Message for the Ascension of the Lord

Message for the Ascension of the Lord

Fr. Joseph Levine; Sunday, May 24, 2020
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3,6-,8-9; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20

God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.
The one who mounts the throne of God is Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, ascending
into heaven, to the right hand of his Father, carrying his Sacred Humanity with him in triumph.
He ascends into heaven to lift our hearts out of this passing world and fix them there at the
right hand of God. He ascends into heaven because he wants to lead us to where he is that we
might behold the glory he had from the Father before the foundation of the world. (cf. Jn
17:24)

Jesus ascends into heaven and yet he remains with us always in the Holy Eucharist, the
sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the same as the
Body that is seated at the right hand of the Father. Eucharistic adoration is an earthly mirror
and symbol of the adoration of Jesus Christ by the angels and saints in heaven. Adoration at the
throne in heaven and adoration at the tabernacle on earth is the activity of the royal court of
Christ the King. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The 1st reading today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that between the 40 days from the
resurrection to the ascension, Jesus spoke to the Apostles about the kingdom of God. Having
spoken to them about the Kingdom of God, he then ascended to the throne of the Kingdom.
Nevertheless, since the day of Pentecost had not yet come, since the Apostles had not yet been
enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, they still misunderstood Jesus’ teaching. That
is made evident because they asked if he would now restore the kingdom to Israel.
It is hard to imagine just what the Apostles were thinking but it must have been something like
this: the glory days of Israel were during the reign of King David; the longed for Messiah or
Christ was to be the offspring of David, the Son of David; thus it was expected that the Messiah
would restore Israel to her former glory.

That seems to be the sort of thing that James and John were thinking, before the crucifixion,
when they asked Jesus that one might sit at his right and the other at his left in his Kingdom. (cf.
Mk 10:35-41) That seems to be the sort of thing that every one of the Twelve was thinking
when they argued about which of them was greater. (cf. Mk 9:33-34) When Jesus was crucified
all those hopes for glory of a restored kingdom of David, of which they would be a leading part,
were dashed. When Jesus rose from the dead, their hopes were restored, but not yet
transformed and elevated. That transformation, elevation, and understanding would only
come through Jesus’ ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Then the Apostles would learn that the Kingdom would be twofold: there would be the
Kingdom in heaven, where Jesus ascended to take his throne and to which the saints would
follow him, and there would the Kingdom on earth, Jesus’ reign in his Church, through the Holy
Eucharist. So the Church itself becomes the Body of Christ, the fullness of the one who fills all
things in every way. This kingdom on earth, which is the Church, was not to be confined to the
small territory of Israel, but through the witness of the Apostles, beginning from Jerusalem, was
to reach out to all the earth. This is to continue until Christ’s return in glory.
There is also another insight we receive about the Church as the Kingdom on earth, that is the
role of sacred Tradition. Jesus gave instructions to the Apostles about the Kingdom. What were
those instructions? The instructions were contained in everything that was handed on from the
Apostles through the sacred Tradition, especially by means of the liturgy. That is why from
ancient times, liturgical texts always cited the authority of the Tradition that comes from the
Apostles as the basis for their legitimacy.

This reveals the basic fallacy Protestantism: namely that it is possible to understand the Gospel
and reconstruct the Church directly from Scripture, without reference to the reality of the
Church that Christ actually founded and that has existed since the time of the Apostles. This
fallacy has more recently crept into the life of the Catholic Church. It is contained in the
presupposition that practically everything that has grown, developed, and been built up since
the time of the Apostles is invalid or erroneous and that we must reject the inheritance we
have received from the Tradition passed down through the ages in favor of some scholarly
reconstruction of some imagined primitive Christianity. Indeed, it is a projection of our own
imagination on the fragmentary and faded tapestry of antiquity, in place of embracing the rich
and living reality of the Church that has been given to us by Christ in the Holy Spirit.

It is above all in the liturgy that the Church, as the Kingdom upon earth, reflects the Kingdom in
heaven, with the angels and saints gathered in adoration around the throne of the Lamb. (cf.
Rev 5) We could say that, in union with the angels and saints in heaven, the primary work of the
Church on earth is the glorification of God by means of public worship, through, with, and in
Jesus Christ. This is the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ
himself. The secondary work of the Church is the salvation of souls, which is accomplished by
making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded us, so that the nations having
been sanctified in Christ might take part in his worship. When Christ returns, those who have
been merely warm bodies occupying the pews will be cast out, while those who have been
sanctified interiorly through true worship will be lifted up with him to the glory of the heavenly
kingdom. One will be taken, another will be left. (Mt 24: 40, 41)

Unfortunately, the actual celebration of the liturgy, especially the liturgy of the Mass, has fallen
off in recent decades. Instead of mirroring the liturgy of heaven and reflecting the splendor of
Christ the King, seated at the right hand of the Father, instead of being a living reality received
from Tradition and faithfully handed on and celebrated, the liturgy on earth has by and large
lost its transcendent character and has often been reduced to little more than a tool of cheap
propaganda for various mundane causes and an expression of the emotions and sentiments of
a handful of people in a particular time and place. Instead of priests being specialists in the
sacred rites of the Church who carefully ensure their celebration in fidelity to the Tradition
received, they have become merchants of wares trying to please consumers of religion.

The situation can be compared to that of Moses and the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai. Moses
went up the mountain and fasted for forty days and nights, receiving from God the vision of
true worship according to which he was to regulate the worship of Israel; in the meantime the
priest Aaron, at the foot of the mountain, instead of waiting to receive the pattern of true
worship from Moses, pleased the people by fashioning the golden calf. The people then threw a
big party around the golden calf, to put it rather mildly.

The Church, however, did not receive a mere shadow of true worship, as did the people of
Israel, but she received the very reality from the Apostles, according to the pattern they
received from the living mountain of God’s holiness, Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the Mass has been nearly removed from us altogether and is allowed on a limited
basis, under strict ‘sanitary’ conditions. If only we had given half the care and attention to the
details of reverence that we now must give to the details of sanitation. If only we had given half
the attention to receiving holy communion in a pure soul that we must now give to worship in a
sanitary church.

Do not think that because we have partially reopened that we are out of the woods and things
can return to “normal” or will soon return to “normal”. There will be no real normal, what
normal should be, if we return to consumer religion and the party around the golden calf. There
will be no real normal unless we learn to place ourselves under the dominion of Christ the King,
rather than the petty tyrants and governors of the earth.

Christ’s ascension into heaven had consequences for life upon earth; Christ’s ascension into
heaven meant that either the nations of the earth would submit themselves to the Kingdom of
Christ or would fight against the Kingdom of Christ. Really, there is no neutral territory. We are
either for Christ the King or against him. (cf. Mt 12:30) That is true both individually and
collectively.

In that light consider that right now if today the Governor of the State of Oregon can tell us
under what conditions we are allowed to celebrate Mass and how many people may attend,
then tomorrow she can set other conditions. If a contagion that might have a 1.3% fatality rate,
according to some of the latest studies, justifies the government mandated suppression of
public worship – to put things in perspective the Black Death of the 14th century wiped out half
the population of Europe in a period of four years – why not .8% next time around? Why not
during a particularly strong flue season? Why not in some other type of ‘emergency’? We are at
the mercy of civil authorities and their epidemiological advisors – their scientific ‘experts’ with
blinders on.

There is a paradox involved with divine worship. We must worship God simply because it is
right and just not because of what we get out of it, but if we do that we will be the ones who
truly benefit, not God. What is true for individuals is true for nations as well. Conversely, if a
nation fails to render to God the honor that is his due, through Christ the King, sooner or later
the nation will suffer the consequences of misrule.

If an individual or nation worships God primarily for some worldly benefit, they fail to worship
God, but rather try to manipulate God and the rites of worship. God is not mocked. (Gal 6:7)
The manipulation of worship can only end in disaster.

In a word: right worship orders us to eternal life in God through Jesus Christ, on his terms, not
ours; wrong worship serves human projects and politics. In that sense political theocracy is an
impossibility, because the would be theocracy puts worship at the service of human politics and
so rejects the rule of God; instead human politics and all human institutions must subject
themselves to the rule of God through right faith and right worship.

Jesus did not say: Go make disciples of all individuals, he said, Go make disciples of all nations.
Not only must citizens be baptized, but the nations themselves must submit themselves to the
kingship of Christ. The nations cannot be conquered for Christ by the force of arms, nor by the
modern substitute form of warfare which is economic blackmail, nor be deceitful propaganda,
but only by preaching the Gospel of truth, in word and deed.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.