The Ascension of the Lord
A Homily - A Cycle - 2004-2005
First Reading - Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading - Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel - Mathew 28:16-20
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
We find ourselves today in a wonderful intersection of Mother's Day, our traditional May Crowning of the Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of course, the Solemnity of the Ascension. These three celebrations have a wonderful connection that should cause us to deepen our love for our Catholic faith.
The doctrine of the Ascension isn't particularly complicated. By this mystery, we believe that forty days after Easter, our Lord, in his humanity - body and soul - ascended to the Father's right hand. In conjunction with the Resurrection, the Ascension represents our hope as Catholics - that at the end of time, we will not only receive a Resurrected and glorified body, but that like Christ, we may enter into heavenly glory.
At the Ascension, our Lord did three things: First, He assured the Eleven of His supreme power on heaven and earth. Second, He gave the Eleven a solemn commission to evangelize the entire world in the name of the Trinity. Third, He promised them a presence - the Holy Spirit - to accompany them and assist them in this greatest of tasks. This must have been an overwhelming request for the Eleven to hear. After all, they were, for the most part, simple fishermen of Galilee with no great learning or political savvy and were given the task that even a Roman emperor would shudder at - to evangelize the entire world. And yet, as daunting as the mission would be, our Lord promised to provide an equally potent Advocate - the Holy Spirit.
Note well that this commission was given to the Eleven Apostles (St. Mathias would soon replace Judas Iscariot to restore the number of 12). All eleven were men. The commission was not given to women, not even to the Blessed Mother. This event forms part of our belief in an all-male priesthood. The reason for why we continue to hold for this doctrine is worthy of our consideration on a day when we honor one of the singularly unique and fundamental contributions of women in the Church and in society - motherhood.
The value of mother hood in the world is essential. Without motherhood, not only would our species become extinct but souls could not be formed in the way that only a mother can really provide. Our Lord so treasured motherhood that he subjected Himself to a mother, the very woman whose image we venerate with a crown on this day. When a woman faces the question over what she should prioritize in her life - her work or her vocation as wife and mother, I am always quick to remind the woman that it is most likely that someone else could do her job at her office but only she can be her children's mother.
Of course, women have made great strides in the world and especially in this country. To be sure, their gifts to the world are immeasurable. Consider that women can do almost anything men can do in the United States: vote; own property; run for president; file for divorce, etc. Over time, many barriers have been broken down that once forbade women from doing what they can now do. And so, the question comes up year after year, "How does a Roman Catholic woman living in the United States reconcile her own Church's belief that only men can be ordained when she lives in a country where she can do just about anything a man can do?"
It's a fair question. Here's the answer: If ordination to the priesthood were a matter or rights, then women should be ordained. In fact, not ordaining women would be a violation of justice. Again, IF this was a matter of rights. The priesthood, however, is not about rights - it's about vocation. The word "vocation" comes from the Latin root, "vocare" which means "to call." We know from Scripture and Tradition that Christ only called men to the priesthood. He did so at the Last Supper when he gathered the Twelve at table to celebrate the Eucharist. He did so when He washed the feet of the Twelve at the Last Supper, which was the equivalent of the Jewish ceremonial washings for PRIESTS in the book of Leviticus performed right before a sacrifice was to be offered in the Temple. Christ established the priesthood for men alone.
Some will argue that He only selected men because women had no voice in the public square in antiquity and hence, no one would listen to them. Interestingly, no one listened to the Apostles, either - all but one of them died as martyrs. Christ was also not constrained by social expectations of his day. He had close friendships with several women; He allowed a woman to touch Him when she washed his feet with her hair; He even conversed with a Samaritan woman at a well.
Others will argue that Christ would not have known that we would need women priests to fill in the ranks of a lack of male priests in the 21st century. To say this would be to deny Christ's omniscience and thus deny His divinity. Such a denial makes the Resurrection an impossibility and if that is true, St. Paul warns us that our faith is in vain. One must be very careful in denying what our Lord allegedly did not know.
Even the Ascension can teach us much about the mind of Christ. We know that our Lord gave this solemn commission to His first bishops - the Apostles. These were the very men on whom the faith of the Church would be built. Let us reasonably interject a conversation that our Lady would have had with Jesus just prior to the Ascension. It would go something like this:
Son, before you go, I just had one quick question.
Mary: Are you sure that you want to build the Church on these men and their faith?
Mary: I don't know if you have short term memory but about 43 days ago at the Garden of Gethsemane, you were arrested and these same men fled. One betrayed; your first Pope denied you thrice and the rest ran. Meanwhile, we women accompanied you all the way to the end. We did not flee. We seem to be much more reliable in crisis situations. And, of yes, I'm Immaculately Conceived, which probably makes me your number one choice for a priestly role. So, are you still sure you want THESE men to be in charge?
If the priesthood were a matter of competence and rights, then women would have an equal claim on the priesthood. Again, it's not about rights or even competence or even about personal holiness - it's about vocation! We can say with certainty that God does not call women to the priesthood. This was the thought of Pope John Paul II. He wrote a document in 1994 on the Ordination of Men Alone and he closed the debate on this issue once and for all. He said that not even future popes could change what Christ established the priesthood to be. And yet, many within our own Church continue to spend energy and time debating an issue which is no longer debatable.
In the end, we ought to consider why priests have to be men. We believe that priests act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), especially in the sacraments. Christ had a male body and He is wedded to His bride, the Church. To have a woman stand in the person of Christ would amount to an ecclesiastical same-sex union! There's a real theology behind this. God wants fatherhood represented in the sanctuary because He reveals Himself as Father. All of you sitting in the pews represent the world and you face the sanctuary which represents heaven. You receive communion near the rail - the thin line between heaven and earth. On the other side of that altar awaits your heavenly Father, which is exactly who the priest becomes an icon of. That is why elderly parishioners have no hesitation in calling me "Father" when I am young enough to be their grandson.
On a day like today, we should be celebrating the gifts and contributions of women in the Church. Their greatest contribution is motherhood - something the world cannot understand. It is a mother who gave us Christ, our Savior. It is our mothers who brought us into existence and nurtured us from the first moment of our existence. Rather than succumb to the divisiveness which so often accompanies discussion of the role of women in the Church (which is exactly what the devil wants), let us celebrate the invaluable and essential contribution that women make in the world and in the Church. It is their feminine genius, designed by God and most venerated in the person of Blessed Virgin Mary - she who is our life, our sweetness and our hope!
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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