The following is the English translation of the homily offered by His Holiness, Pope Francis on Sunday June 1st, at St. Peter’s Square, prior to the recitation of the Regina Caeli:
Today, in Italy and in other Countries, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, 40 days after Easter. The Acts of the Apostles recounts this episode, the last separation of the Lord Jesus from his disciples and from this world (cf. Acts 1:2 -9). The Gospel of Matthew, however, reports Jesus’ mandate to his disciples: the invitation to go out, to set out in order to proclaim to all nations his message of redemption (cf. Mt 28:16 -20). “To go” or, better, “leave” becomes the key word for today’s feast. Jesus leaves to the Father and instructs his disciples to leave for the world.
Jesus departs, he ascends to Heaven, that is, he returns to the Father from whom he had been sent to the world. He finished his work, hence, he returns to the Father. But this does not imply a separation, for he continues to be for life with us, in a new way. By his ascension, the Risen Lord draws the look of the Apostles– and our gaze– to the heights of Heaven to show us that completion of our journey is the Father. He himself stated that he would go to prepare a place for us in Heaven. Yet, Jesus stays present and active in the affairs of human history through the power and the gifts of his Spirit; he is close to each of us: even if we do not see him with our eyes, He is there! He accompanies us, he guides us, he takes us by the hand and he lifts us up when we fall. The increased Jesus is close to persecuted and discriminated Christians; he is close to every man and woman who suffers. He is close to us all; he is right here, too, with us in the square; the Lord is with us! Do you believe this? Then let’s say it together: the Lord is with us!
When Jesus returns to Heaven, he brings the Father a gift. Exactly what is the present? His injuries. His body is really beautiful, no contusions, no cuts from the scourging, but he keeps his wounds. When he goes back to the Father he reveals him the wounds and states: “behold Father, this is the price of the pardon you have actually given”. When the Father sees the wounds of Jesus he forgives us forever, not because we are good, but rather because Jesus paid the price for us. Witnessing the injuries of Jesus, the Father becomes being most merciful. This is the great work of Jesus today in Heaven: showing the Father the price of mercy, his wounds. This is the beauty that urges us not to be afriad to ask for forgiveness; the Father always pardons, because he sees the wounds of Jesus, he sees our sin and he forgives it.
But Jesus is present likewise through the Church, which He sent out to continue his mission. Jesus’ last message to his disciples is the mandate to depart: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). It is a clear mandate, not an option! The Christian community is a community “going forth”, “in departure”. More so: the Church was born “going forth”. And you may be wondering: what about cloistered communities? Yes, these too, for they are always “going forth” with prayer, with the heart available to the world, to the horizons of God. And what of the elderly, the unwell? They, too, with prayer and union with the wounds of Jesus.
To his missionary disciples Jesus says: “I am with you always, to the end of time” (Mt 28: 20). Alone, without Jesus, we can do absolutely nothing! In Apostolic work our own strengths, our resources, our structures do not be enough, even if they are necessary. Without the presence of the Lord and the power of his Spirit our work, though it might be well arranged, winds up being ineffective. And hence, we go to tell the nations who Jesus is.
And together with Jesus Mary our Mother accompanies us. She is already in the house of the Father. She is the Queen of Heaven and this is how we invoke her throughout this time; as Jesus is with us, so too she walks with us; she is the Mother of our hope.