HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Ascension of the Lord, 24 May 2001
1. We gather around the altar of the Lord in order to celebrate his Ascension into heaven. We have heard his words: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses ... even to the end of the earth" (Acts 1,8). For 2,000 years, the Risen Lord's promise impels the Church to put out "into the deep" waters of life, to become a contemporary of everyone and the ferment of human thought and imagination.
Certainly, to contemplate heaven does not mean to forget the earth. If there were ever the hint of such a temptation, just listen again to the two men in white robes, of the Acts of the Apostles: "Why do you stand looking up to heaven?" (Acts 1,11). Christian contemplation does not take us away from our earthly commitments. The "heaven" into which Jesus was taken up is not his removal into some place far away from us, but the veiling and protection of the presence of One who is always with us until he comes again in glory. The present age is very much the time requiring our witness so that in the name of Christ "repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be preached to all the nations" (cf. Lk 24,47).
Collegiality exists for the mission of the Church and for the practical challenges to her mission
The icon of the beginnings is a perfect image of the missionary nature of the Church. The Church today has the same basic shape and the same spirit. The spirit emerges when she experiences the joy which the Lord Jesus promised to those who love him: "These things I have said to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full" (Jn 15,11). If our faith in the Risen Lord is alive, the soul will be full of joy and the mission will take the form of an "overflow" of joy which impels us to bring to everyone the "wonderful news" of salvation with a courage free of fear and doubt, even at the cost of giving our lives.
The missionary work of the Church, which begins with Christ, is supported by episcopal collegiality and is encouraged by the successor of Peter, whose ministry has the goal of promoting ecclesial communion by guaranteeing the unity of the faithful in Christ.
3. Such an experience made Paul "the Apostle of the Nations" bringing him to travel over most of the then known world, thanks to the inner motivation which forced him to speak of Christ: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (I Cor 9,16). In my recent apostolic pilgrimage to Greece, Syria and Malta, I wanted to walk in Paul's footsteps as the completion of my Jubilee pilgrimage. I had the joy of living briefly alongside my beloved and admired Catholic brothers of the Eastern Churches and of seeing opened up new ecumenical perspectives in our relations with our equally beloved Orthodox brothers: with the help of God, significant steps were taken towards the desired goal of full communion.
My meeting with the Muslims was wonderful. As during the Jubilee Year pilgrimage to the Holy Land I was able to highlight the special bonds that link our faith with the faith of the Jewish people, now there was an intense moment of dialogue with the believers of Islam. The Second Vatican Council taught us that the announcement of Christ as the only Saviour of the world does not forbid, but on the contrary calls for the pursuit of peaceful relations with the believers of other religions (cf Nostra Aetate, n. 2).
Scientific approach to knowledge, resistance to the idea of God becoming man offer challenge
Other problems derive from the advance of globalization. If it offers the advantage of bringing peoples and cultures closer together, it does make more available an infinite number of messages. However, it does not favour a process of discernment and of mature synthesis, but fosters a relativist attitude which makes it more difficult to accept Christ as "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14,6) for everyone.
What can we say about emerging moral questions? Never before, above all in the area of bioethics, not to mention those of social justice, of family life, of married life, has humanity had to face a formidable spectrum of problems which jeopardize its own existence.
The Spirit whom Christ has poured forth without measure gives us the power. The Spirit is the secret of the life of the Church today as much as he was the secret of the life of the primitive Church. We would be condemned to failure, if Christ's promise to the Apostles were not realized in us: "I will send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24,49). The Spirit, Christ, the Father: the whole Trinity is involved with us.
Looking to him, we willingly accept the warning of the Letter to the Hebrews, to "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb 10,23).
Our renewed zeal becomes a canticle of praise when with the words of the Psalm we show to the people of the world Christ risen and ascended into heaven: "Clap your hands, all you peoples, shout to God with songs of joy ... God is king over all the earth" (Ps 46/47,1.8).
With renewed confidence, then we "put out into the deep" in his name.