ON THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST
Today the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is being celebrated, 40 days after Easter. The Acts of the Apostles recounts this episode, Jesus’ final departure from his disciples and from this world. Matthew’s Gospel, on the other hand, reports Jesus’ mandate to his disciples: the invitation to go, to leave and announce his message of salvation to all peoples. “Go,” or better “leave” becomes the key word for today’s feast: Jesus leaves to go to the Father and commands his disciples to leave to go out to the world.
Jesus leaves, he ascends into heaven, that is, he returns to the Father from whom he had been sent into the world. He has completed his work, so he returns to the Father. But this is not a separation because he remains with us forever under a new form. With his ascension the risen Lord draws the gaze of the Apostles – and our gaze – to the heights of heaven to show us that the Father is the goal of our journey. He himself said that he would be leaving to prepare a place for us in heaven. Nevertheless, Jesus remains present and active in the vicissitudes of human history with the power and the gifts of his Spirit. He is near to each one of us, even if we do not see him with our eyes. He is there! He accompanies us, he leads us, he takes us by the hand and lifts us up when we have fallen. The risen Jesus is near to Christians who are persecuted and discriminated against. He is near to every man and woman who suffers. He is near to all of us, even today here is here with us.
But Jesus is also present through the Church, which he sent to extend his mission. Jesus’ last word to his disciples is the command to leave: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”. It is a precise mandate, it is not optional! The Christian community is a community that is “going out,” “departing.” Even more, the Church is born in “going out.” And you will say to me: But what about the cloistered communities? Yes, they too because they are always “going out” with prayer, with their heart open to the world, to the horizons of God. And the elderly and sick? They too, with prayer and union with the wounds of Jesus.
To his missionary disciples Jesus says: “I am with you always even to the end of the world”. By themselves, without Jesus, we cannot do anything! In the apostolate our own strength, our own resources, our own structures, even if they are necessary, are not enough. Without the presence of the Lord and the power of his Spirit, our work, even if it is well-organized, is ineffective.
And thus we go out to people to tell them who Jesus is.
~ From Homily of Pope Francis June 01, 2014