The Ascension of our Lord is an event that is commemorated by a feast day, usually Thursday in the Sixth Week of Easter. It’s also one of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. When meditating on the Ascension, I often think of a good homily I heard a few years ago at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, given by a priest who summarized our Lord’s message before He ascended into heaven in one word: “Go”!
As Jesus told His Apostles right before His Ascension “Thus it is written...that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his [Christ's] name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You yourselves are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48).
He also said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, [see Acts 2:1-11] and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This prayer below brings our Lord’s stirring words to mind:
Dear Lord Jesus Christ, right before your Ascension into heaven you told your apostles to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth upon receiving the Holy Spirit. May I be similarly inspired to spread your Gospel message in word and deed, according to your will for me. And may I do so prudently and joyfully, with your help, your guidance, and your grace! And remembering this glorious event, help me to seek what is above, Heaven, where you are seated at the right hand of God the Father!
In this scene, it's been forty days since Christ astounded His Apostles and disciples by His Resurrection. Now, after ministering to them since then, it is time for Him to return to His Father in heaven. Jesus fervently desires to make heaven our true home as well.
Indeed, that’s why He sacrificed His life in His brutal Passion, to open the gates of heaven and redeem sinful humanity! Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen confirmed this when he said once that “Thanks to the death of Christ there was access to heaven, access to the heavenly Father.”
But first, Our Lord must commission His apostles, and by extension His disciples as well, to go forward and spread his teaching once they’ve been baptized by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Scripture only mentions the apostles as being present for this wondrous event, but there are Church approved private revelations that mention His Disciples as being there as well.)
Upon the promised descent of the Holy Spirit ten days later the once timid Apostles and Disciples went boldly forth to proclaim Jesus’ Good News of mankind’s redemption and salvation, as St. Luke recounts in the book of Acts.
Note also this interesting question the Apostles ask Jesus as He prepares to ascend to sit at His Father’s right hand in Heaven: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:6)? And His intriguing answer: “It is not for you to know the times or dates which the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Acts 1:7).
Note how the Apostles here are still in the process of discovering just what our Lord’s earthly ministry was all about. A priest I knew once humorously imagined Jesus striking His forehead when He heard them ask this question, as if to say “Aaugh! Don’t you guys get it yet?? I didn’t come here to reestablish Israel’s kingdom! My kingdom is not of this world, remember?”
That’s not in scripture, of course, although we do get examples in the Gospels where our Lord reproves His disciples for not quite understanding Him. (For example when they misinterpret His warning to them about avoiding the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees as being about bread rather than misguided teaching; Matt 16:6.)
Note also that God’s ways are not ours (Is 55:8). We tend to let our curiosity get the better of us when contemplating His timetable of events. Although Jesus Himself said that no one but the Father knows the day nor the hour for His return and Judgment Day (Matt 24:36), that hasn’t stopped some people from trying their level best to guess the date of Christ's Second Coming.
The Baptist preacher William Miller convinced a sizable number of his followers in what is known as the Great Disappointment (a good name for it!) that our Lord would return in 1844.
More recently, a radio broadcaster and evangelist named Harold Camping did the honors, heralding May 21, 2011 as the day of the Second Coming. Oops! I guess they both missed that quote about the day and the hour!
But rather than trying to guess what God will do next according to our own notions, we need to keep focused rather instead on doing His will for us and helping Him to save souls, including ours!
Each of us is called to discipleship, in one form or another. That doesn’t necessarily mean trying to be John the Baptist in preaching repentance to everyone. But it does mean trying to be a better Christian, so that Jesus may be seen working through you in your thoughts, words, and actions. Mahatma Gandhi supposedly once said that “so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.” A challenging thought, indeed!
Do you only go to church on special days, such as Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Christmas and Easter? Do you talk a good game but basically go through the motions, not really trying to live the faith? And, most importantly, do you think of your parish only as a branch of the Christ Club, a place for rituals and some sort of networking for upward mobility?
Or do you see it as a place to enhance a loving relationship with our Lord and letting Him give you His graces through His Sacraments, especially in Holy Communion and Confession, so that you may be a thriving member of His Mystical Body, His Church?
We may not be called to evangelize in missionary work, as the Apostles and those first disciples were. (Many of them including all of the Apostles besides St. John were martyred for their efforts.) We may not be called to do mighty deeds or be great heroes for the faith.
But each of us can still be Christians in line with the "Little Way" of St. Therese of Lisieux, doing everything for love of Him who gave His life so that we might be in heaven someday.
Does the thought of an Eternity in Paradise give you hope? And if so are you, are you ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you, as St. Peter asked us to do (1 Pet 3:15)? Keep in mind that we are called to do this with humility and reverence (1 Pet 3:16), so don’t feel you have to verbally attack others who don’t agree with you. The site Confident Catholic from noted Catholic author Brandon Vogt can help you evangelize more effectively, as well as some of the links given below.
Remember to keep your eyes on the prize in all this: heaven!! St. Thomas Aquinas, considered one of Christianity’s most important theologians, if not the most important, wrote concerning the significance of the Ascension: “We might ask this question ‘Of what use is the Ascension of Our Lord to us?’ The Ascension of Christ is useful to us, first to increase our faith, which is of things unseen, secondly, to uplift our hope, and thirdly, to direct the fervor of our charity to heavenly things.”
There’s other good news in all this as well! As Bishop Sheen put it one reason for the Ascension was that Christ "might plead in heaven to His Father with a human nature common to the rest of men."
In Jesus we have the most powerful and compassionate mediator, and He is always interceding for us with God the Father in Heaven. Having a human as well as a divine nature, Christ well understands our sinful proclivities.
And He fervently desires that we repent of our sins so that we may partake of His mercy! Besides sacrificing Himself for us at Calvary, Our Lord continues to give us Himself every day in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance (Mass and Confession).
What better intercessor could we have for Divine Mercy than God made man Himself! And we also have our Blessed Mother and the Saints praying for us. Don’t be afraid to ask them, and the Holy Spirit, for help as well. Heaven has your back!
Still, one of the last lines in the first Ascension Day reading at Mass reminds me that we have to play our part in our salvation, in living a life of loving obedience to our Lord and His Commandments.
We see Jesus' Apostles and perhaps disciples, looking up in amazement as “he was lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
Suddenly two men dressed in white say to them “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall come in the same way as you have seen him going up to heaven” (Acts 1:11).
In other words, "Stop standing around gawking, and wondering when Christ might come back, and get busy with what He wants you to do!" And that applies to all of us as well, each in our own ways.
We read that afterwards the Apostles went back to Jerusalem "with great joy." Hopefully you can experience some of that joy in serving Christ. And if such a mood comes and goes. or seems distant in a sea of trials and tribulations, remember to turn to our Lord for His help and mercy in dealing with your sins and troubles in any case.
Jesus told His Apostles at the Last Supper, "If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete" (John 15:9-11). That indeed is heaven!