Gospel Reflection May 16 – Fr. Morris
Sunday, May 16
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Mark 16: 15-20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
In order that more people will be able to participate liturgically in the celebration of the Ascension, for many decades most American dioceses have transferred Ascension from Thursday to Sunday. This leads to the clerical joke of celebrating “Ascension Thursday Sunday.” Not a gut-splitter, admittedly, but just merely another example of Irish Catholicism’s sardonic wit popping up in the great immigrant melting pot of Catholic culture in these (occasionally united) United States.
The central point of “Ascension Thursday Sunday” is that a majority of Catholics should be able to celebrate the Ascension due to the theological significance of this event. In an extremely concrete way, the disciples witnessed the connection of the heavenly with the earthly, the corporeal with the incorporeal, humanity with divinity.
Platonism and Gnosticism– philosophies that still shape popular spirituality today in concept, more so than by name– taught that the pure Spirit is trapped by the limits of dirty matter. The point of philosophy or religion is to be “red-pilled” and have one’s soul set free from this evil material world. Whether it be abandoning the deceptive shadows of the Cave for Plato’s surface world of the abstract Forms, or securing possession of the gnosis or “secret knowledge’ of Gnosticism revealed only to the spiritually elect— one’s Spirit is freed from this earthly entrapment of corporeality and materiality. So of course heaven is strictly pure Spirit, and this world is a yucky deceptive illusion to be forgotten.
But in the Ascension, we see that the humanity of Jesus Christ raised in His Resurrection was not then shed in His Ascension. Rather than casting off His humanity, the Son of God elevated and divinized it. The disciples in their future preaching were clear not only that the Lord’s resurrected body was truly a physical body and presence, but that same glorified body then Ascended into heaven. The rejection of the simplistic dualism of “Matter=Bad, Spirit=Good” that was wrought in our Lord’s Incarnation is revealed in its eternal significance in the Ascension. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, the Jesus we worship is a Savior who is still True God AND True Man.
-Father Matthew Morris