Mortmain + Ascension Homily

First, I have to apologize.

Back in February, I told you an untruth. I claimed that the covered bridge in Philippi, West Virginia, crosses the Buckhannon River.

In fact, the Buckhannon flows into the Tygart Valley upriver from Philippi. The bridge crosses the Tygart Valley River.

Union troops marched across the bridge 150 years ago today. The ‘first land battle’ of the Civil War ensued…

…From the Sister-Death File:

“Mortmain.” Know what it is? This is a legal term for the way in which a community of vowed religious owns property. (The term can also apply to corporations or charities.)

Vowed religious individuals are already civilly dead. The passage of time does not bring the usual legal events in ownership of their property, like wills and estate taxes. The mort main, the ‘dead hand,’ grasps the property forever…

…Not sure when Ascension Day occurs?

Me, neither.

But here is a sermon:

So God became a man, like you and me. Flesh and blood; two arms, two legs; ate bread; talked to people; bathed; etc.

When Almighty God becomes man, He is of course going to be amazing. He is going to be conceived of a virgin. As a boy, He is going to astound the rabbis in the Temple. He is going to labor nobly in humble obscurity for years. Then He is going to teach the sublimest doctrine and perform the most wonderful miracles. He is going to be the most generous and loving friend. He is going to live a life of purity and justice. When His jealous enemies conspire to have Him killed, He is going to go bravely to His death. Then the God-man is going to rise again from the dead. He is going to comfort His grieving friends, endow them with spiritual gifts, and prepare them for a great mission in His name.

No one ever could have predicted that Almighty God would become man. But now that He has done it, every aspect of His pilgrim life seems perfectly fitting. We behold Jesus’ life on earth, and we say, ‘Yes, this is God. This is divine wisdom. This is divine power. We couldn’t have made it up ourselves, but now that we see it, we recognize it for what it is. Praise heaven. Amen.’

But wait. How is it going to end?

When Almighty God becomes man like you and me, and blesses the dingy earth with His sacred footsteps, then consummates the everlasting life-giving sacrifice, conquers death, and outfits His Church for millennia of spiritual campaigning—how does this mission of the divine Redeemer now come to its fitting end?

Does the God-man live happily ever after, like a hobbit in the Shire? Does He get inducted into some Hall of Fame and endorse a brand of gas grills on t.v.? Does He get wanderlust like Tennyson’s Ulysses and set out on another adventure?

No, no. Of course not. Forgive the rhetorical blasphemies. Of course there is only one thing that He can do, when His work is done and His pilgrimage under the sun is complete. He blesses His chosen ones; He sends them on their mission; and He ascends. Into heaven.

Of course. “He rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures and ascended into heaven.” These words trip off our tongues every week like the most natural, unsurprising sentence ever. What did God do at the end of His human life? Silly! He ascended into heaven of course!

But wait. Hold on. Now that we have come to the end, we have to go back to the beginning in order to try to get a firm grip on the enormity of what we are dealing with here.

We can work our way back, step by step from our Lord’s Ascension, back through all the mysteries of Almighty God’s human life on earth: resurrection from death, selfless sacrifice of His life, healing power, liberating truths, humble upbringing, beautiful mother…yes, yes; of course, of course; how else could it be?…until we get back to the beginning. Then we get hit with the SHAZAM! of amazement: God became a human embryo in the womb of a Nazarene girl. Stop the presses, please.

My point is: There is just as much shazam at the end as there is at the beginning.

Bam! The Maker of every atom in every corner of the universe—not to mention every human mind and soul and all the countless hosts of angels—the Creator is now a baby in a trophoblast getting ready to implant in the Blessed Mother’s uterine wall! –Whoa… Okay.

Thirty-three years later, that man—that chickpea-chewing, two-by-four-sawing, often-sweating, white-tooth-smiling Galilean rabbi—that man like you and me—He ascends into heaven. Into heaven. Whoa. Wait. What?

Over and over again, the Pharisees had asked Christ, “Where are you from?” He did not answer—not because He didn’t know, but because, well, how do you put it? “I grew up in Nazareth. But actually I am from, uh, all eternity.”

Same thing with the Ascension. St. Thomas whined at the Lord before He left, “Master, we do not know where you are going!” Christ loved Thomas, but what was He going to say to him? The home to which Christ returned is the same indescribable wonder as the lapidary glory from which He came.

Brothers and sisters, our man is in heaven. We don’t know where that is. We don’t know what it’s like. It’s real; it’s close; it’s beautiful. But, for the time being, a veil occludes our sight.

We need not, however, worry. Let’s just stand amazed for a moment here, like His first disciples did, when He vanished from their earthly sight.

2 thoughts on “Mortmain + Ascension Homily

  1. Beautiful, Fr. Mark. You captured the splendor of it all in, well, 80s talk! Thanks for your amazing blog thoughts.

  2. Father Mark,

    If ever anyone deserved peace on Earth it was Samwise Gamgee, with his Rose. But, there’s no guarantee he got it. Anyone who loved and followed his Master a Sam did, simply, with no thought of self, risking all (yet flawed), will one day arise again to a new calling, a danger to a beloved child perhaps (think Elora Danan floating downstream). Sam might be Peter; in my better moments, I hope to be like Peter (my confirmation name for a reason) and Sam.

    It all gets down to picking the right Master. The Disciples did, Sam did, we did.



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