The Way He Opened

(Homily for Ascension of the Lord - Year C)

Message: In Jesus alone can we have it all. In him we have what lasts. Jesus has opened the way for us.

Today we celebrate the Ascension: Jesus suffers for us on the cross, he dies and then rises; he shows himself to the disciples and finally takes his place at the right hand of the Father. The letter to Hebrews sums up this process with these words: "He opened the way for us."

Jesus opens the way for us. He does it first by suffering. Sometimes people say that Jesus suffered so that we don't have to suffer. That is not the case. It is true that none of us can pay the price for our sins (it would be like me trying to pay off the national debt on my own). Only Jesus can pay back our debt. But he did not suffer to take away our suffering. He did so that our suffering would have meaning. He opens the way for us.*

People ask me why they have to suffer such horrible things. I have to admit that I hedge my bets, "Oh, things will get better; I will pray for you." And I mean it. St. Paul, however, was more direct. He says, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God." The Kingdom is where Jesus is: By his Ascension, his return to the Father's right hand, Jesus has opened the way to the kingdom. In him our trials have meaning.

We need to take a long view: Even if a person had to endure years of sorrow, it would be a second, a nano second, in comparison to eternity. Someone has said, "He is no fool who gives up things he cannot keep in order to gain things he cannot lose." Let me say that again. "He is no fool who gives up things he cannot keep in order to gain things he cannot lose."

I think of Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio. Many of you saw him in the movie, "For Greater Glory." He was the boy the federals captured. The fourteen-year-old impressed them so much that they offered him a chance for the military academy in Mexico City. All he had to do was say, "Long live the government. Down with Christ the King." Jose Luis replied, "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!" The officer became so furious that he subjected the boy to a cruel torture - cutting off the souls of his feet and forcing him to walk to the cemetery. Through his tears, he kept whispering, "Viva Cristo Rey." The guard struck him with a machete, causing him to bleed. At the graveside the officer said he could save his life: only say, "Long live the government." The boy paused, then breathed, "Viva Cristo Rey." That was his last breath.*

Someone might say, "What a terrible waste." That boy could have had a long and productive life. But, you know, even if he lived a hundred years, his life would now be over. (He was born on March 28, 1913.) "He is no fool who gives up things he cannot keep in order to gain things he cannot lose."

We live in an age that says, "You can have it all." That's a deceptive slogan. The devil has used it to bring misery to many people. They tried to have it all, but one day they realized the missed the one thing their heart wanted.

Still, the slogan is not completely false. There is a sense in which you can have it all: By giving everything to Jesus. Say to him, "I will accept whatever hardship, whatever trial you send." I do not ask for them because I am a great coward, but with your grace, I will accept them. Give it all to Jesus. You cannot keep those things anyway. Jesus in turn will give you the things you can never lose. You can have it all.

Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez show us that. Even though he was only an adolescent, he saw the truth. In Jesus alone can we have it all. In him we have what lasts. Jesus has opened the way for us. Amen.


*In preparing this homily, I received good help from Dr. scott Hahn's lectures on "The Book of Hebrews." Like all of Dr. Hahn's work, a combination of sound scholarship, practical theology and an engaging presentation.

**Here is fuller account of Blessed Jose Luis' death:

José's killing was witnessed by two childhood friends. It was later reported that José was "captured by government forces," who ordered him to "renounce his faith in Christ, under threat of death. He refused to accept apostasy".

To break his resolve, he was made to watch the hanging of another Cristero that they had in custody, but instead José encouraged the man, saying that they would soon meet again in Heaven. In prison, José prayed the rosary daily and wrote an emotional letter to his mother, saying that he was ready to fulfill the will of God. His father attempted to raise a ransom to save him, but was not able to appease the government in time.

Others recalled the gruesome events that transpired after the government's failure to break José's resolve on the evening of February 10, 1928: "Consequently they cut the bottom of his feet and obliged him to walk around the town toward the cemetery. They also at times cut him with a machete until he was bleeding from several wounds. He cried and moaned with pain, but he did not give in. At times they stopped him and said, 'If you shout, "Death to Christ the King" we will spare your life.' José would only shout, 'I will never give in. Viva Cristo Rey!'" When they reached the place of execution, his captors stabbed him numerous times with bayonets. The commander was so furious that he pulled out his pistol and shot José. Moments before his death, the boy drew a cross in the dirt and kissed it.

Versión Castellana

From the Archives (Ascension Homilies - Year C):

2016: Gift of Honor
2013: The Way He Opened
2010: Disappear vs. Leave
2007: Separation of Church and State
2004: Forgiveness - In His Name
2001: Submission to Jesus
1998: Jesus' Rule Vs. Cafeteria Catholicism

Complete List:

2016: Gift of Honor
2015: Disciple Makers Week 7: Be Part of the Story
2014: Journey to Hope Week 7
2013: The Way He Opened
2012: He Took Prisoners Captive
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

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