Fr Frank’s Homily – 29 May 2022

By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 28 May 2022
The fresco of Ascension of Jesus in side apse of church kostel Svatého Václava by S. G. Rudl (1900). Image: Shutterstock.


Homily for the Ascension

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47: Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53

29 May 2022


Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, marking what Luke describes as the end of the 40 days when the risen Jesus was experienced by the apostles being in his midst.  Just as Jesus had spent 40 days in the desert, filled with the Holy Spirit and being tempted before commencing his Galilean ministry, so too he spent 40 days after his public ministry and death telling the apostles about the kingdom of God.  These bookends provide the focus for the relevance of Jesus’ life for us as believers.

Listen at

In the end, he was lifted up with a cloud taking him from their sight.  Apostles well-schooled in Judaism would have seen ready parallels with Moses and Elijah.  Then two men in white appear, talking to the apostles, just as there were two men who appeared at the transfiguration talking to Jesus, and they were Moses and Elijah; and just as there were two men in brilliant clothes who appeared to the women at the tomb.  At the tomb, the two men asked, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?’  At the Ascension, the two men ask, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky?’  The implication each time is that people are looking in the wrong place.  At the tomb, the women are told, ‘He is not here; he is risen.’  At the Ascension, the apostles are told, ‘Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’

We Christians are not to spend our time looking among the dead for one who is alive, nor are we to stand idle looking into the sky.  We are commissioned to look among the living for the one who is forever in our midst, and we are commissioned to get to work proclaiming the good news, rather than standing gob-smacked by the prospect of eternal life in the hereafter.  The scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson tells us: ‘The empty-tomb account looks backward to the ministry of Jesus. The ascension account, in turn, looks forward to the ministry of his successors.  The two men therefore now confirm that Jesus has ascended and that the disciples have witnessed it.  But they are not to stand there, gazing, for the presence of Jesus will be with them precisely in the spiritual outpouring they are about to experience.  It is for them to return to the city to be empowered for their prophetic witness.’[1]

Jesus’ final observation to the apostles in Luke/Acts is the declaration: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.’

Being something of a political tragic, I was watching the ABC Insiders program last Sunday, the morning after the nation-changing federal election.  The last segment on the program is always entitled ‘Final Observations’.  Last Sunday the last of the commentators to offer a final observation was Katharine Murphy who said:

‘I just want to pay tribute to my friend and mentor Caroline Jones.  She died unexpectedly earlier in the week.  I just want to read out the last letter that she sent me and to a group of other women who she mentored:  “Dear young wonder women,  Thank you all for all that you do to support and encourage other women.  With love to you all, wishing you all a happy International Women’s Day, in the hope that 2022 will be a year in which we make great progress in the cause of gender equality, equal pay, and the respect, safety and well being and advancement of all the women in the world.”’[2]

Caroline Jones was one of those contemporary apostles who did not stand around looking into the sky.  She was a witness to the saving and transforming power of her risen Lord.  She ventured well beyond safe church spaces, indeed to the ends of the earth, being ever attentive to people’s stories and ever respectful of the storytellers’ reflections on their experiences.  She not only dreamt of and prayed for the kingdom to come.  She worked persistently for the breaking in of that kingdom here and now.  She held the highest ideals and practised the virtues in the most worldly of places, including the mass media.

Last Tuesday night, the large St Mary’s Church at North Sydney was filled to capacity to celebrate the the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Night of Spirituality, an initiative co-founded by Caroline and Geraldine Doogue.  Caroline was to speak.  The congregation was devastated by her sudden death just a few days before.  Geraldine recalled one of Caroline’s favourite sayings: ‘There’s a special place in heaven for women who help other women.’  Everyone in that church, male and female, joyfully acclaimed that place for Caroline.

Caroline’s authentic life helped so many find meaning and spirituality in everyday life.  She counted herself blessed to have received the revelation as did the apostles at the Ascension, and she counted herself even more blessed to have received the Holy Spirit and to have had the opportunity to give witness by her life to the very ends of the earth.  She was one who always returned to the city empowered for prophetic witness.  May she rest in peace.

All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.

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

God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.

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

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 31–32.

[2] See at 1:23:26-

Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). He has been appointed a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.



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