It takes more than a hope and a prayer

Tom Bartolomeo
The Ascension of the Lord C 2013
Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47;
Ephesians 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 46-53
Reproduced with Permission

It was possible that Christ could have risen from the dead and immediately ascended into heaven, but he choose to stay "a little while" (his words), for forty days conferring with his disciples and Apostles, altogether with "more than five hundred brothers and sisters", Saint Paul tells us. (cf. Corinthians 15 ff). For forty days Jesus instructed them how he had fulfilled in his death and resurrection what Scripture had foretold and that they should continue the work he had began, "make disciples of all people" and "forgive sins", essentially representing him among men until the end of time. Jesus' disciples and Apostles at the time were still trying to make sense of Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus told them to wait for the "Advocate", the Holy Spirit which fittingly occurred on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled their understanding and refreshed their 'spirits' visible in the appearance of "tongues of fire."

Generally speaking many people, when asked, would say that at their death they would hope and pray to go to heaven and many, perhaps some here, may not really know what that entails. A reward for living a good life however one see it? If that is true then there are these concerns we should have about Jesus' instructions. "No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven" to which Jesus added, "the Son of Man, who is in heaven."(John 3, 13). I am tempted to stop here and let you figure that out. And while you are at that, think about something else Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21). Add to this our concern with Jesus' reply to the question, "Lord, will only a few be saved?", and Jesus' answer:

"Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' (Luke 13, 24-27).

It will take the conviction of the man Jesus living in our world who said: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14, 25-27). Or "Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25). What's to hate? How about the abduction of three young girls in Cleveland chained up for ten years and continuously raped. What went wrong with parents of this man who raised him to adulthood? Or consider a teenager and his older brother who recently set off bombs to kill and maim hundreds at the Boston Marathon, or politicians who regularly dissemble the public to win elections or advance their careers even contributing to the deaths of an ambassador and his staff.

Remember, Jesus died at the hands of an evil world, no less evil today. Why we read the letters of Jesus' Apostles for our instruction at Mass. As you, I personally have nothing to boast of except what the Apostle Paul confessed: "I willingly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." ( 2 Corinthians 12, 9). The same Apostle who said to his congregation in Ephesus: "We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4, 15). Do we recognize any of these diseases in lives of others or ourselves as Saint Paul described "the futility of their minds", of conceit, "greed" and "lust". If we are pre-occupied with appearance and 'respectability', acquisitions and conveniences, comforts and pleasures we are earth-bound, not heaven bound, diseases which may be infecting our children and others. Anger, bitterness and scandal only fester in the futile desires of the worldly while Christian "kindness" does not consider the worthiness of the other and Christian "tenderheartedness" does not criticize another's condition particularly the vulnerable and Christian "forgiveness" does not judge those whom we forgive "as God in Christ has forgiven you", said Saint Paul. (Ephesians 4, 17-32).

"No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven," Christ proclaimed. (John 3, 13). If Christ was not in heaven we could not be there, and simply sharing his humanity is not enough. Our hearts, minds and souls must join to his heart, mind and soul to ascend to heaven. This rests with our mind's compliance to the will of God as did Jesus, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is a matter of repeated continuous deliberation not just here at Sunday Mass. The more our minds are joined to his in this world below the surer our body may ascend to his world in heaven above. "Acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking", Saint Paul advised. "You must put on", he said, "the new man created in God's image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth." (Ephesians 4: 23-24).