Christ’s Presence: His Body, the Church

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on May 20, the Solemnity of the Ascension, during the Mass for Expectant and New Parents, at St. Louis Parish in Alexandria.

In this sacred liturgy, we are reliving the Ascension of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that is, His return to His heavenly Father 40 days after His rising from the dead. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Christ's ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus' humanity into God's heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3)" (No. 665).

Christ's ascension does not mean His temporary absence from the world. Rather, even though He has returned to the Father to intercede for us until He comes again at the end of time, the Lord Jesus remains with us by means of His new presence. This presence takes on several forms, for example, He is uniquely present in the Eucharist as well as being present in the other sacraments and in His Living Word. This new presence of the Risen Lord Jesus exists also in His Mystical Body, the Church. Saint Paul tells us in today's second reading: "And he [God the Father] gave him [Jesus Christ] as head over all things to the Church, which is his body…"

Now, through baptism, we become members of Christ's Body, His Church. Born again of water and the Holy Spirit, we receive God's own life, divine grace! This life of God within us is deepened and strengthened through prayer, the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist; if this divine life is lost through serious sin, it can be restored through the sacrament of penance, what we popularly call confession. As members of Christ's Body, we form His new presence in the world. In fact, empowered by the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Son send us, we are witnesses for Christ. Recall what we heard a short time ago in our first reading: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth."

Christ's new presence is made visible within the smallest cell of the Church, the family, which is often called "the domestic church," (cf. Catechism, No. 1656). "It is here [the domestic church] that the father of the family, the mother, children and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way ‘by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self denial and active charity…" (Ibid., No. 1657). Yes, in a real way, Christ's new presence truly exists within the domestic church, the Christian family.

Gathered among us at this celebration of the holy Mass are both expectant and new parents. They soon will or already are making real the domestic church. What a grace-filled privilege this is and yes, what an awesome responsibility! Dear parents, be not afraid! The Lord Jesus Himself is with you, and with His Father, sends the Holy Spirit to be your second advocate or helper. So, you are not alone in rearing your children, leading them on the path of holiness, to which each of them is called from baptism on.

Dear parents, you are to be witnesses within your family, within the domestic church you form. Witness to living faith: God is real and present! Teach this to your children and with them, touch God through faith. Witness to enduring hope: see beyond the visible to the invisible, to the mysteries which surround us and, above all, to the Mystery of God's Love and to His Divine Providence. Teach this to your children and with them, cling to God through hope. Witness to unshakable charity: God's love revealed in Jesus must shine through us to others, especially to those in need. Teach this to your children and with them, be the living instruments of God's care through charity. Pope Benedict XVI encourages you: "…every home can transform itself into a little church" where "Christian love" reigns, where the "whole of family life, based on faith, is called to revolve around the singular Lordship of Jesus Christ."

To be such witnesses, to build up the domestic church as a true expression of Christ's new presence, there must be prayer, at home and in the sacred liturgy. There must also be love that is far more than an emotion or feeling, but rather, a commitment, a decision, to give of oneself to the other, self-giving and sacrificial love, for the total welfare of others including their salvation. As the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep, so husband and wife in their spousal union are called to follow His example by laying down their lives for the sake of their children.

There must also be true devotion to Our Blessed Lady, the Mother of God and our Mother too. Our Holy Father reminds us: "May is quite propitious for illustrating the figure of Mary as the Mother who accompanies the community of disciples united in prayer in expectation of the Holy Spirit." Finally, there must be the grace of perseverance to the end, loving one another as husband and wife, as parents and children, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death.

Christ's ascension inaugurated His new presence. As members of His Body, the Church, and yes, as members of the smallest cell of the Church, the family, we must be His living presence in the world! We do so with confidence, for He is interceding for us before the Father! One day, we shall be with Him. As Pope Benedict reminds us, "The meaning of Christ's Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God" (cf. Magnificat, vol. 9, no. 3, May 2007, p. 242). Words we shall soon hear emphasize this confidence: "Christ, the mediator between God and man…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow."

Parents, expectant and new, indeed, all disciples of Christ, let us be, through His grace, His new presence here, His Church, so that one day, we shall live with Him forever in heaven!

Bishop Paul S. Loverde

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Bp. Paul S. Loverde is the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia.

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