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PreachMay 05, 2024
Deacon Ron Hansen (photo courtesy of Ron Hansen)

Ron Hansen has written award-winning novels that have been turned into Hollywood hits. As an ordained deacon, he crafts equally compelling homilies.

This week on “Preach,” Deacon Ron Hansen, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Washington and a prolific author, preaches for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Year B. His homily reflects on the physical reality of the Ascension and the promise it holds for us.

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In the conversation after the homily, Ron and host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., talk about using homilies as a tool for building empathy, which Ron does by crafting vivid images that allow listeners to imagine themselves in the scene. They discuss the challenge of “writing for the ear” while preaching and using real-world examples that connect to deeper theological insights. Ron also makes his case for a short homily.

Readings for the Solemnity of the the Ascension of the Lord, Year B

Reading I: Acts 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II: Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13
Gospel: Mk 16:15-20

The full text of the Scripture readings can be found here.

Homily for the Solemnity of the the Ascension of the Lord, Year B, by Ron Hansen

Holy Angels in Omaha was the church I grew up in, and since as a child I could not follow the Latin liturgy, nor even read a missal, I recall gazing high overhead at the soft blue sky of the altar dome, on which there was a huge, literal and beautiful painting of Christ being escorted by holy and reverent angels on his Ascension into heaven, his loose, snow-white clothing floating off him so that most of his flesh was exposed. The church is gone now—a highway in its place—but that gorgeous painting has stayed with me and gives resonance to our Solemnity this Sunday.

Except for a few national dioceses, like New York, Hartford and Omaha, the majority of Catholic parishes are on Sunday, May 12th, celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, when Jesus Christ left the earth and was lifted up by his Father 40 days after his Resurrection.

We recall that in the conclusion to the Holy Gospel according to Luke, the risen Jesus led the Eleven to Bethany “and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

And now, in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the Evangelist Luke takes the opportunity to further develop the miraculous scene, noting that on the day Jesus was taken up, he gave his chosen Apostles instructions and promised them that in a few days, at the harvest feast of Pentecost, they would “be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” And “when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”

Watching intently, the Apostles seemed to fully comprehend what Christ’s Ascension meant, for they felt no sense of abandonment or loss but instead went to the Temple in Jerusalem where they “were continually blessing God.“

This is not the first time in Scripture that such a lifting-up occurred. In the Book of Exodus, Moses is often invited to ascend Mount Sinai and meet with the Lord God in the clouds for the instructions that he will pass on to his desert people. And in the Second Book of Kings, the prophet Elijah ends his ministry with an ascent to heaven in a whirlwind.

It is not coincidental that at the Transfiguration, a glorified Jesus is seen in conversation with Moses and Elijah, establishing himself as the unification of Judaic law and prophecy. But he alone is given the title “my beloved” by his Father, whose voice is heard issuing from an overshadowing cloud.

Crucial to our understanding of the Ascension is that it is not just a metaphorical or mystical event, but a fully corporeal one. The post-Resurrection Jesus is real but often unrecognized, as with Mary Magdalene in the garden, or with the couple who walk with a stranger on the road to Emmaus. His appearances are sudden, ghost-like and seemingly out of nowhere, but the Gospels are at pains to insist on Christ’s physicality as he asks the Eleven, “Have you anything to eat?”, or allows Thomas to examine the cruel injuries of his crucifixion, or cooks fish at sunrise for the skunked fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

It is fully a body that is lifted up by the Holy One. Christ is royalty in heaven, described in our Apostles’ Creed as “seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” He has full authority and power. Yet Jesus continues in his humanity there, even in his glorified state, and he also still has sovereignty on earth: a world he has not condemned, but saved and sanctified.

We so often put the flesh and the spirit at odds, damning one while exalting the other, but “the resurrection of the body” that we find in the Creed and in the Solemnity of the Ascension makes the claim that flesh and spirit are joined. We believe that our flesh and spirit are not yet perfected but finally will be and that the God of The Book of Genesis continues to look down upon his creation and see that it is good.

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