Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in Year A 2020 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mat 28:16-20
24 May 2020
Go and make disciples of all the nations
Dear friends in Christ,
We have all been affected by the lockdown as a result of the pandemic. The preventative measures imposed by government such as social distancing, quarantine and isolation have elevated our sense of disconnection. We long for a return to normality, especially to be reconnected with the world around us, the world of familiarity, security and physical presence.
The early disciples of Jesus, too, were deprived of such a world in a dramatic way. They experienced chaos, disruption and profound disconnection as a result of those earth-shattering events in Jerusalem. Yet, they were called not to seek familiarity, security and presence.
Rather, they were called to carry on the Kingdom vision of Jesus and to enact the new future inaugurated by him. The Ascension that we celebrate today is a threshold moment. It marks the passing of the old and the emergence of the new. The disciples of Jesus empowered by His living spirit are to be the visible presence of God here on earth.
The Word of God focuses on the mission of the Church as the expression of the living power of the risen Jesus. The Christian story does not end with his earthly disappearance. The Ascension actually 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, and support for one another. We are to be a contrast society that challenges the inequality, greed and fear that this pandemic highlights.
Brothers and sisters,
The Good News invites us to live our threshold moments with faith and courage. As a Church, we are invited to live this time of uncertainty and chaos. We are commissioned to be the living presence of the risen Christ for others.
The lockdown period has served as a dramatic warning that we cannot simply limit the practice of our faith within the physical confines of our churches.
The history of Christianity is replete with the courage and creativity in responding to the signs of the times. Our forebears sought a new identity after every major threshold event, whether it was the banishment from the Jewish synagogues, the persecution by the imperial forces or later on the easy accommodation and corruption of the Gospel by the Holy Roman Empire.
In our own time, there is an opportune moment to seek a deeper and more authentic identity for Christianity in a world that is being radically transformed before our eyes. We are called to encounter the living Christ, therefore, beyond the known boundaries of our worldview and the safe moorings of the past. We meet Him as a community of seekers of truth, meaning and ultimate concern. More importantly, we witness to Him in our acts of solidarity, communion and service to the common good.
Brothers and sisters,
Let us not be afraid of embracing the new future inaugurated by Jesus. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream! Let us endeavour to follow the compassionate Jesus and strive to live up to the vision and mandate of Christ.
The Church is first and fore most an oasis of hope and Good News. We must therefore learn to be a soothing presence, a warmth of God’s care and a gentle reach of God’s hand, affirming, healing and uplifting.
May what we celebrate today serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love.
Today is also the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians who was a faithful servant and model disciple. May she intercede for us in this time of need just as she was the source of solace for early Catholic settlers. 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.