1-2).
In this week’s Gospel Jesus’ ascension is accompanied by the commandment to “proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” His ascension marks the end of his earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church’s mission to evangelize. The missionary imperative was explained in Vatican II’s Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (“Ad Gentes”), which said, “Driven by the inner necessity of her own catholicity, and obeying the mandate of her founder the Church strives ever to proclaim the Gospel to all men. The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature.”
Key verse: “The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 17:18).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom, the fulfillment of the prophet Daniel’s vision concerning the Son of man. After this event the Apostles became witnesses of the ‘kingdom (that) will have no end’” (No. 664).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Is he, the risen Lord, now ‘exalted at the right hand of God’ not for that reason completely absent? The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space. Hence he has not ‘gone away’ but now and forever by God’s own power is present with us and for us” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” Vol. 2).
Application: Christ’s ascension opens up to us new horizons of existence, reminding us that there’s more to life than meets the eye. The ascension also reminds us that the Lord’s work isn’t finished. He has commissioned us to spread the Gospel wherever we are so that the paschal mystery, which transcends time and space, is available to everyone. In a highly secular world where things like money, pleasure, prestige, etc., can drag us down and blind us to the things of heaven, the Ascension awakens hope and instills a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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