May 24, 2020: The Ascension of the Lord - Pastor’s Corner
This weekend we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. Forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus is “lifted up” from the earth to the glory of heaven. The Ascension marks the culminating marriage of humanity with divinity as Jesus enters body and soul into heaven. Now once and for all, humanity sits at “the right hand of the Father” and intercedes for us all. Jesus’ ascension is the supreme moment of hope, pointing to our ultimate vocation. Where He once was, we now are; where He is now, we are destined to be.
And yet questions remain. Once, in explaining the feast of the Ascension to a group of 3rd graders, I was asked, “If Jesus loves us and lives forever, why did he leave?” It’s an excellent question. Consider Jesus’ final words before the ascension. After instructing his disciples to preach, teach, and baptize all nations, he reassures them with the promise “know that I am with you always.” And then he leaves; He ascends. With good reason, we wonder how Jesus’ ascension does not vitiate his promise to be with us.
This leads us to the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains the Ascension when He says: I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go, for if I do not go, my Spirit, the Counselor, will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7). Jesus ascends so that He can send His Spirit into our heart. This is why he instructs His followers to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Christ promises: “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” In order to fulfill His command to be witnesses to the Gospel, the disciples need the empowerment of the Spirit.
In sum, celebrating the Ascension reminds us of our final home while challenging us to discover where the Spirit is alive in our daily lives. In order to receive the Spirit, we must follow the example of Mary and the disciples, who after the Ascension, returned to the Upper Room of the Last Supper to wait in their own moment of “stay at home” quarantine. This original novena (there are traditionally nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday) prepared the minds and hearts of the disciples to be open to the promptings of the Spirit. In these days when we are eager to return to public worship and the sacraments, we might see this week as a time to prepare ourselves for a Holy Spirit renewal. During this novena week, we are invoking the intercession of Mary under the title of Stella Caeli, Star of Heaven. She who was present with the first disciples in the expectant waiting for the Spirit can help us in these pandemic days. This week, let us take time to reflect on how we can better open ourselves to the promptings of the Spirit, that we might discover Christ afresh in our lives at Pentecost!