Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies


Ascension Sunday
Fr. Joseph Palermo
June 1, 2014
Year A

(I’m preaching today because it’s a tradition for a new priest to invite another priest to give the homily at his first mass (Fr. Jose de Jesus).

Have you ever watched a relay race?  Usually there are four runners per team in a relay race.  The runners need to run fast; they also need to pass a baton or stick to one another.  If any runner drops the baton, the whole team is disqualified.  If a runner doesn’t pass the baton smoothly, valuable time is lost and it becomes difficult to win the race.  Passing the baton smoothly is essential to winning a relay race.  (I will return to the image of “passing the baton” in a moment.)

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord, the return of Jesus from earth back to heaven.  The Ascension is a feast which is rich in meaning:  there are three aspects particularly worth noting.  The first is that Jesus ascended back to heaven with his full humanity (his human body, mind and heart, and all his human experiences went to heaven with him).  Jesus didn’t just unite his divinity to our humanity for 33 years of earthly life, but for all time – an incredible that God has made to humankind.  Since Jesus ascended body and soul into heaven, we know for certain that a fully human person has made it safely into heaven.  That means that the gates of heaven, which were closed to us because of the sin of Adam and Eve, are reopened to us by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ.  What a consolation to know that heaven awaits us at the end of our earthly journey – and we know this because of the Ascension.

A second key aspect of the Ascension is that, in heaven, Jesus acts as our Intercessor and Advocate (he pleads for us).  Jesus’ return to heaven was a physical departure from us, but spiritually, he is more present to us than ever.  In heaven, Jesus transcends time and space.  When Jesus ascended to heaven, as a reward for his life of love and faithfulness, God the Father seated Him at his right side forever with power and glory, and made him King of the Universe and Judge of the Living and the Dead.  Now Jesus, who knows from first-hand lived experience the struggles and trials of human life, is our heavenly Advocate!  We can call on him in our need, and he, who is like us in all things but sin, knows precisely what we need and will send the Holy Spirit to help us.  And that amazing blessing is ours because of Jesus’ Ascension.

The third key aspect of the Ascension involves the idea of passing the baton.  The Ascension marks the passing of the baton of evangelizing the faith from Jesus to us.  The Scriptures tell us that, after Jesus rose from the dead, he remained on earth for forty days, appearing to his disciples, teaching them and encouraging them in the faith.  At the end of forty days, he gathered his disciples together and announced that it was time for him to return to heaven and time for them to take up his mission in the world.  We hear his clear words in today’s gospel:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  That directive by Jesus was the relay or passing of the baton.  Jesus had been forming his disciples for the work of evangelization during his three years of public ministry.  For three years, the disciples had lived with Jesus, traveled with him, listened to him preach and teach, and witnessed the miracles that he performed.  It was now their time to carry forward his words and works:  to teach others about God’s incredible love, to exhort them to center their lives on God, and to call them to live lives of sacrificial love in imitation of Jesus. The spiritual power to fulfill that mission would come from the Holy Spirit, which the disciples received at Pentecost, and from Jesus himself, who promised to be with them until the end of time:  “Know that I am with you always until the end of time.” 

That is the three-fold import of the Ascension:  the incredible commitment of God to humanity and the reopening of heaven; the gift of a fully divine but also fully human Jesus as our heavenly Intercessor; and the passing of the baton of Christ’s mission from Jesus to his disciples – and to us. 

At our baptism, each of us formally received that call to discipleship:  we were anointed with the common priesthood of the baptized and given the mission to evangelize the world.  Today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we also celebrate the commitment of a man who has decided to live his baptismal mission of discipleship as an ordained priest of Jesus Christ:  Father Jose de Jesus.  Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?  Today we celebrate, in the person of Father Jose, a special gift that Christ has given to the Church to sanctify it, shepherd it and teach it – to serve the common priesthood of the lay faithful.  This is how the Catholic Catechism describes the ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ:  “The Sacrament of Holy Orders [by which a man is ordained a priest] is the means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church for the salvation of souls.” (Cat. 1534 and 1547)  Christ uses the ordained priesthood to save souls.  The Catechism also says that, in his priestly ministry, the priest acts in the person of Jesus (in persona Christi capitis):  “In the service of the ordained priest, it is Christ Himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, and Teacher of Truth.” (Cat. 1548)

Father Jose, you didn’t choose the priesthood; you have been chosen by God for the priesthood.  God called you in your native land of Mexico to become a missionary priest in the United States.  Why God called you to this mission is a mystery.  It is God’s providence.  You are a genuinely nice guy and a good man, but you are not a perfect man; neither am I; neither were the first priests whom Jesus called:  Peter, Andrew, James, John and the rest.  They had strengths and weaknesses just like us, but they loved Jesus and were willing to leave their families and homeland to follow the Lord, just like you.  Thank you for your generosity in following the call of Christ from Mexico to the United States, and thanks to your parents and family for their generosity in sharing you with this local church.

Father Jose, you have been in seminary formation for 12 years:  6 years in Mexico and 6 years in the U.S.  During the past 6 years in the U.S., you have devoted yourself diligently to the study of English and, while cherishing your Latin culture and roots, you have embraced American culture, food, and treadmills!  This priest loves to run!  Father Jose, during seminary, you have been a man of prayer, a student of theology, an early riser, a hard worker, disciplined, and humble in service (washing dishes and cleaning tables to serve the seminary community).  In your priesthood, please stay faithful to what has brought you to this day:  prayer (first and foremost), study, self-sacrifice, humble service, a sense of humor, trust in God, and devotion to Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.

Today is a day of great rejoicing in our Church, a day of celebrating, and a day of thanksgiving.  The Ascension of Jesus into heaven is an amazing gift of God to our world.  The ordained priesthood is also an amazing gift of God to our world, and God has seen fit to give this amazing gift once again.  Thank you, Almighty God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Father Jose, may God’s grace, peace and blessing be upon you as you carry the baton passed to you by Jesus and minister as a priest in his most holy name.  Que Dios te bendiga, Padre Jose de Jesus!


Fr. Joseph Palermo is a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He serves serves as spiritual director at Notre Dame Seminary and spiritual advisor for the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Association.


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