At my parish, we desire to become a people fully alive, rooted in Jesus Christ, sharing his love and mercy. I hope you do too! So ask yourself, “How am I going to share this gift with others when I leave Mass today?”

We remember and celebrate the Lord’s ascension into heaven at Mass today. Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after the first Easter Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago.

Long before that first Ascension Thursday, God entered His own creation as Jesus. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man as a humble, vulnerable baby, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. His birth took place far from his parents’ home in a stable that housed livestock.

Little is recorded of His early years; He was thirty years old when He began His public ministry.

During the next three years, He proclaimed the Kingdom, prepared and formed His apostles, healed the sick, forgave contrite sinners and performed miraculous signs before thousands… 

He did the work of the Father.

Then it seemed the wheels came off…

He was arrested, tortured, crucified, and buried by the authorities, betrayed by one of His chosen apostles and abandoned by the rest. Only St. John watched as He died on the Cross.

But, when the world could not seem darker, He rose from the dead on the third day and for the next forty days, He appeared before many witnesses and continued to teach and prepare His apostles.

Their doubt, confusion and pain began to give way to consolation, hope, and joy.

The disciples, particularly the apostles, went from the mountaintop back to the depths of the valley, but now, following the Resurrection, they are back from the brink.  All is well again.

Yet, Jesus has told them, He must now return to Heaven.  He will not be with them in the same way He was previously.

I can sense the uncertainty they must have felt in the questions they asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

Jesus had to return to the Father, but recall that He promised them He would not leave them orphans, “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (John 14:6-7).

This was really the culmination of His work of redemption on earth. He would now return to Heaven and intercede for us before the Throne of God while the Holy Spirit would be with His chosen apostles and their successors to lead them to all truth. The Holy Spirit would be with us as well, to set us apart, to make us holy, to correct and comfort.

For this to happen, Jesus had to go.

A Time for Growth

It is the way of our life.  We come into the world defenseless and dependent upon our parents. When we are still children, we learn from them, are cared for by them and taught by them. When we are mature, we are ready to strike out into the world.

The same was true of the apostles.  Jesus had selected His chosen twelve and nurtured and raised them for three years, giving to them the Revelation of the Father—the Deposit of Faith. Ready now to carry on His mission, He promised them a Counselor—the Holy Spirit—Who would come in ten days on Pentecost.  

So they returned to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:12-14)

What’s the Difference?

I was once talking with a non-Christian and he asked, “So what’s the difference? Before Christianity, the Jews had their God and look what it got them… always moving through cycles of obedience and sinfulness. And now look at you Christians, isn’t it the same thing through your history?”

The difference is both simple and profound. 

In the elder days, God fathered His beloved, chosen “first-born” people, preparing them for the coming of the Messiah and the ushering in of His Kingdom. Jesus, by His sacrifice, paid the price for our sin and redeemed us from the evil one.

In these present days, we live now in His grace by faith. Adopted sons and daughters of the Father, we are now by that grace able to grow in holiness and perform works pleasing to Him.

Before Christ, we were estranged from God. Since Christ, we have become the Father’s children. During the time Jesus was on earth, God dwelt with us.

The Lord is not with us in the same way he was prior to the Ascension. But, he is with us in a new way.

Jesus left us a Church—His Church—that He founded and to which He gave His authority to teach, sanctify and govern.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to lead that Church—the Catholic Church—to guide and to protect her from error.

He gave that Church the sacraments He instituted to be the ordinary means by which He conveys His saving grace to each of its members.

He gave us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at which His once for all sacrifice on the cross is made present to us in our day, at which we join in the celebration of the heavenly worship of God, and at which our gifts of bread and wine are made for us the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Risen Lord Jesus.

At Baptism, the Holy Trinity comes to dwell in each of us, in our very soul.

At Holy Communion, we enter the most sublime personal communion with our God.

Witnesses for Christ

We have received the pearl of great price—Jesus Christ and the fullness of Truth. We have not received this gift to hoard and keep to ourselves, but to share with others. Jesus established His Church and sent it out to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to both Jews and Gentiles… to all the nations.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew records the great commission Jesus gave to his apostles and the church. To proclaim the good news of the kingdom to the ends of the earth, making disciples and baptizing them. This sacred duty to be a witness for Christ belongs to each of us. It is so important that the last instruction we receive at each Mass is to go forth and share this great gift. Go forth! Announce the Gospel! Glorify the Lord by your life!

At my parish, we desire to become a people fully alive, rooted in Jesus Christ, sharing his love and mercy. I hope you do too! So ask yourself, “How am I going to share this gift with others when I leave Mass today?”

None of us, no matter what our calling may be, are alone—not in the way that those who lived before Jesus were alone. For our God is with us in our day like never before and He walks with us and carries us when necessary and when we permit Him to do so.

We have been called to the greatest work and adventure ever known to man. God has called us to carry on His work of redemption in fidelity to Him and His Church, bringing the good news to all He places in our path.

Find us worthy, Lord, of this great trust.

Into the Deep…

Reflection on the Mass readings for the Ascension of the Lord — Acts 1:1-11; Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20;.

Image credit: “Ascension of Christ” (detail) by Benvenuto Tisi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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