Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for the Ascension: "The Lord did not leave us orphans."


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(Fontgombault, May 5, 2016)

Why stand you looking up to heaven?
(Acts 1:11)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

The readings of today’s Mass present us with two accounts of Our Lord’s Ascension. The first one is taken from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and it is its opening. Conversely, the second one is the conclusion of St. Mark’s Gospel.

The Ascension thus appears as a turning point. A new leaf is turned, a new period begins. The Word of God, after completing His visible mission, ascends back to His Father, and the Apostles have to begin fully their own mission.

St. Mark is very terse in his narration of the event:

And the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God. (Mk 16:19)

St. Luke, who also gives an account of the fact, doesn’t give many more details in his Gospel. True, he will go back over the event in the book of the Acts:

And lifting up his hands, He blessed them. And it came to pass, whilst He blessed them, He departed from them and was carried up to heaven. (Lk 24:50-51)

The book of the Acts of the Apostles is more detailed. Jesus, having encountered several times His disciples after His Resurrection, commands them during this last meeting not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father had promised.

The Apostles’ outlook is much narrower, as they had already shown in the past: when will the Lord ever restore again the kingdom of Israel? It is not for the Apostles to know the times that the Father has fixed. On the other hand, Jesus asks them to be His witnesses unto the remotest parts of the earth. Therefore, the disciples receive more than what they were expecting: not only Israel, but the remotest parts of the earth, such are the earthly limits of the Kingdom to come.

After He had said these words, the Lord was raised up, and the eyes of the Apostles were gazing intently on Him. The intervention of the two men in white garments is providential. The Apostles must not stay there, but start on their Mission. The mission of the angels again appears as a request from Heaven that the Apostles should accept an important event, and set to converting their lives.

The Lord has not left His Apostles orphans. He has not left us, nor will He ever leave us, orphans. The smoke that rises from the blown-out Paschal candle’s still warm wick should not make us feel nostalgic. The remotest parts of the earth are our share.

For that purpose, we should ask for each other the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who will renew our strength to go and fight for the Kingdom, and first of all to engage in battle with ourselves so as to convert. The Holy Spirit enlightens our intelligence, so that we may receive the teachings that the Lord ceaselessly gives us through the various circumstances with which our lives are speckled.

Whereas we are beginning the novena that is going to elapse before a new outpouring of the Spirit on the feast of Pentecost, let us unite with the Apostles, gathered in prayer around Mary, let us beg from the Lord the grace of the Holy Spirit, and let us answer by our lives to the invitation of the angels. It is the whole world that is our share.

Amen, Alleluia