For some time now, since those genetic tests have come out like the 23andMe on Ancestry.com, I have been kind of fascinated with my ancestry and where everybody came from. The story I would like to share today is actually about my great-grandfather who was an immigrant from Yugoslavia. When he came over here, he had to have three things that were in place. First, you had to have a sponsor. Somebody here in the United States had to sponsor him and had to testify to him coming here. The second thing he had to have was a place to live. The third thing was that he had to have some kind of work. They had to declare that he would have work. That was the sponsor’s job to have it all lined up. Then, my great-grandfather was able to come over. It is so cool because you can look it up on the Ellis Island website. You can search their name, the year, and you can actually see a picture of the ship that they were brought over on. It is just fascinating.
My great-grandfather’s name was George and his original name in Yugoslavia was Markovich. When he came here to America, he changed it to Markusic. They tried to Americanize it or simplify it. He came here at first by himself. He was married in Yugoslavia with two children, and he was the first one to come over. He settled in West Virginia. We had family there that were coal miners, so he became a coal miner and settled in West Virginia. When he made enough money, he would then send for the next person to come over. So, the next person was the wife. He sent for his wife to come over, and they left their two children at that time with his parents over in Yugoslavia. So, then the wife came over. Then when they got here, they continued to have kids.
He continued trying to make money to bring over the other two. The older brother was the next one that came, and this is part of the story that is so unbelievable to me. Usually, the stories that are most unbelievable are most likely to be true. The youngest girl was the last to come over. She did not speak any English. All she knew was Slovenian. When she came over, she was dressed in a beautiful dress. She was a young girl about 10 years old, and all they did was pin a piece of paper to her that had the address and the hometown of where she was going. So, when she got to America, she knew nothing. She got off the boat, did not know how to speak English and would just point to the paper. Before you knew it, they put her on a train. She was the last-born child, so the youngest child is usually neglected right? She was the one who came over last and got back to Pennsylvania – to Masontown where my family lived and grew.
I talk about this because today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension. The Ascension is the going to this new land. It is ultimately, as we heard in the first reading, about going to our heavenly homeland, and Jesus is the first to go.
Jesus was the first to go to heaven. This moment we have right here, the Ascension, is when He finally ascended into heaven. Since the Incarnation, He has not been back to heaven. He has not been with the Father. So, now He ascends and goes into heaven.
There are beautiful prayers in this Mass that speak about Jesus Christ as the head and where the head goes the body will follow. That is great news for us because if you think about our journey of going to heaven it is going to be like an immigration. We are going into heaven. Now, Jesus is the head. He is already there, and He is our sponsor. He is who is going to testify before the Father on our behalf so that we can have a place in the heavenly homeland.
First of all, it is important to realize that we have this sponsor. The first thing about immigration is that they had to have a sponsor at that time. Jesus is our sponsor and part of what He does as a sponsor is He prepares a place for us. Jesus has done this. He is our sponsor. He is going to testify for us, and He has made a place for us to live. We hear this in the Gospel of John, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places and what I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you if I do not come back again and take you to myself.” So, you have a place in heaven that is waiting for you.
So, first a sponsor. Second a place and third work. In order to come over here to America you had to have some kind of job. Like I said, my family is from a line of coal miners in Masontown. So how heaven comes about, how salvation comes about, is through our faith in Jesus and through the works that we do in this life. We believe that the work that we do in this life is a part of our process of entering into our heavenly home.
Jesus says this very powerful word in the Gospel today as He promises that He will bring us to heaven. He says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” How many of you are baptized? Raise your hand. Alright. So, you are baptized, and you believe you will be saved. There is a place that Jesus has prepared for you and by our baptism we have this Jesus as our sponsor. He is going to make sure that He sponsors us and testifies on our behalf.
The second is that you have a home ready for you in heaven. Jesus has prepared and has provided a home for you and this place for you in heaven.
The third part is that we have to participate in the life of Jesus. So, we have to actually do some work. We have to participate in the works of Jesus. We hear at the end of the Gospel, “The disciples went forth and preached everywhere while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the work through accompanying signs.”
So, God wants to work with and through you on this earth in order for us to take our place in heaven.
When you were baptized not only were you given this assurance where you were given this sponsorship of Jesus of being a part of the mystical body of Christ, but you were also given the ability to do not only the things that He did, but He tells His disciples, you will do even greater things. That means you can do through your baptism, through your faith and through our works not only the things that Jesus did but even greater things.
That is what He promises us in the Gospel. He says, “For those that believe in me there will be signs. You will see that they will be able to drive out demons in my name. They will be able to speak new languages.” So, think about my ancestors coming from Slovenia knowing no English. We will be able to speak the language of God.
“They will be able to pick up serpents with their hands.” So, no matter what life throws at you, no matter what horrors or difficulty, you will be able to manage it through Christ.
Finally, He says, “They will lay hands on the sick and they will be healed.”
I invite you to take this work of our redemption seriously that you are called to do. Not only things that Jesus did but greater things. So, when people ask you to pray for them or they say, “Will you pray for so and so,” right then stop and lay hands on that person. Pray for their healing. If there is anything going on that is horrible in your life or your world in the name of Jesus drive out those demons. Work for your salvation.
Jesus ascends into heaven as we celebrate today but He does not do it to leave us. It is not like my great-grandfather came to America and then left everybody else at home. Jesus ascended into heaven so that He could bring all of us with Him. We celebrate that reality today.
We know that we have Him as our sponsor and advocate before God. We know that He has prepared a place for us in heaven. Ultimately, we know that if we believe and we do the work that He has commissioned us to do we will be saved.
Whoever is baptized and believes will be saved. So, we can have great hope and great joy if we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus going up to the Father knowing that He has not left us, but He is preparing a place for us so that we too may also be with Him in our heavenly homeland.