Fr Frank’s Homily – 21 May 2023

By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 21 May 2023
Young pilgrims are seen carrying a cross during Catholic Youth Parramatta's Good Friday Night Walk in April 2023. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


Homily for The Solemnity of The Ascension of the Lord, Year A

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46 (47):2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

21 May 2023


On this Feast of the Ascension, we hear readings from Luke (in Acts) and Matthew about the disciples’ last sightings of Jesus. As with all resurrection accounts, there is no consistency in what is actually reported. In Matthew’s gospel, the disciples have followed Jesus’ directions and gone to a certain mountain in Galilee. Scripture scholar Daniel Harrington tells us, “There is a longstanding grammatical debate about whether all of the eleven disciples both paid Jesus homage and doubted, or some paid homage and others doubted. From a grammatical perspective it would appear that some worshipped Jesus and others doubted him”.[1] For most of us, there are times when we pay homage, and other times when we doubt. The disciples are therefore representative of us in both phases of our faith journey.


Then comes the commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Daniel Harrington says: “If the disciples are commissioned to make disciples of ‘all the Gentiles,’ the great commission may well have also carried a very concrete message to the Matthean community. It would have had the function of urging a largely Jewish-Christian group to seek new members not so much from their fellow Jews as from non-Jews. The gospel, which was preached first to Jews, is now to be opened up to non-Jews. Therefore, the great commission may mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Matthean community.”[2]

Whether we be doubters or fervent devotees, we are commissioned to descend the mountain, to go forth and to proclaim the Good News to those who are not presently inside our tent. We are to go and make disciples of those who are ‘other’, those who are different from us.

But practically, what does this mean for us in our contemporary situation where belief in God is on the wane, where organised religion is in decline, where tolerance amongst religions is highly prized, and where the Catholic Church is unattractive to those who have little time for tradition, authority, institutions, and hierarchy?

In January this year, Pope Francis commenced a series of talks on evangelisation when he said that “being missionary, being apostolic, evangelising, is not the same as proselytising.[3]” Most of us have no interest in proselytising, and nor should we. We are not commissioned to go forth and ram some Christian message down people’s throats. But what about evangelising? Rather than being advocates, we are witnesses. We witness to the faith, hope and love at work in us and in our Christian community. As Francis says, “It does not begin by trying to convince others, not to convince: but by bearing witness every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up. And it is this beauty, communicating this beauty, that will convince people — not communicating ourselves but the Lord himself. We are the ones who proclaim the Lord. We do not proclaim ourselves, we do not proclaim a political party, an ideology. No: we proclaim Jesus. We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, without convincing them but allowing the Lord to do the convincing.”

Francis reminds us that this sort of evangelisation is not just good for those others being evangelised. It is good for us who are the evangelisers. For, “when Christian life loses sight of the horizon of evangelisation, the horizon of proclamation, it grows sick: it closes in on itself, it becomes self-referential, it becomes atrophied. Without apostolic zeal, faith withers. Mission, on the other hand, is the oxygen of Christian life: it invigorates and purifies it.”

If we are honest with ourselves, we are not wanting, hoping or expecting all those who are other to become Christians, let alone Catholics. We are wanting to contribute to the human flourishing of all our neighbours by professing our faith and respecting theirs whatever it may be.

Two weeks ago, Francis gave an impromptu speech to an Argentinian Congress on Inter-Religious Dialogue. With one of those simple images he uses, he described how inter-religious dialogue is so often not a dialogue at all. It is a pantomime where each interlocutor is simply looking in the mirror talking to themselves in their own religious language. What’s needed is for everyone to step away from their own mirror and look at the common reality around them, and then to dialogue together with outstretched hands. He said, “We dialogue, we dialogue, each one tells his experience, which is an experience of God. And God manifests himself in all cultures, in all, in the way of that culture, he manifests himself in the peoples who have walked along a path of history in a different way, to peoples who have walked in another way, but it is the same God. And he who is the Father of all leads us to dialogue.” [4]

Francis then told his fellow Argentinians about a meeting the previous day when he met with a group of Polish bishops and Polish evangelicals. “We are not isolated, we are not islands.” He condemned those who say: “My Church is the only one, the true one, you are second or fourth rate.”

Francis said, “I am convinced that the path I am following is the one that God wants to be true for me. And as when I speak of my religious confession, for consistency I say, ‘No, this is the true one’, but I respect the way of others who also say: ‘This is the true one’. And this is not relativism, it is respect, respect, respect and coexistence.”

At the recent coronation of King Charles III, the Anglicans went to great lengths to include other Christian denominations in the church service. They then went one step further. At the end of the procession out of Westminster Abbey, King Charles received a greeting by leaders and representatives from other faith communities (Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist). As the King stood before the leaders and representatives of these diverse faith communities, they delivered the following greeting in unison: “Your Majesty, as neighbours in faith, we acknowledge the value of public service. We unite with people of all faiths and beliefs in thanksgiving, and in service with you for the common good.” [5]

We are all called to be good neighbours in faith contributing to the common good. But we Christians who are good neighbours are to maintain an eye on the possibility, when invited, of making disciples of our neighbours, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded us.  “Mission is the oxygen of Christian life: it invigorates and purifies it.”

God mounts the throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.

For king of all the earth is God;

sing hymns of praise.

God reigns over the nations,

God sits upon the holy throne.


God mounts the throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord.


Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). 


[1] Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007), 414.

[2] Ibid, 416.

[3] Pope Francis, General Audience, 11 January 2023, available at

[4] Discurso del Papa Francisco a los participantes en un congreso organizado
por el instituto de diálogo interreligioso (Argentina) Viernes, 5 May 2023, available at

[5] See


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