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Homily of Bishop Denis on the Feast of the Ascension

Mass celebrated in St Mary’s Church, Edenderry.


It’s Ascension Day, the 40th day of our Easter journey and the 55th World Communications Day. Pope Francis offers a message for this very day. He reminds us that Jesus’ invitation is to “Come and see – Communicating by Encountering People Where and as They Are.” It is the way by which our faith is communicated.

The phrase “fake news” is readily and often bandied about. The risk of misinformation, the manipulation of the news, Pope Francis reminds us. Stories that grow legs in the shortest of time, narratives that have no substance.

We have lived in a pandemic lockdown since St. Stephen’s Day, while some may have had the opportunity to attend Mass earlier in the week, for most today is that very first opportunity. You are very welcome! And thanks to the stewards and sanitising teams in all our parishes for their work and their welcome. Special commendation to the Pope John Paul II award teams from St. Mary’s Secondary School who led the charge in this regard earlier in the week.

I know the one person who would want to be here to say that this morning, just can’t be at this time. We remember Fr. PJ in our prayers. He wanted to erect a banner on the railings outside to welcome all of you back. I’m afraid you have to settle for the Bishop, the banner will be for another day!

Sin ruptures the communication thread between us and our Maker. Ruptures of our own doing, our own making … lets now pray for forgiveness as we enter our Penitential Act …


Nephology’ I’m reliably told is the study of clouds. We listened to Professor Emeritus John Sweeney in a Geography lecture explaining in huge detail the different kinds of clouds – cumulus, stratus, cumulonimbus, cirrus – I remember he telling us the cloud was full of minute liquid droplets.

Yes – droplets, a new word in our pandemic narrative. Return to John Sweeney, who never lost his Scottish highland intonation: “clouds were full of minute liquid droplets, frozen crystals or other particles”, he would say. We didn’t then and probably don’t now look up enough, to study or relish the clouds. We are too busy dealing with life beneath the clouds!

Medieval artists liked to portray the Ascension moment with Christ’s feet disappearing into the heavens while the open-mouthed disciples gawk on, not wanting to miss the last possible glimpse of their Lord and Master. Mark’s text speaks about the Lord Jesus being “taken up into heaven[1]. He was gone from their sight but would remain with them and all of us ever since in a very real way. Boris Anreps’ depiction in the apse of Mullingar Cathedral where I served for ten years has that similar Ascension image except this time Christ is just above the clouds and we look on, literally with the same awe and wonder that greeted those early disciples.

We all accept that a cloud which we have been unable to name has covered us over these past fifteen months. It has stymied our movement and uprooted our agendas. Many have reasonably asked where is the Lord in all of this? He who is gone up to heaven is with us, accompanying us, walking with us, carrying us in our darkest days.

In this time where social distancing has become the pandemic norm, we have had to discover new ways to connect, to stay close to our loved ones and to share information and news. During these challenging times it is more important than ever that our digital communication is authentic, compassionate and serves to build up rather than knock down or destroy. Pope Francis reminds us “digital technology gives us the possibility of timely first-hand information[2]. We all know places where without the presence of the internet we would be starved of the truth. I think of Myanmar, the Gaza Strip, South Sudan.

But we consumers have responsibilities also. We can’t simply swipe from one tragedy to the next without it impacting us. What we see perhaps traditional media has chosen to ignore, we can’t enjoy the same luxury. “Come and See[3] was the invitation Jesus offered the disciples who were curious about him following his moment of baptism in the Jordan. The same words that Philip tells Nathaniel and the Samaritan woman tells her detractors.

On World Communications Day let us thank publicly journalists, camera operators, editors, directors, bloggers and columnists – often they are the first responders to a persecution, an injustice or a violation of human rights. They can put a narrative on a piece of footage; they can let the camera speak but we must respond to what we see. It’s too easy to channel hop. It’s too simple to binge on Netflix or Amazon Prime. It’s too easy to turn the page. World Communications Day asks us to sit with the story and as the Kilmore priest Eamonn Bredin once wrote “to disturb the peace[4]. The demands of the call to discipleship “Come and See[5] hugely conflicts with our undemanding and tamed version of that call. In our return to public worship we are invited to do more than simply turn up or tune in. We are invite to see and having seen to make the difference.

The Ascension feastday is not about Him leaving us, piercing the clouds into the heavenly realms, but in fact about Christ coming closer to us than ever before. And He is beside us, like he was with the disciples along the River Jordan or in the conversation between Philip and Nathaniel or loitering around the well at Sychar with the Samaritan woman. He is beside us today! He is here! May we all when it’s right for us “Come and See[6].  

[1] Mk.16:19

[2] Pope Francis, ‘Message for 2021 World Communications Day’, released 23 January 2021.

[3] Jn.1:39; Jn.1:46; Jn.4:29

[4] Bredin, Eamonn: ‘Disturbing the Peace: The Way of Disciples’, Columba Press, 2006

[5] Jn.1:39

[6] ibid