We come towards the end of this Easter season, and we remember the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus. Today, we also remember his Ascension, that after he had appeared in the flesh, the resurrected flesh, to his disciples, at one point that would come to an end, and he would have to leave them. It says he would have to be parted from them as he ascended into heaven. I wonder how difficult that must have been for Jesus to say, are these guys ready? Are these twelve men prepared to take over the church before I ascend? They probably weren’t, but he promised to send the Holy Spirit upon them. 

I watch as my siblings and even nieces and nephews and parishioners; I was at a graduation party last night; how difficult it is for parents when they have to send their kids away to college. They’ve tried to raise them to be good kids and young adults. Now they’re sending them off into college, into the world, and it’s terrifying for them because they know all of the different things that they will experience. Indeed, we’ve experienced how these parents sent their children to school after the school shooting in Texas, never expecting that it would be their worst nightmare. And it’s going to become more and more difficult for us to send your children off to places where they once were safe.  

Before Jesus leaves his disciples, he does something extraordinary and tender. He raises his hands and blesses them; to bless means speaking their goodness. He tells them how good they are. It’s not until after he blesses them that he then ascends. My thought is that whenever we’re parting from somebody, whenever we’re either sending somebody off or we’re being sent off, how important it is to take a moment before they leave and to bless them. Bless your husband or wife before they go out the door, bless their children before they go to school, bless your college kids as they go off to college or work, and bless them as they leave you. Because you never know what could happen. You never know if you’ll even see them again. The same thing is true with anyone that has been sent off on a mission, you know? If you have loved ones in the military, in the Army, the Navy, Air Force, whatever that may be, if they’ve been sent off. You know they’re going to great danger, and you never know if they will come back again. 

The thing with the disciples is that Jesus promises the disciples that they will go through the same thing that he went through, that they would enter into his passion, death, and resurrection. But passion and death always come before the resurrection. That’s important for us to realize that the Archbishop, the school, and the parish were Sacred Heart Parish in Texas; the Archbishop was on the road, driving from the archdiocese to the school where the school was. The reporter was interviewing him and was saying, “Where are you going to go today?” And he said, “I’m going to go to the school. I’m going to go to the church. I’m going to meet with the families, the families that want to meet with me.” And they said, “What are you going to tell them?” And he said, “First of all, I want to be with them. I want to be present with them to let them know that I am their shepherd with them. But also to remember that this life is about eternal life, that no matter what we go through in life, no matter what tragedy we go through in life, this is about eternal life. And we need to remember that in those classrooms where the children were, Jesus was with them. He was present there.”

The one image that is mostly sticking with me is there was one little girl under ten years old, and to stay alive, she took some blood from one of the children next to her and wiped it on herself so that she would look dead to the shooter. It reminds me of what we hear in this second reading today: we have confidence in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, that if we have been washed with his blood, we will be protected and raised to everlasting life. This is the most important thing that we can do for each other. This is the most important thing that we can do to protect ourselves from ultimate death, physical end, and eternal death. The blood of our Lord Jesus, the body and blood that we received today, covers us and safeguards us for eternal life. 

So, parents, that’s the best thing you can give to your children, the Eucharist, the deep faith that when you send them off, you know that they will be led to eternal life no matter what they go through. But remember to bless them, to bless your loved ones before they leave. At the end of every Mass, the priest extends a blessing over the people. At the end of Mass, I’ll do that today, and you’ll receive a blessing from the priest who stands in the person of Christ, and you go forth into the world. So you’re parted from me for a little while. And who knows what you’re going to experience when you leave these pews? Are you going into the world with great faith and great trust? This Ascension Jesus was parted from them, as the Scriptures say. So there was this time of separation where the disciples would have to figure it out on their own in the new way without Jesus, resurrected, present with them. But he promises to send the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate that next Sunday, the coming of the Holy Spirit, when Jesus will live in us differently, no longer in the resurrected flesh, but in our flesh now in the body and blood of Christ that we receive in communion, that he lives in us. Everywhere you go, Jesus goes; no matter what tragedy you face in his life, Jesus is present in you.

At the end of this Mass, you are commissioned to go in peace and be his love for the world. So know that we do experience separation. Maybe you’ve lost a parent, and you know what it’s like to be an orphan. Perhaps you’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones in your life. But we’re comforted by this reality of the Ascension that promises that where Jesus has gone, we, too, will follow. 

Here’s the cool thing, to end, after Jesus was ascended and separated from them and taken into heaven, “They did him homage. They worshiped him, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, continuing to praise God.” So how could they be joyful even in the midst of the separation? Their joy was they knew that where Jesus was going, they, too, would follow. And all of us now, who are baptized into this community with Jesus, will follow him, ultimately, into eternal life. But it will happen through passion, through death, and the resurrection. So may we be strengthened by this Eucharist, and may we go bravely into our world knowing that with, in, and through him, we can suffer, die, and rise.