Fr Frank’s Homily for the Ascension of the Lord Year B

By Fr Frank Brennan SJ, 11 May 2024
'Ascension' by Francisco Camilo (1615-1673). Image: Wikimedia Commons


Homily for the Ascension of the Lord, Year B and Mother’s Day

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46(47):2-3,6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

12 May 2024


Remember the days when we celebrated the feast of the Ascension on a Thursday, and it was a holy day of obligation. That’s because the Thursday marked the 40 days from Easter and we’re told in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus “had shown himself alive to them after the passion by many demonstrations: for 40 days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the Kingdom of God”. The author of Acts is also the author of Luke’s gospel who tells us that Jesus, prior to his public ministry, went into the desert for 40 days where he was tempted. 40 is a key biblical number. You will recall that Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Sinai at the time he was receiving the stone tablets which contained the law and the commandments. The prophet Elijah walked for 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, the mountain of God, after receiving the life giving vision which gave him new hope after he had declared: “Oh Lord I have had enough; take my life.  I am no better than my ancestors”. And of course the chosen people spent 40 years in the desert prior to their entry to the promised land.


In biblical terms, 40 days is time enough for God’s revelation whether it be to Moses, Elijah, Jesus, or those who are left standing looking into the sky at the Ascension. Nothing is to be lost by celebrating the feast of the Ascension on the following Sunday rather than the Thursday provided we recall the symbolic significance of 40.

This year on this feast of the Ascension, we are also celebrating Mother’s Day. At first, I viewed such a joint celebration as a distraction, especially as the Ascension event as described by Luke involved only male apostles. And the reader is left thinking that Jesus appeared only to men during the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.

But that is not the case. And Luke’s omission of the women jarred with me. I took up a book edited by Elizabeth A Johnson entitled The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the global voices of women. And without apology, I am going to quote extensively from some of these women writers.  It’s time to hear the voices of women.

According to the gospels of John, Matthew and Mark, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. Often that initial appearance of Jesus gets overlooked as being simply a private affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It’s as if the appearances which make a real difference commence with the later appearances to Peter and his companions. Scripture scholar Sandra Schneiders says: “In the history of exegesis (in contrast to the liturgy, which celebrates Mary Magdalene as ‘apostle to the apostles’), the [appearance] to Mary Magdalene has been consistently trivialised as a ‘private”’, that is, unofficial event without ecclesial significance. The only grounds for such a position, which is clearly contrary to the evidence of the text, is the longstanding and unjustified assumption that all of the early Christian communities shared the Jewish proscription of testimony given by women.”[1]

Schneiders goes on to say: “The Mary Magdalene material in the fourth gospel is perhaps the most important indication we have of the Gospel perspective on the role of women in the Christian community. It shows us quite clearly that, in at least one of the first Christian communities, a woman was regarded as the primary witness to the paschal mystery, the guarantee of the Apostolic tradition. Her claim to apostleship is equal in every respect to both Peter’s and Paul’s, and we know more about her exercise of her vocation than we do about most members of the Twelve. Unlike Peter, she was not unfaithful to Jesus during the passion, and, unlike Paul, she never persecuted Christ in his members. But, like both, she saw the risen Lord, received directly from him the commission to preach the gospel, and carried out that commission faithfully and effectively.”[2]

So, on this feast of the Ascension which also happens to be Mother’s Day, lets interpolate into the text of the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus had indeed appeared upon his resurrection both to men and women, and let’s acknowledge that the majority of scriptural texts state that the all important first appearance was to a woman. For many of us, it has been a woman, our mother, who was the first apostle to introduce us to the Risen Jesus, and for that we give thanks today.

Elizabeth A Johnson highlights why it is important for us, and I dare say particularly for male clerics, to acknowledge that our Christology can often be used to oppress women. She explains it in this way: “The difficulty resides in the fact that as a historical human being Jesus is located toward the male end of the spectrum of sexuality, rather than the female. In itself, this should not pose a problem. But theology has long worked with a philosophy of hierarchical dualism, adopted when early Christianity encountered the Hellenistic world. This worldview sees the man as the normative sex of the human species, representing the fullness of human potential, whereas the woman by nature is either defective physically, morally, and mentally, or ‘other’ because of her presumed feminine genius. When interpreted within this framework, the incarnation of the Logos of God in a male human being is taken to endorse the superiority of men over women. Subliminally it even points to the maleness of God, in forgetfulness of divine incomprehensible mystery. Women, of course, can be Christ-like in service and suffering; they can be the heart. But they cannot be the head, assuming active leadership. Jesus Christ becomes the male son of a male God whose official representatives can only be male.”[3]

A Brazilian writer Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer writes on ‘Masculinity, femininity and the Christ’. She says: “At the centre of the mystery of the incarnation, a mystery that is salvation for the whole human race, the New Testament places man and woman, Jesus and Mary, God who takes human flesh in and through the flesh of the woman – ‘born of woman’. God does not become man and identify himself with just one half of humankind; God becomes flesh, flesh of man and woman, in such a manner that the way to the Father must necessarily lead through the overall human condition, which is masculine and feminine.”[4] She concludes: “It is only in the weakness, poverty, and limitations of human flesh – flesh of men and women – that the ineffable greatness of the Spirit can be experienced, contemplated, and adored. And it is only here that theology can, finally, stammer its word.”[5]

So, on this feast of the Ascension and on Mother’s Day, we give thanks for our mothers, living and deceased. And we salute and pray for all mothers with us today. Together with them let’s pray that prayer in the second reading from Ephesians rendered in more gender inclusive terms:

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give us a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring us to full knowledge of God. May God enlighten the eyes of our minds so that we can see what hope this call holds for us, what rich glories God has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that God has exercised for us believers.

Happy Mother’s Day, and let’s give thanks for all our mothers, many of whom were the first apostles in our lives.

From the start of 2024, Fr Frank Brennan SJ will serve as part of a Jesuit team of priests working within a new configuration of the Toowong, St Lucia and Indooroopilly parishes in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Frank Brennan SJ is a former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). Fr Frank’s latest book is An Indigenous Voice to Parliament: Considering a Constitutional Bridge, Garratt Publishing, 2023 and his forthcoming book is ‘Lessons from Our Failure to Build a Constitutional Bridge in the 2023 Referendum’ (Connor Court, 2024). 


[1] Elizabeth A Johnson, The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the global voices of women, Orbis books, 2016, p. 4.

[2] Ibid, p. 5

[3] Ibid, p. xi

[4] Ibid, p. 183-4

[5] Ibid, p. 184


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