Think about someone you know very well and love. If you heard his voice, would you recognize it? Certainly. If you saw her in the distance, would you recognize the way she walks? Probably. If it’s someone you love and know very well, you would recognize his laugh—and know the sort of things he finds funny, the jokes he tells or laughs it. You might know her favorite foods, the kind of gestures that she makes. You might even be able to recognize someone you know very well from the smell of the shampoo she uses.
Now another question. If it’s someone that you love and maybe lives far away, if you had a choice, would you rather send him an email or make a phone call or zoom or see him in person and spend time with him? I think all of us know it means so much more to spend time with someone we love in person, in the flesh. You can’t give a hug over zoom.
What’s missing in a text message or a zoom call? We could list a lot of things, those sorts of things I just mentioned—touch, our way of reacting to things, lots of little things, things it’s hard to describe exactly. Let’s put a word on all these things—our humanity.
There’s not a reason for all of these things. Why are we born in a particular place at a particular time? Why do we prefer the tastes or smells or music we do? Why do we make certain gestures? I don’t know. There’s not always a reason. When my niece was a baby—and even a toddler—whenever you would pick her up to hold her, the first things she would do was grab your ear. Every single time. Why did she do that? I have no idea. But it’s one of those little things that made her different than anyone else.
In order to really know someone well, it’s not enough just to know his date of birth or height and weight, the information on his passport. We need to know his humanity, the uniqueness of that person, what we can touch.
Now what person do you think I want to talk about today? Whose humanity? Jesus. And why do you think I want to talk about Jesus? Because knowing Jesus well, knowing him like a friend is our salvation. Jesus is God, so our relationship with him is the most important relationship we can have. And to know him well, we have to know his humanity.
Now you might think that’s hard. We can’t send Jesus a text or even zoom him. The readings we use today talk about his Ascension. After Jesus rose from the dead at Easter, he appeared to the disciples for forty days, and then he ascended—he went up—body and soul into heaven. And it might seem that that creates a big problem for us if we want to know Jesus’ humanity, but it doesn’t.
Jesus went into heaven so that he could give us a new way of knowing his humanity, even of sharing his humanity, of sharing all that made him unique, of getting close to him—even closer to him than hugging him, in fact. And how do we share in the humanity of Jesus today? How do we touch and feel and get to know and even taste the humanity of Jesus. Through the sacraments.
We are about to celebrate the Eucharist when Jesus comes as close to us as it is possible to be in this world. In fact, receiving the Eucharist, Jesus’ humanity becomes a part of our humanity. So this weekend, when we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus, remember that it doesn’t mean he is going far away. It means he is coming closer than it was ever possible to be before.
Readings: Acts 1:1-11, Matt 28:16-20
Homily for the Ascension 2023
John XXIII College, Perth, Australia