Ascension, Year C-2010

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The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap (Ps. 113:7)

After citing the passage, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn. 20:17), St. Gregory of Nyssa exclaims: “O what wonderful good news! He who for our sake became like us in order to make us his brothers, now presents to his true Father his own humanity in order to draw all his kindred up after him” (cf. the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings for Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter in the Liturgy of the Hours). St. Leo the Great, for his part, says that the solemnity of the ascension commemorates “that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father” (cf. the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings for Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter in the Liturgy of the Hours). We human beings, then, have so much going for us and should rejoice: Jesus’ ascension is our glory and our hope and affirms clearly that we can follow him into the new creation (cf. today’s collect prayer).

There is no need to turn our backs on our humanity, in general, or on the particularities or peculiarities of our human condition. Humanity is no obstacle to divinity nor is it necessary that one be a Jew or a Gentile, male or female, white, black, brown or yellow, in order to be acceptable to God and be offered the gift of salvation (Acts 15). By God’s gift or grace, foreigners and aliens become fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household and they rise, in union with Christ Jesus and with him as the chief cornerstone, to become a temple sacred to the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22). Preached Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory recently [1]: “To be a Catholic one need not abandon one’s individuality. In fact, the Catholic Church is most perfectly herself when all of her children display that rich diversity that God has fashioned into the very heart of humanity. We are most Catholic when we reflect our oneness of faith and worship that is achieved in response to our rich mixture of human variety through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

And it is indeed a matter of grace, gift, which, it seems, one is least able to accept the greater one thinks oneself to be, one wanting to be loved by God because of what one does for him (cf. [2]). Hence, the poor are more likely to see their glory in the ascension of the Lord and find great hope in it and follow the Lord into the new creation. For it is the poor who readily recognize that all is gift, for which they are ever grateful both to God and to those they see to be the channels through which God’s gifts are distributed (cf. Robert P. Maloney, C.M., The Way of Vincent de Paul [Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, 1992] 59).

It is the poor, moreover, who, not ashamed of either the essential humanity they share in common with all human beings or of the accidental variations they find in themselves as individuals, accept themselves for what they are; respectful of differences to the extent of foregoing what is permissible in order not to offend anyone (1 Cor. 8:9); cf. also 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23), they do not put themselves above others—as do those who would consider equality with God something to be grasped at and would impose their cultural standards on other—and are, therefore, given a share in the name that is above every other name (cf. Phil 2: 5-11).

And because the poor are more likely to respond, “We lift them up to the Lord,” to the invitation, “Lift up your hearts,” they are likewise more likely to do what Jesus bids his follower to do in his memory and follow the example Jesus has set, doing as he has done.