Have you ever had the experience when you felt called to take on a new task, or do something different with your life, something different than you ever experienced before? It may have been a call to a new job, maybe to marriage or religious life. It may have been an urge to move to a new city. (or even to live in a new way with social distancing) If you were open to that inspiration and you chose to move in a new direction, there was certainly a sense of excitement and, I would imagine, also some fear. You probably looked deeply within yourself to see if you could really say yes to that call or accomplish what was asked of you. You may have gained new insights about yourself as you responded to the call. In a sense, that is what the disciples experienced at the ascension of Jesus. They were given the call to continue the mission of Jesus.They had to see themselves and their new role with new eyes, so to speak, and with a vision for the future that they never imagined for themselves.
In the readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension we hear references to sight and insight. In Luke’s Book of Acts, we’re told that the apostles “were looking intently at the sky,” and the word “looking” is mentioned two more times in the reading from Ephesians. We’re told there, “the eyes of our hearts are to be enlightened.” In the gospel reading from Luke, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to be witnesses. This means they were to be followers who saw Jesus for who he really was in his life and ministry. They were to be able to share that belief, that insight with others. Sight is a theme that goes through all three readings.
But what does that mean for us today? What are we to see deep within ourselves? I believe it means that all we read, all we study, all we pray about, or intuit about God in our lives, has to be understood, with hearts that are enlightened. It means that we’re not believers on a surface level, but rather, we have a deep conviction of who the Christ is for us today, and we witness to that conviction by the way we live our lives on a daily basis.
There’s an old church joke that goes something like this. Paddy O’Shea was a good man who went to church on Sundays. Paddy O’Shea died and went to hell for what he did on Mondays. This joke tells us that merely fulfilling our duties is not the essence of a committed relationship with the Christ. It’s not just attending mass on Sunday that’s important. It’s the way we live our lives during the rest of the week that counts. The Solemnity of the Ascension is a feast that points to deeper insight about, and a commitment to what a baptized Christian is called to on a daily basis.
The disciples who were with Jesus at the time of the Ascension must have felt a sense of sadness that the physical Jesus they had spent so much time with was now leaving them. But that sadness must have been somewhat mitigated as Jesus tells them that they would not be alone. They would receive power from on high when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Because of that Spirit they would be witnesses to all they saw and learned, and all they experienced while they were with Jesus. Jesus, at the time of the Ascension, placed his mission squarely into the hands of the disciples.
Are there any valuable insights we can gain from the feast of the Ascension? We know that the physical Jesus is no longer present among us walking this earth, and those original disciples are long gone. But we also know that the Church teaches very clearly that we, through the power of the Spirit we received at baptism, become the body of Christ in the here and now. That places the mission of Jesus squarely into our hands just as it was first given to the disciples.
Christ told the disciples they were to go out and bear witness to his mission and change their world, and he promised to give them the power to do it. We, as the present day disciples of the Christ, face some very serious and difficult challenges in our own world today. Christ commands us to speak out against all kinds of injustice, even if we’re misunderstood or criticized for our stance. We’re commanded to lay down our lives for our neighbors. We may not be called to do this literally, but we are called to help others – the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the sick, the homeless, the trafficked, the sinner and the stranger – even if it costs us dearly to do so. We’re commanded to forgive our enemies whether they be friends, neighbors or family members we just don’t get along with anymore. We may well say, “What!” We can’t do all of this. It’s beyond our ability to do this. But, we can’t forget that Christ gives us the power of the Spirit to accomplish all that Christ asks of us. Because of this we need to regularly pray and reflect on all the graces, talents and other gifts that we’ve received. We need to pray and reflect on all the needs we see around us. And then we are to respond to them in whatever way we are capable of doing.
Even though on the Feast of the Ascension we celebrate Christ being raised up in glory, we can’t forget that Christ remains here with us until the end of time. He is inseparable from the activity of the Spirit, as well as the mission of the Church. Christ’s spiritual body is here right now -present within us, present around us, and present through us.
What needs do you see around you today?
How do you respond to those needs?
What keeps you from deeply believing that you are the presence of Christ in the here and now?