Engaging the Gospel: Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord: Gospel – Matthew 28:16-20

Christ ascended into heaven and “is seated at the right hand of the Father,” preceding us into His “glorious kingdom” (Catechism paragraphs 663-666).

But Christ still dwells with us in His Church, which He took care to establish as “the seed and the beginning of the kingdom” on earth (669). Because His kingdom is to embrace all nations, so must the Church be universal, literally “catholic,” a word which derives from the Greek term meaning “universal” (830).

Just as the Father sent Christ as His Emissary, so does Jesus appoint emissaries – in Greek, apostoloi (858). Christ empowered His apostles to continue His mission all over the world, investing them with the authority to teach, sanctify, and guide His flock (857). He “promised to remain with them always,” revealing that “their office also has a permanent aspect” and that this “divine mission…will continue to the end of time” (860).

As a result the apostles designated successors, bishops, to shepherd the Church (861-862). Thus began the unbroken line, from the apostles through the successive Catholic bishops for two millennia, down to our own very day.

The preservation of this precious apostolic heritage makes the Church “catholic” in a more profound sense. The Catholic Church receives from Christ “the fullness of the means of salvation which He has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession” (830).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to draw others closer to the Lord?

Lent as our Spring Training

Lent is a privileged season for spiritual renewal – our time for spring cleaning within our souls, or literally, our spring training.

Aside from deepening our prayer life, we are called to embrace fasting and almsgiving.

These forms of self-denial are called ascetical practices, from the Greek askesis, meaning training for athletic contests.

The root word helps us to understand the “why” behind our Lenten observances. We do not give more of our time or resources simply for the sake of doing something extra, nor do we “give up” things just to feel the pinch of missing them.

Rather, we are letting go of ourselves, and our attachments, in an intentional way because we are working toward something, and Someone. We are striving to grow closer to the Lord by concretely repenting for our sins, and by participating in Jesus’ own self-denial.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, describes the true meaning of Lent:

…the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are a member of the mystical Christ, you are involved in this fight….

Therefore we must re-live our Savior’s Passion in Lent…as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter.

Parsch sees our supernatural life in God as the key to Lent:

I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected.

Fasting is a means toward the goal of a “more flourishing inner life” —

We must remember that we are members of Christ’s Body; by sin we defiled this Body, but now we will help to purify it.

Parsch emphasizes that our life in Christ is the whole point of our self-denial, or else it becomes meaningless:

The essential lesson contained in the Gospel discourse is that the fast should be a deep inward matter of the soul devoid of all selfishness or ulterior motivation….

Fasting of itself, therefore, is of no value; only when linked with the sacrifice of Jesus does it become useful and meritorious….

First we follow Him as the penitent par excellence into the desert of self-denial to fast with Him for forty days. Our fast will be spiritually fruitful if we keep it in unity with Him, if it is an extension of His fasting.

–The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume II

Honor the Gift of Sexuality

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2331-2400:

  • The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” reflects the profound meaning of human sexuality; far more than a mere satisfaction of appetites, sexuality is ordered to God’s plan for us – our vocation to love and communion.
  • God created human beings as male and female, emblematic of God’s own attributes in our different, but complementary, ways; inscribed in our very nature, this physical, moral, and spiritual complementarity is designed for the lifelong union of man and woman in marriage.
  • Our sexual identity as male or female is not to be denied, but integrated properly within our entire being; this wholesome integration is what we call “chastity,” which enables us to live our sexuality in a morally healthy way, whether as unmarried people living in continence, or as spouses in fidelity to each other.
  • All Christians are therefore called to chastity; both a grace from God and a moral virtue that we diligently strive for, chastity empowers us for self-mastery, helps to regulate our passions, and safeguards our personal integrity.
  • Chastity lays the groundwork for, and makes possible, the true gift of self that takes place in marriage; having given themselves to each other totally, exclusively, and irrevocably until death, husband and wife become one flesh; in this way their sexual union expresses their all-encompassing marital covenant.
  • God Himself designed this intimate communion of spouses as the means of transmitting new life; through the gift of the marital embrace, spouses participate in God’s own creativity by conceiving children; sexual union is also for the good of the spouses, but that can never be separated from openness to new life.
  • Children are thus gifts from God, the natural fulfillment of the spouses’ union, not optional accessories to one’s lifestyle; spouses can responsibly decide to regulate their fertility, but must do so by moral means (e.g., periodic continence in NFP), not by contraception, which denies the gift of self and fails to work with God.
  • Because sexuality has such an amazing purpose in God’s plan, any sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful; adultery is a grave sin since it violates the marital bond, hurts the betrayed spouse, and can lead to the tragedy of divorce, a rejection of the covenant that is detrimental to both the family and society.
  • Fornication is similarly a lie, for it speaks the physical language of union without there actually being a covenant; prostitution and pornography are destructive of human dignity because they treat others as objects; masturbation and lust are sinful because they are disordered pursuits of sexual pleasure for its own sake.
  • Homosexual activity is wrong because it is inherently incompatible with God’s design for our sexual expression and with the transmission of life; our brothers and sisters with homosexual orientation are to be welcomed and supported to live out the baptismal call to chastity and holiness.

Live Your Faith

Our culture constantly propagandizes us about sex, as if it were just a recreational activity that we engage in whenever and however we please, without consequences.

But there is a deluge of evidence to the contrary: broken hearts, devastated families, an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.

The truth is that sex is not a game; it is wrapped up in the mystery of the human person as created by God.

The Church teaches the full truth about sex, and however unpopular and countercultural it may be, only by honoring God’s gift in the way He intended can we find lasting happiness. If we have failed, the Lord is always eager to forgive us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Respect the Sanctity of Human Life

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2258-2330:

  • The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill,” teaches us the inviolable sanctity of human life; because each of us is willed by God, Who endows us with an immortal soul, it is always wrong, in every circumstance, to kill an innocent person deliberately.
  • Anyone who intentionally kills an innocent person, cooperates in such a murder, or deliberately causes someone to die by indirect means, violates this commandment; the sin is compounded if the perpetrator kills a parent, sibling, spouse, or child, rupturing the family ties that should bind us in love.
  • For this reason, the Church has always condemned abortion, the direct taking of the life of an unborn child, as evil; each innocent human being, however small, has the intrinsic rights of personhood; hence it is gravely wrong to treat embryos as biological commodities, whether for research or in vitro fertilization.
  • Respect for a person’s bodily integrity likewise forbids the use of torture; kidnapping; hostage-taking; scientific experiments that violate human dignity or the moral law, or that are performed without one’s informed consent; and it also enjoins us to care for the bodies of the dead and give them proper burial.
  • Euthanasia – the deliberate ending of the life of the sick, handicapped, aged, or dying – is similarly a sin because of its intent to cause death; but it can be morally permissible to refuse “overzealous treatment,” and let a natural death come, and to receive palliative care, where the intent is to alleviate pain, not to cause death.
  • Suicide is a sin because we are not the lords and masters of our own lives; we have received life as a pure gift of God, to live it for His glory and our eternal happiness; but those who commit suicide are often suffering from mental illness that diminishes their moral responsibility; we entrust their souls to God’s mercy.
  • To protect the innocent from aggressors, the Church upholds the right of self-defense; it is legitimate to defend ourselves, even if the aggressor is killed in the process, because our intent is to protect innocent life; the Church raises her voice against the death penalty because criminals need not be killed to protect society.
  • Sometimes an aggressor on the international stage can be stopped only by waging war; there are strict conditions for a “just war,” e.g., the exhaustion of all other means, high likelihood of success, not unleashing even greater evils; the moral law still holds in war, so any military tactics targeting civilians are reprehensible.
  • We can violate this commandment in ways other than literally killing someone, such as failure to take appropriate care of our body, abusing alcohol or drugs, driving while intoxicated, or engaging in similarly risky behaviors that endanger the lives of others.
  • We can also inflict spiritual violence, so to speak, by influencing others to sin, either directly or indirectly, or by nursing a sense of anger toward others; anger is an emotion that we all feel at times, but it can become sinful if we want revenge, and it can morph into hatred, the sin of deliberately wishing evil upon another.

Live Your Faith

Do we sometimes overlook this commandment, believing that we’re in the clear if we haven’t killed anyone? But Jesus calls us to probe our hearts for the more subtle ways that we violate it.

We can slay others with cruel words and inflict emotional pain. We harm our own souls by holding grudges and letting ourselves be overcome by anger. We cause spiritual injury whenever we make light of sin or connive at it.

Politicians who promote abortion are effectively cooperating in the killing of innocents, and we have the moral responsibility to oppose them, not to turn a blind eye.

Keep Holy the Lord’s Day

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2168-95:

  • If we love God above all, and revere His holy name, then we will desire to give Him the public worship He deserves; this is the basis of the Third Commandment, that we are to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
  • The sabbath is vital to the divine revelation given to the people of Israel: the seventh day of the week was consecrated to God, in commemoration of His “rest” after the work of creation, His saving action of liberating them from slavery in Egypt, and their intimate covenant relationship with Him.
  • In keeping with the pattern throughout the Old Testament, the sabbath was a preparation for the coming of Christ; Jesus emphasized its true meaning by performing miraculous healings on the sabbath, freeing people from the shackles of sin and disease.
  • Through His Resurrection on Easter Sunday, Christ ushers in a new creation while completing His work of redemption; because both creation and redemption are intrinsically related to the sabbath, the observance of the sabbath was transferred to Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” at the dawn of the Church.
  • As the New Testament illustrates, the first Christians were already gathering on the first day of the week for the breaking of the bread; ever since then, for 2,000 years, the Sunday Eucharist has been “at the heart of the Church’s life.”
  • When we assemble in the same way with our parish family to celebrate the Lord’s Day, we testify that we belong to the Church that transcends time and space; like our forebears, we are nourished with the Word of God in Scripture and in sacrament, as we receive the Word made flesh, the Lord, in the Eucharist.
  • This worship is so crucial to our spiritual health, and our right relationship with God, that it is a grave obligation; if we deliberately fail to attend Mass on Sundays or other holy days, without a serious reason (such as illness), we commit a mortal sin and must seek the sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • God also gives us this commandment for the sake of our physical and emotional well-being; He commands us to rest from our usual daily grind of work and toil, reclaim our freedom from material preoccupations, and savor a foretaste of our eternal rest with God.
  • By being faithful to the Sunday rest from work, we can relax with family and friends, enjoy healthy recreations, set aside more quiet time for reflection, and reach out in charity to others in need.
  • Unfortunately, many have to work on Sundays because of the nature of their employment; while this is unavoidable in certain instances, employers and customers should not place excessive or unnecessary burdens on workers, and those who do work should still carve out time to keep the Lord’s Day holy.

Live Your Faith

Whenever we deliberately skip Mass on a Sunday or other holy day, just because we didn’t bother to go, we are telling God, “I’ve got something better to do.”

But nothing in the entire cosmos is more important than thanking God for loving me personally before time began; for creating me; for redeeming me; for forgiving me; for enlightening me with the fullness of His truth in the Catholic Church; for giving me His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist; for desiring me to spend eternal life in unimaginable happiness with Him.

Only in the Mass can we render proper thanks and praise, because it is the very sacrifice of Christ to the Father.