Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
[Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20]
This past while, our city and many areas of the province have been blanketed with smoke from the wildfires. This has led to poor air quality, reduced visibility, and limitations on physical activity. Some of the lessons we are learning as we live with this smoke can serve as analogies helpful for appreciating the message of Sacred Scripture in this mass.
We celebrate today the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension. In his return to his heavenly Father, Jesus manifests the destiny he made possible for humanity by his death and resurrection. We hope to follow where Jesus has preceded us. Yet, his departure does not mean he is absent. On the contrary, we hear Jesus promise his disciples he will be with us to the end of the age. Since all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, we are to surrender in all things to his headship. From the great commission he gives his followers to go forth and make disciples, we learn it is incumbent upon us to give witness to the power of his love and invite other people to join us in the communion of faith.
As we seek to follow our Lord, we can helpfully apply to our Christian way of life some of the lessons we are learning from coping with the wildfires.
First, we need to pay attention to the air we breathe. There are many toxins present in the wildfire smoke that could present a serious health risk for many people. When we consider our call to surrender to the authority of Jesus Christ, it becomes clear that there are other “toxins” circulating in our cultural atmosphere that pose serious threats to our spiritual well-being, such as, for example, the widespread individualism that views the self as its own authority and moral compass. A follower of Jesus Christ needs to be careful not to “breathe in” anything that weakens our obedience to him.
Second, the dense smoke in the atmosphere obscures many beautiful things from our vision. For instance, I was in Jasper last week with the priests for our study days, and the mountains were entirely shrouded from view. There is a great deal of pain and suffering weighing heavily in today’s psychological atmosphere. Many people are anxious for a wide variety of reasons. Disciples of the Lord are not immune from this; we struggle with the same challenges others have. Let us be sure not to allow any suffering we endure to cloud from our awareness the presence of the Lord. By holding fast to his promise always to be with us, we shall recognize signs of his closeness and be strengthened in hope.
Finally, when the air quality is poor, reports are often accompanied by warnings to avoid strenuous activity, particularly for people in a state of weak physical health. Conversely, when the Gospel shows up the sin and despair circulating in our world, the Christian is called to embrace the arduous work of giving witness to the Lord Jesus as the sole source of forgiveness and unique reason for hope. Yet, awareness of our weakness may tempt us to hold back from our mission. Here we need to remember that the Lord, who is always with us, does not fail to provide us with the strength and gifts needed to fulfill the task to which he calls us.
We need also to rely upon and support one another as fellow disciples. This is precisely what I have witnessed this weekend here in Mary Help of Christians parish. There are many wonderful things happening here by which parish members offer and find support for the faithful living of the Christian life. I am both edified and encouraged to see the education offered in the parish’s Chinese school, the beautiful prayer ministry for the parish by the Prayer Group, the outreach to the youth, the dedication shown by members of the pastoral council and other parish committees, and, of course, the very careful and reverent celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. In these ways, and by many other means also, I am sure, you are supporting one another in the beautiful calling we have as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can lead the world to the joy of everlasting life.
Our mission as Christians is of unparalleled importance. By the witness of our Christian joy, we point others to its source: Jesus Christ. Only in the encounter with him will humanity find the peace and hope it seeks. Whenever we lead someone to Jesus, we become in a way like the brave first responders, who are working to put out the wildfires. They enter directly into the danger zones, armed with all of their equipment, to bring water to douse the flames. The Christian is called to step into the reality of humanity’s suffering with the Word of the Gospel, and thereby announce the person of Jesus Christ, who alone can extinguish sin with his mercy, and end despair with his presence.
That very presence of the Lord Jesus is most wondrously encountered here in the celebration of the Eucharist. As we receive in Holy Communion our Risen and Ascended Lord, may the grace of this sacrament renew us in hope, preserve us in fidelity, and strengthen us to fulfill the mission he has entrusted to us.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Mary Help of Christians Chinese Catholic Parish, Edmonton
May 21st, 2023