“God has not gone away from the world, he is not absent, but comes to meet our needs in various ways which we must learn to discern” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Forty days after His resurrection, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. This is not Jesus leaving the Apostles, and us, to fend for ourselves. Rather this is the exultation of Jesus as He sits at the right hand of the Father. He has not left us orphaned, but rather He is fulfilling His promise to always take care of us by acting as our mediator with the Father. He does that through the actions of His Church and we join in that sacramental experience through the Mass.
There is great significance in both the symbolism and the words contained in today’s gospel and reading from the book of Acts. The Ascension took place 40 days after the Resurrection; the number 40 is found several times in the Bible in times of great preparation and establishing that things will be changing. Consider Noah and being on the Ark for 40 days; the Jews wandering the desert for 40 years; and Jesus in the desert for 40 days before His ministry is undertaken…people are preparing for important change. The cloud on which Jesus was rising and on which He disappears from view represents the presence of God, in a similar way that God in a cloud surrounded the Ark of the Covenant with Moses, Jesus will still be present but unseen with human eyes.
Today’s gospel reading is a call to evangelization, it is the commissioning of Jesus to continue His mission. The word used by Mark quoting the words of Jesus’ instruction to evangelize was “ethne”, when translated from the Greek means Gentiles or nations. Jesus was giving direction that the Apostles were being called to evangelize not only the Jewish people, but all people. Interestingly, Jesus again teaches against the chance of getting caught up in the ritualistic compliance of the Law simply for the sake of fulfilling the law by telling the disciples that as they preach, those who both accept God’s teachings and engage in the ritual of being baptized will be saved. There is coexistence of ritual and belief - it is through the ritual of baptism that brings about belief, and it is through belief that the ritual of baptism becomes significant.
Our first reading ties directly to today’s gospel. Jesus has promised that He will provide all that we need when we need it in order to carry forth His mission and fulfill the will of the Father. In this case, Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit will come upon the disciples. And what will they be able to do? Everything that they need to do in order to accomplish the Father’s will – drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, etc.
Jesus came to us as the Healer and He ascended to continue as the Healer – healing us physically and spiritually, healing us from sin through the suffering He endured in His crucifixion. The instruction Jesus gives “they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”, is for the disciples, and us, to follow His example. After giving the disciples that instruction, Jesus was taken to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. Being seated at the right hand is significant as a point of being placed in a position of power, and fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 110 : ”The Lord says to you, my lord: ‘Take your throne at my right hand, while I make your enemies your footstool.’”
In understanding the Ascension, it is important that we recognize that Jesus did not depart this planet and go off to some far-off place. Rather, He has been exulted and went to take His proper position as our mediator with the Father. He became our mediator in similar fashion that the priests of the Old Testament became the mediator for those seeking forgiveness of their sins. The priests of the Old Testament would be sprinkled with the blood of a lamb and then walk through the curtain separating the people from the holy of holies. It was then that the people could seek forgiveness. In the same way, Jesus was washed in His own blood, the blood of the lamb, and as the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom in a way that no man could have done it as Jesus died on the cross, Jesus walked through to the holy of holies, that is, His place at the right hand of the Father.
There at the right hand of the Father, Jesus continues to present Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus is our eternal High Priest. With the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus has taken a place where He is actively involved in the eternal salvation of all mankind. He accomplishes this through His Church. It is no accident that Jesus clearly established His Church before He ascended, because it is through the Church that the Sacraments are administered. The Church has in it the authority to beautifully, lovingly, and tenderly express the desires of our Lord and provide the means for the experience of grace.
The words of Jesus just before He ascended are manifested in the Church – that is, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, spread the Gospel to all mankind. It is too beautiful, too precious for us to keep to ourselves.
It is therefore, important that we recognize the Ascension not as an event that Jesus did, but rather, the continuation of a relationship with us, the people He loves, that opens for us eternal happiness as we strive to do the will of the Father through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As Pope St. Leo the Great wrote: “Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead.”
Theme in Our Life
According to Pope St. Leo the Great, understanding the Ascension is the key element, and the only way, to fully understand the Sacraments because it is in understanding the Ascension that we understand the experience of grace in each of the Sacraments. The baptized person becomes a member of the body of Christ, well, that is not possible if the body can’t be seen – we see the body of Christ in each other as we form the body of Christ; original sin (and all sin) is removed from the person baptized, that only happens if Jesus is an active part of the event; and the Holy Spirit provides His gifts.
At Reconciliation, our sins are removed by the ongoing mediation of Jesus with the Father. The Ascension is what makes it possible for Jesus to do so as Jesus was seated at the right hand of the Father. The Mass itself is a continuation of the sacrifice of Jesus – we are not re-sacrificing Jesus at each Mass, rather, in a way that is outside of space and time the sacrifice of Jesus continues as the means by which His mediation takes place. Our participation in the Mass is our recognition of this, and as we come forth to engage Jesus in the Eucharist, that is an engagement of an ongoing relationship.
As we keep the Ascension in our lives, we look to our second reading today from Ephesians, may “God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him…” That is exactly what is accomplished through the Sacraments. That is why it is so incredibly wonderful to celebrate the Sacraments of Confirmation, Matrimony and Holy Orders. In each of those sacraments, we receive the grace of accomplishing the rest of the reading “…that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…”
How do you keep the Ascension in your daily life? R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P…that means spending time with God AND seeing Him actively participating in your life. No other way to do it. No short cuts. No pixie dust. Only happens with repetition. That means prayer. Make your prayer come to life by contemplating on it. Slow down with it. Slowwww dowwnnn with it and the relationship develops in a way where you begin to see your life as a prayer. How cool is that! St. Therese of Lisieux: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look towards Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
Preparing for Sunday
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:
Connect with the Engage program newly offered by the Parish and created by Word On Fire. Just text: “SES” to 84756 and complete the registration. No cost involved.
Commit to spending a session in the Adoration Chapel twice in May.
Put a date to get to Reconciliation on your calendar and then get ‘er done.
Pray the Rosary and I mean really slow down and contemplate.