Deacon Peyton Plessala’s first homily, given Ascension Sunday, June 2, 2019, the day after his ordination to the deaconate for the Archdiocese of Mobile.
“When he said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”
I don’t know about you, but the Ascension has never really made much sense to me.
I mean, think about it: Only 40 days ago, the disciples’ best friend and leader was just brutally tortured and murdered for crimes that he did not commit. This torture and death was so scary, in fact, that the disciples all fled their friend’s side in fear that they would also be tortured and crucified. Everything that Christ had taught and done leading up until that moment seemed to be a waste because now… He was dead.
Then, only three days later, their friend literally rose from the dead and walked among them. He forgave them for their fear and brought peace back into their hearts once more. If it were me, there would be tons of partying. Food, drinks, stories. I probably would have wanted to sit around and test out Jesus’ new glorified body. “Hey, walk through that door again.”
But then, 40 days later, the Ascension comes. All of a sudden, Jesus is like, “Aight dudes, it’s been real, but I gotta go, you know, to heaven.” And then boom, he’s off, drifting away into the sky… gone.
What the heck? After all of this, Jesus just leaves. He literally raises off the ground and floats away, never to be seen again.
If I was a disciple, I would have been very angry that our friend and our shepherd, our leader, just left us behind. “Hey dude, take us with you!” “Bro, I wouldn’t mind some of that heaven you’ve been raving about, Earth kinda sucks…” Oh and it did…
Seeing how the apostles’ lives went after that, it would have definitely seemed as though Jesus left them behind to fend for themselves.
Peter, ironically, was crucified, but upside-down. Andrew, Peter’s brother, was also crucified… Connor, we better watch out, brothers don’t fare well in this line of work. Philip was crucified. Thomas was impaled by spears. James the Greater was beheaded. Jude was clubbed to death. James the Lesser was thrown off the top of his cathedral and then clubbed to death. Simon the Zealot was sawed in half. Bartholomew was skinned alive… to death. Matthew was murdered while celebrating mass. And poor ole’ Mathias, who entered the gang late, was either crucified or hacked to death, but no one really knows… I would say that it seemed like Jesus left his apostles behind.
If you think it’s any better today, then you’re fooling yourself. Just a cursory glance at the news, or at Twitter for that matter, would immediately tell you that the new heaven and the new earth that Christ has promised is not here, yet. Earth seems to be more like a new Hell more often than not. And where is Jesus in all of this? Chilling in the warm sands of Heaven? Thanks for everything, Jesus.
I would say that in many ways, it would seem that Christ has really left us behind, too.
I read this book a couple of months ago, called The Male Brain. Yes ladies, it’s an entire book. And in this book, there’s a chapter called, “The Daddy Brain”. In this chapter, the author points out that fathers play differently with their children if mom is not in the room. I didn’t need a book to tell me that because I distinctly remember a family who lives down the street from us, whose name of course I will change to protect their identity. Anyway, when Sue Buffey, the mother of the house, left town, Dr. Rick Buffey, her husband, would always have his children’s friends come over. Then they would proceed to have tons of fun, playing games, eating gallons of ice cream, watching movies, eating buckets of cookie dough… It was a child’s dream, that I’m sure was followed by serious stomach aches after.
It’s really a silly story, but I wonder… I wonder if we prefer life with Christ gone from it.
Yeah, Christ was a great guy, but man, he was kind of a prude. Yeah, he always knew what to say, but man, he wanted me to give all my stuff away.
I mean, if Christ has really left us, if he has truly left us behind to fend for ourselves, then we don’t have to grow. If Christ has really left us, then we don’t have to change. We don’t have to do the hard work of examining our lives, battling our vice, developing our virtue, loving our enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, giving to the poor, caring for the abandoned. None of this stuff is important if Christ is gone. Just like how proper nutrition and things like homework seemed to be less important when Sue Buffey was gone, when Christ is gone from our lives, nothing really matters… and I don’t know, maybe we prefer it that way.
In this way I think it is actually more difficult for some of us to admit that Christ did not leave at all. But how can this be? We saw him fly away into the sky.
The answer is contained in the mystery of this very altar. In just a few moments, Christ will be made present to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. The entirety of Jesus Christ will be right here for us to consume into ourselves. For us to be transformed. To be converted. To be changed. To be made perfect.
This is what the Ascension is about, in my humble opinion. In Ascending, Christ made himself more present both in width and in depth. In width, The Church became his body, his members spread throughout the entire world as the first reading says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In depth, Christ ascended as the second reading describes it, “that he might now appear before God on our behalf.” This is the Eucharist we share, the sacrifice in which we participate.
You see, in Ascending, He did not leave us behind, alone, but he transcended merely earthly presence in order that He may be present to God for each of us and that we may make Him present throughout the world!
So where is Christ in the world, today? Brothers and sisters, WE ARE CHRIST IN THE WORLD! We are the ones called to be the presence of Christ that the world so desperately needs. This is why when we are baptized, we are admitted to membership in the BODY OF CHRIST! This is why we consume Him at the altar every single week! We come to be filled, to receive Him into the depths of our very being, that we may give that same gift, the gift of Christ, to the world.
This is the harder reality to accept. It’s very easy to believe that Christ is gone away, merely a wise teacher, merely a good guy, two thousand years ago. It’s easy to think that we have been left to our own devices.
But what if Christ is actually here? What if the words I read from this book are actually His words? What if the sacrament we celebrate on this altar is truly Him? What would that mean for us?