Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily on the Feast of the Ascension
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

"You are witnesses of these things." Luke 24:48

John Henry Newman once wrote that it would be impossible to believe that God would have willed something as important as the salvation of the world by His Son, Jesus Christ, and not provided for the continuation of that message. If a message is important, then there are teachers provided to teach it. In the truth and logic of this observation is found the reason for the Church.

We hear Jesus speaking of it in the Gospel for this Ascension. "It is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name" (Luke 24:46-47). The message of salvation is to be spread "to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). To paraphrase the question of St. Paul, but who will preach unless they are sent? Jesus answers that question too. He says to His disciples, "You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:48).

Jesus and the disciples knew the importance of witnesses in Jewish law. Nothing could be proved true without at least two witnesses. The message of salvation is far too important not to have witnesses who will testify to its truth and insure its continuation. That witness begins with God Himself and continues in the Church.

Jesus emphasizes that he will send "the promise of my Father upon you" (Luke 24:49). Elsewhere Jesus reminded His disciples, "The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you" (John 14:26). They are not to worry. The Holy Spirit will insure the truth of what is being taught. They will speak in His name, they will witness to His truth, they will carry on His work. In this work is found the mission of the Church. We are part of a great continuity of witness.

The Church is that great body of believers who witnesses with fidelity to the message of salvation revealed by Christ. As there was an Old Testament People of God redeemed in the Exodus and who witnessed to the one God, so there is a New Testament People of God who witness to redemption by the Son of God. As there was an Old Testament promised land flowing with milk and honey, so there is now a New Testament promised land flowing with the Body and Blood of Christ to nourish a people united by Christ's Body in the Church. "Brothers and sisters," the author of Hebrews writes, "since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,' let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust" (Hebrews 9:19-22). The Church is that "house of God", Christ is that "great priest", and "the blood of Jesus" in the Eucharist insures our "approach" into a "new and living" "sanctuary."

The Church is not accidental to the mystery of salvation. It is essential. The Church lies at the very heart of Jesus' desire that His work and teaching continue. The Eucharist is the food for this journey. In consuming the Eucharist we witness truthfully to the reality of who we are as Church. In the words of Second Vatican Council, "The Church, in Christ, is a sacrament, a sign and instrument, of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race" (Lumen Gentium, 1).

For this reason, I think, the disciples after hearing these words and seeing Jesus ascend returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. "They were continually in the temple praising God" (Luke 24:53), as we find ourselves today. We have come to the House of God because we are the Church. We approach the altar of God because the Body of Christ that we consume makes us one. And we are one because we are a witness to the truth of Christ's message.