The Ascension of the Lord


Saint Peter’s Square
Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

With today’s catechesis, I want to start talking about prayer in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters of Saint Paul.

As we know, St. Luke has given us one of the four Gospels, dedicated to the earthly life of Jesus, but he has also left us the first book on the history of the church, that is, the Acts of the Apostles. In both books, one of the recurring elements is precisely prayer, from that of Jesus to that of Mary, that of the disciples, that of women and that of the christian community.

The initial path of the church is marked, first of all, by the action of the Holy Spirit, who transforms the apostles into witnesses of the Risen One to the shedding of his blood, and through the rapid diffusion of the Word of God towards the east and the west. However, before the announcement of the Gospel is spread, St. Luke refers to the episode of the Ascension of the Risen One (see Acts 1:6-9).

The Lord gives the disciples the program of His life dedicated to evangelization and says, “You will receive the strength of the Holy Spirit that will come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). In Jerusalem the Apostles, who were already only eleven by the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, are gathered at home to pray, and it is precisely in prayer that they expect the gift promised by the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit.

In this context of waiting, between the Ascension and Pentecost, St. Luke mentions for the last time Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and her relatives (see v. 14). Luke dedicated to Mary the opening pages of his Gospel, from the announcement of the angel to the birth and childhood of the Son of God made man. The earthly life of Jesus begins with Mary, and with Mary the church initiates its first steps; in both moments, the climate is to listen to God, of recollection.

Today, therefore, I want to dwell on this prayerful presence of the Blessed Mary in the group of disciples who will be the first nascent Church. Mary followed with discretion the way of her Son during public life until the foot of the cross, and now also follows, with a silent prayer, the way of the church. At the Annunciation, in the house of Nazareth, Mary receives the angel of God. She is attentive to his words, she welcomes him and responds to the divine plan, expressing her full availability, “Behold the slave of the Lord, be it done to me according to your will (Lk 1:38).

Mary, precisely because of the interior attitude of listening, is able to read her own history, recognizing with humility that it is the Lord who acts. In her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, she breaks into a prayer of praise and joy of celebration of the divine grace, which has filled her heart and life, making her the mother of the Lord (Lk 1:46-55). Praise, thanksgiving, and joy in the canticle of the Magnificat.

Mary not only looks at what God has done in her, but also what God has done and continues to do in history. St. Ambrose, in a famous commentary on the Magnificat, invites us to have the same spirit in prayer. He writes, “Each one must have the soul of Mary to praise the Lord; each one must have the spirit of Mary to rejoice in God (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam 2, 26:pl 15, 1561).

Also in the Cenacle, in Jerusalem, “in the hall of the upper floor where the disciples of Jesus used to meet” (cf Acts 1:13), in a climate of listening and prayer, she is present, before she opens the doors widely and they begin to announce Christ the Lord to all peoples, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them (Mt 28:19-20). The stages of Mary’s journey, from the house of Nazareth to that of Jerusalem, through the cross, where her Son entrusts the apostle John, are marked by the ability to maintain a persevering climate of meditation, to meditate on all events in the silence of her heart, before God (cf Lk 2:19-51); and in meditation before God, also understand the will of God and be able to accept it internally.

The presence of the mother of God with the eleven after the Ascension is not, therefore, a simple historical annotation of something that happened in the past, but assumes a meaning of great value, because with them she shares the most precious she has. The living memory of Jesus in prayer, shares this mission of Jesus: keeps the memory of Jesus and, thus, preserve His presence.

The last allusion to Mary in the two writings of St. Luke is located on the Sabbath day: the day of God’s rest after creation, the day of silence after the death of Jesus and the awaiting of His resurrection. And in this episode, the tradition of Holy Mary on Saturday has its roots.

Between the Ascension of the Risen Christ and the first christian Pentecost, the Apostles and the church meet with Mary to wait with her for the gift of the Holy Spirit, without whom she cannot be a witness. She, who had already received him to engender the incarnate Word, shares with the whole church the expectation of the same gift, so that in the heart of every believer “Christ be formed” (cf. Ga 4:19).

If there is no church without Pentecost, there is no Pentecost without the mother of Jesus, because she lived in a unique way what the church experiences every day under the action of the Holy Spirit. St. Chromatius of Aquileia comments on the annotation of the Acts of the Apostles, “The church, therefore, met in the upper room together with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her brothers.

Therefore, we cannot speak about the church if Mary, the mother of the Lord, is not present ... The Church of Christ is there where the Incarnation of Christ of the Blessed Mary is preached; and, where the Apostles preach, who are brothers of the Lord, there the Gospel is heard (Sermo 30, 1:sc 164, 135).

The Second Vatican Council wanted to emphasize, in a special way, this bond that is visibly manifested when Mary and the Apostles pray together, in the same place, waiting for the Holy Spirit. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium states, “God did not want to solemnly manifest the mystery of human salvation before sending the Spirit promised by Christ. That is why we see the Apostles, before the day of Pentecost, “persevere in prayer united, together with some women, with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and their relatives” (Acts 1:14). Mary prayed for the gift of the Spirit, which at the Annunciation had covered her with her shadow”(59). The privileged place of Mary is the church, where “she is also greeted as a very eminent and singular member ... and as her prototype and outstanding model in faith and love” (ibid., 53).

To venerate the mother of Jesus in the church means, therefore, to learn from her to be a praying community; this is one of the essential notes of the first description of the christian community traced in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 42).

Often prayer is used for situations of difficulty, for personal problems that impel us to turn to the Lord for light, comfort and help. Mary invites to open the dimensions of prayer, to address God not only in need and not only to ask for themselves, but also in a unanimous, persevering and faithful way, with “one heart and one soul” (cf. Acts 4:32).

Dear friends, human life goes through different phases of passage, often difficult and arduous, which require non-derogable decisions, renunciations and sacrifices. The Lord put the mother of Jesus at decisive moments in the history of salvation, and she knew how to respond always with full availability, the fruit of a deep bond with God matured in assiduous and intense prayer. Between the Friday of the Passion and the Sunday of the Resurrection, she was entrusted with the beloved disciple and with him the whole community of disciples (Jn 19:26).

Between the Ascension and Pentecost, she meets with and in the church in prayer (cf Acts 1:14). Mother of God and mother of the Church, Mary exercises this motherhood until the end of history. Let us entrust to her all the phases of passage of our personal and ecclesial existence, including that of our final transit.

Mary teaches us the need for prayer and indicates that only with a constant, intimate, full of love with her Son can we leave “our home,” of ourselves, with courage, to reach the ends of the world and announce everywhere the Lord Jesus, Savior of the world. Thank you.

Thank you.

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