Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass of the Ascension of the Lord Year B 2021 at St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-13; Mark 16:19-20
16 May 2021
Commissioned to enliven the world with the Good News
Dear friends in Christ,
“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation”. With these parting words, Jesus entrusted to His disciples the mission of transforming the world according to the will of God. The Ascension that we celebrate today is a threshold moment. It marked the end of the earthly mission of Jesus and the beginning of ours. We, His disciples empowered by His living spirit are to be the visible presence of God here on earth. We are what is left of the Gospel.
Scripture today describes the event in ways that are foreign to us. The ancients understood God to dwell on the heights. He spoke to Moses for instance on Mount Sinai. The Psalms describe him as riding on the clouds in order to watch over the earth. By ascending, Jesus was understood to reclaim His divine status. Like the Father-God who rides on the wind and the clouds, Jesus is now in a position to see, to care, to intervene, to heal, to forgive and to liberate. He is now in a position to enforce and ensure the reign of divine justice in the world.
What matters is that the Good News story does not end with His earthly disappearance. The Ascension marks the point at which the disciples must take up the mission begun by Jesus. There can be no idle looking up at the sky. Rather, as the two angelic messengers affirm, the time has come for them to go forth as witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Like the angels in the empty tomb story, they commanded the disciples to seek and to be the presence of Jesus beyond all human boundaries.
This command is repeated in the Gospel. The risen Christ commissions the disciples to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. What does it mean to be the people of Good News? We find the answer when we look at the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. To be the people of Good News means to form a community of faith, hope and love.
We are to be a society, which is counter-cultural or even antithetical to the dominant social system. We are called to practice an ethic of concern, care, support for one another and for the long-term wellbeing of God’s beautiful world. The Christian way of living cannot be other than the way shown in Jesus’ radical simplicity, solidarity and communion with God’s people and creation.
It is a daunting task. But we are inspired by the example of the early Christian community. We are told that it was poorly resourced, few in numbers, marginalised by the dominant society and persecuted by the power that be. Yet the fledgling Church was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they showed to the world what it was like to be a force for social transformation. In the face of the ruthless imperial system, they formed an alternative society under God’s rule, a community of radical inclusivity, hospitality and justice.
We are called to follow their example and become the mirror of the Gospel for the society in which we live. If we truly emulate Jesus’ unashamed solidarity with the oppressed, we cannot be comfortable with the punitive policy on refugees or the plight of Rohingyas, Palestinians, West Papuans and other minority groups around the world. If we pursue social justice and concern for God’s creation in the name of the Kingdom, we cannot ignore the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth. In the world where people are motivated by short-term gains, Christians work on a long-term plan for a shared destiny of hope, communion and life for all. This is the legacy of Jesus and His Gospel.
It is a paradox that the Ascension was the trigger event for the undertaking of this legacy. It fortified the Church’s commitment to be the visible presence of Jesus. It launched the Christian movement as a force to be reckoned within the world, a force not to dominate but to serve, not to rule but to transform from within. It made them realise that if the world had any chance of a new and better future, they would have to be the witnesses to Jesus, His ministry of healing, His outreach of compassion, His courage in standing with the outcast, His audacity in overcoming entrenched attitudes of exclusion and his work for justice.
Brothers and sisters,
Let us not be afraid of embracing and enacting the new future inaugurated by Jesus. Let us be resolute in our commitment to be the sign of God’s Kingdom and the movement for transformation. St Paul reminds us in the second reading that the purpose of the Christian life is not an escape from this world but a building up of the Body of Christ to full realisation through our God-given gifts. Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time.