Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

‘Ab Jerusolymis ne discederent’: A Homily for the Ascension

He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1, 4).

The mysteries of the Catholic faith are a garland, woven unto our salvation. But it is only within the Church that we have full access to the graces of the liturgical year.

Of late, some of us have spent a great deal of time thinking about the relationship of the Church to the world; about how priests and bishops are or are not exercising their headship; about what life in the Church will be like in the weeks and months and years ahead, and so forth. Very well. And yet today the mystery of the Ascension confronts us, bidding us to consider the discourses that our Blessed Lord delivered in the moments before he returns to the Father. One version of this discourse is today’s epistle.

Those gathered around our Lord began to ask him whether he was about ‘to restore the kingdom of Israel.’[1] It may be that we find ourselves asking similar questions today. However, note well the Master’s reply: ‘It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in his own power.’[2] A truth emerges: there is a fundamental ignorance at the heart of the Christian life. We do not have access to the whens and wherefores regarding some of the most profound questions we ask about Divine Providence. This is humbling and uncomfortable; but we do well to allow ourselves to be reminded of it.—Far be it from us to forget our status as creatures and servants of the divine majesty. Most everything about the culture in which we live conspires against us to forget it; but we must not.

But that is also not the whole story. In an earlier part in our Lord’s farewell discourse, he issues a twofold command: ‘that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father.’ First, that they should not depart Jerusalem. Ab Jerusolymis ne discederent. The Latin verb discedo can indeed mean depart or withdraw; but it can also mean abandon, or, in martial contexts, to lay down ones arms or flee one’s position. Thus, the Apostles are commanded to hold their position in Jerusalem; to remain steadfast and vigilant there.

Throughout the Scriptures and the Tradition, Jerusalem serves as a type of the Church. For us, then, the implication is clear and the same command is given to us: not to abandon the Church as she truly is. We, too, are to remain in Jerusalem, that is, in and with the Church. Please God that is never a question in our minds. But the second half of Our Lord’s command gives us the reason why: that the Apostles ‘should wait for the promise of the Father.’

The mysteries of the Catholic faith are a garland, woven unto our salvation. Thus, the Ascension seamlessly prepares for Pentecost, which is why Christ commands the Apostles to stay in Jerusalem: for it was in Jerusalem that the Holy Ghost would descend upon them. And so it is for us. We, too, are to persevere in Jerusalem, the Church, in order to benefit from the presence and activity of the Holy Ghost.

Amidst all the questions of the moment, there is some danger that Catholics could lose sight of what the Church is at her heart. The mysteries of the Catholic faith are a garland, woven unto our salvation.—Easter ends with the Ascension; the Ascension prepares for Pentecost; and Pentecost has never ceased to shine and burn upon the Church, despite all appearances. It is why we call fully half of the liturgical year the season post Pentecosten.

The very grace that has bolstered the martyrs and saints from the first century to now remains alive and effective. In fact, there is more grace stored up for us during evil times, not less.—Do not give in to the lie that would tell you otherwise. Do not forget that you are possessions of the Father; yea, children of the Father. Do not depart, dear friends, from Jerusalem.



[1] Acts 1, 6.

[2] Ibid., 1, 7.

{Art Credit: Jan Philip Van Thielen (1618-1667), Stone Cartouche with Virgin and Child in a Garland of Flowers, circa 1650.} 



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