Forgiveness - In His Name

(Homily for Ascension of Lord, Year C)

Many distressing pictures have emerged from Iraq these past weeks. Reactions have ranged from outrage to discouragement, from defensiveness to cynicism. Like you, I felt a gamut of emotions. Still, I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of two pictures.

The first showed a sweet American soldier next to an Iraqi boy. With arms draped over each other’s shoulder, the soldier had an innocent smile on her face and the boy was likewise beaming. The scene was heart-warming – just what a concerned U.S. citizen would want to see.

The next picture showed the same young woman. However, this time it was completely different. Her smile was not innocent, but sadistic. She was participating in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

It seemed like a trick. How could it be the same person in both pictures? Yet when we examine our own hearts, we know that a beautiful person and an ugly one can exist side by side.* They are not two different people, but aspects of one and the same “I”. The fact that the public rarely sees that other self does not change matters.

Jesus came “for us men and for our salvation.” He did not come to save ideal people, but real ones like you and me. Before he ascended into heaven he commissioned the apostles to preach forgiveness of sins “in his name.” (Lk 24:47) He could do that not simply because he is God, but because in his humanity he had born every insult, every offense.

If I were to say to an Iraqi, “Don’t worry about Abu Ghraib; I have already forgiven the prison guards,” he would react with justifiable rage. “Who are you?” But it is different with Jesus. In his Passion, he sustained the full weight of human cruelty.

As Jesus ascends into heaven, he desires to take you and me with him. To do that he had to first descend to the extreme depths. C.S. Lewis uses the image of a diver who, from a great height, plunges into the water, down into the darkness, finally extending his arm into the mud and slime. When he returns to the surface, he triumphantly opens his hand. From the ocean depth he has seized a precious pearl.

“God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” By his one, perfect sacrifice he has entered a “sanctuary not made by human hands.” We can approach him with absolute trust. He will cleanse our consciences – and give us a place with him.


*Regarding those two "people" the devil has an almost infallible strategy. When comparing ourselves to someone else, he reminds us of the "beautiful" person we are. Thus, we can feel superior, self-righteous and condemnatory. But when he has us alone, he gets us to focus on the "ugly" person, telling us that is who we really are. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, wants us to accept Jesus' forgiveness for our disordered acts - and give him praise for the goodness.

Spanish Version

From the Archives (Ascension Homilies):

2011: The Personal Center
2010: Disappear vs. Leave
2009: What Good-Bye Means
2008: Ascension Quotes
2007: Separation of Church and State
2006: Whoever Believes and is Baptized
2005: There the Action Lies
2004: Forgiveness - In His Name
2003: What Does "He Ascended" Mean?
2002: Finding the Way Home (Ascension & Mother's Day)
2001: Submission to Jesus
2000: Beyond the Secular Paradigm
1999: A Wake Up Call
1998: Jesus' Rule Vs. Cafeteria Catholicism

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

C.S. Lewis' explanation of the Ascension

Bulletin (Priorities for next five years)


Sadly, the right to kill one's unborn child has become the one non-negotiable in the Democratic Party

St. Gianna: Information and Question about her Death

Anglicans Who Live With Same Sex Attraction But Don't Self-Identify As Gay Speak Out

Harvard Makes You Stupid

Until today, I always said I had never seen an ugly bride

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Anderson Cooper Interviews Bishop Sheridan

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