10 May 2018

'You will be my witnesses . . .' Sunday Reflections, The Ascension of the Lord, Year B

The Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

The Ascension of the Lord, Year  B

The Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Thursday in England and Wales, in Scotland and in parts of the USA.  In these regions the Ascenson is a holy day of obligation. In other countries, including Australia, Ireland, Philippines and parts of the USA, the solemnity is observed on the Sunday after Ascension Thursday.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 16:15-20 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

These readings are used in countries/jurisdictions that observe the solemnity on Ascension Thursday.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

The Ascension, Theophanes the Cretan [Web Gallery of Art]

Fr Giuseppe Raviolo SJ (1923 - 1998) was a Pope St John XXIII-like figure, physically and spiritually, from Italy who spent most of his priestly life in Mindanao, Philippines, where I came to know him. He was the first rector of St John Vianney Major Seminary in Cagayan de Oro City. But he also spent nine years in Vietnam and was rector of the major seminary in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, during the Vietnam War. He once told me an extraordinary story from that period.

The North Vietnamese Army was advancing on Saigon. The soldiers were divided into groups of three. The standing order was that if one tried to surrender the other two were to shoot him. One particular group found themselves surrounded by American soldiers and one of them surrendered. The other two did not shoot their companion and were captured along with him. Later they asked their companion why he had taken such a risk. He answered, I knew you were Christians and that you would not shoot me. The two were in fact Catholics and had discussed the matter and had decided that, as Christians, they could not shoot their companion if that particular situation arose.

These were soldiers in the army of a Communist country, an army without any chaplains, and their companion, who was not a Christian, took it for granted that they would not take his life because he knew that they were Christians.

In the First Reading today, the opening verses of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus says to his disciples, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Those two Catholic soldiers in the North Vietnamese  army were powerful witnesses of Jesus to their companion. They chose to live their faith in Jesus.

In the Republic of Ireland citizens will be voting on 25 May on whether to retain a provision in the Constitution that protects both the life of an unborn child and that of its mother or to replace it with a provision that will allow the parliament to legislate for abortion. The current government has stated that if the Constitution is changed they will introduce legislation that would allow abortion up to twelve weeks for no reason whatever.

Please pray that we in Ireland will have the same respect for human life that the two soldiers in Vietnam had and that we will exercise our responsibility as citizens by being witnesses of Jesus not only in Ireland but to the ends of the earth.

St Domitilla with Sts Nereus and Achilleus
Pomarancio [Web Gallery of Art]

Sts Nereus and Achilleus, whose feast is observed on 12 May, were Roman soldiers who were martyred for being Christians.

Entrance Antiphon  Acts 1:11  Antiphona ad introitum

Men of Galilee, why gaze in wonder at the heavens?
Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in caelum?
This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven
Quemadmodum vidisti eum ascendentem in caelum,
will return as you saw him go, alleluia.
ita veniet, alleluia.

Palestrina's setting uses a slightly different Latin translation along with a verse that is not in the Entrance Antiphon in the current Roman Missal:

Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes in coelum? Hic Jesus, qui assumptus est a vobis in coelum, sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis eum euntem in coelum. Alleluia. Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae. Alleluia. Dominus in coelo paravit sedem suam. Alleluia.

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