Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 46:2-3,6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20.
After some time with the disciples, in the book of the Acts of the Apostles St Luke says forty day, Jesus returned to the Father and the early Church did not experience him physically any longer.
The feast of the Ascension concludes this phase of God’s self-revelation; God-become-human no longer lived with his Church here on earth but returned to the Father. God became human so that we humans could enjoy the life of God. Humanity is now at one with God. In returning to the Father, Jesus took with him our human form so that even now, we are already united with God.
On this Solemnity, the Church invites us to live this union with God in our everyday life. The ‘prayer over the gifts’ in today’s liturgy is very similar to the Collect of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. We pray that we be “… always attentive to the things that are above …” while we fully live our life here on earth and among our sisters and brothers. We keep our mind in heaven while living of our lives on earth; we live an eschatological life, not alienated from our final destiny.
As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, we celebrate that that God who created us body, spirit, heart, mind and all, wants us to live wholistically and to be wholly with him for eternity.
Joseph De Piro lived this eschatological way.
In 1898 Joseph De Piro was almost 21 years old. He had almost finished the first year Law studies at the University of Malta. Around May of that year he carried out a discernment exercise to determine on his vocation. Trained in Ignatian discernement, young Joseph put down a list of reasons for and against his decision. Among the arguments in favour of the priesthood he wrote:
4. The meditation on death. Upon reflecting on my life I feel that this is the true condition to which I am being called.
- The desire to walk in the way of perfection and not to be afraid of death, but rather to think of death as the means by which I can reach true happiness.
10. My father’s death.
About four years later Joseph, a seminarian in Rome, carried out a similar discernment exercise. This time he needed to determine God’s will on whether to accept the offer of the bishop of Malta, inviting him to stay in Rome and become a member of the Ecclesiastical diplomatic corps. His wish was that after being ordained priest, he would return to Malta and help the director of St Joseph’s Home ministering to the orphans. Among the reasons in favour of assisting in the orphanage he wrote:
8. So that on my deathbed I may be able to find some comfort in knowing that I would have suffered a little for Jesus’ sake, He who suffered so much for my sins.
Joseph De Piro was ordained priest a little later, in March 1902, and continued his studies until the end of that academic year. In July he had to go to Davos where he spent eighteen months to recover his health. When he returned to Malta he started working on his dream of creating a missionary society. He was soon appointed director of Fra Diegu Orphanage, anther Church charitable institute similar to St Joseph’s. He was also asked to contribute in various aspects of the administration of the Church in Malta. He was also involved in pastoral ministry and preaching.
Preachers contemporary to De Piro, normally understood eschatology as relating solely to life after death. While this thinking is not totally wrong, it is only half the truth; our eschatological life is fulfilled after death, but we start living it in this life. This eschatology is based on scripture. De Piro preached this type of eschatological understanding.
In his biography about Joseph De Piro, Fr Alexander Bonnici writes:
In the morning, De Piro left St Joseph’s Orphanage, in Santa Venera, and went to the Hamrun parish church where he was going to celebrate what turned out to be his last solemn High Mass. The liturgy commemorated Our Lady of Sorrows, reminding him of the Virgin Mother at the foot of the cross of her dying son. In the gospel reading he read the words of Jesus to the beloved disciple: “Son, behold your Mother.” De Piro then preached about death: “We do not know the hour of our death…. We live as if today were the last day of our life….” He quoted the last verse of the Stabat Mater sequence what was a fervent prayer for his own death: “When I die, open to me the gates of heaven; grant that I may enter into the kingdom of your glory.”