IN MEMORIAM: Memorial Mass for those we lost during the Pandemic | Homily of Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, SJ | 24 May 2020
You see this in children. Give them balloons and invariably one will slip from a child’s grasp. Then you all turn skyward and look at the balloon go up into the sky. And you all stand there and watch until the balloon is no more.
Many things are down these days. Words such as lockdown, shutdown are very much with us. Our world seems to be in downgrade mode. We are not sure when or if this downward spiral will ever end.
Men of Galilee, the angels ask, why do you stand there looking at the sky?
We stand here looking because that is what we do when someone leaves us. We do not just turn around, do an about-face, and go about as if things will go back to normal. Goodbyes are difficult for us and so we linger. And so we look and we keep looking until the one we love recedes from our sight.
We look to the sky for answers. We look up because we are downcast and tired, we are afraid of looking down. We look up even as we mourn and bury our dear departed deep in the earth. Almost instinctively, we turn our gaze heavenward hoping that their destiny and ours can never be earthbound.
We look to our Lord’s Ascension and we discover that this mystery opens us up to three revelations, three graces. Firstly, the Ascension turns our gaze toward our destiny. Secondly, the mystery reveals to us how we will get to our destiny. And third, the Ascension shows us who will help us get to our destiny.
The first, our destiny. The Ascension is not a departure, nor is it Christ our Lord, “working from home,” from a distance, taking leave of the messiness of our world. As we pray in the Preface of the Ascension today, we believe that our Lord “ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”
The glorious mystery of the Ascension points us to our destiny. The mystery rewinds our gaze to the prophet Elijah who was taken up in a chariot of fire to heaven. The Ascension turns our sights forward to our Lady’s own assumption into heaven. The mystery trains our sights fast forward, even further, to our own ascension and the ascension of all those who are dear to us and to our God. Our Lord’s ascension reminds us that we are meant to return to Eden, the paradise we once left and lost. It is more than wishful thinking when we whisper to ourselves that we are meant to live with God forever.
Second, the mystery reveals to us how we will get to our destiny. However burdensome this pandemic has been, perhaps now we have a better sense of what truly matters in life. Listening to those who have been given a new lease on life, listening to our own fears of losing life, we learn that life is a gift, it cannot be bought, and just in an instant, it can be taken away. Life is given to us, it is not for us to own, not for us to play with as we please; life is for us to cherish and give to others.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that life is as light as breath. Breath rises, life ascends. We are to live lightly then on ourselves, on one another, and on the earth. If we know what truly matters, if we know where we all are finally headed, we will travel light. We will let go of all the frills, all the needless weight, all that is superficial and distracting and heavy. Then we shall be free and light as the wind. The sheer lightness of being alive is how we will get to our destiny.
Third and last, the Ascension shows us who will help us get to our destiny. We do not get to heaven on our own, on the strength of our own goodness or richness, our beauty or power. Self-propulsion will only get us so far. Even eagles who soar the skies know that they can only do so on the strength of the wind that lifts them to their destiny.
In truth, the Ascension is more than just an upward movement. This Easter mystery invites us to look inward, deep within ourselves, where we will discover God as someone who is not out there or up there, but as someone who is intimately close to us, breathing all the life that is in us. The Ascension points us to this holy breath of God, the Holy Spirit who quickens our love and mercy, who empowers us to live for others, the Holy Spirit who will get us to our destiny.
Men of Galilee, the angels ask, why should you stand there looking at the sky?
We stand here looking not because someone just left us. We stand here together with Fr Nico, our former superior general, together with all our loved ones who’ve gone before us, we stand bearing only the lightness of those who know they are children of God. We look to our Lord’s Ascension because we know better than to look downward and be afraid. Now we know our destiny. We know how we will get there. And the One who lifts us and helps us get to our destiny is just a breath of a prayer away.
Jose Ramon T Villarin SJ
Church of the Gesu | 24 May 2020 | Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord