28May 28 May, 2017. The Ascension of the Lord

Presider’s Page, has  Opening Prayer, Prayers of the Faithful, etc.

1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Jesus prepares his friends for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:17-23

God has exalted Jesus above all. We are privileged to belong to his body, the church

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

Before leaving this world, Jesus gives his disciples a world-wide mission

Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


How the Risen Lord is still with us

We could ask how is the Risen Lord with us? The New Testament and the church tradition offer a rich array of “presences.” Christ is present via my neighbour in need, via created reality beautiful and awe-inspiring, whenever the disciples gather, in the word proclaimed, in the sacrament celebrated and through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we do not always feel this presence, but the words of Jesus are a guarantee that no matter what is going on in my life or my community or my church, he is still with us.

Most have experienced significant “departures” in their lives and we appropriate these differently, according to the changing phases of our personal life. Gradually we find new ways of being with the one who has departed. Something similar may be said about the early Christians dealing with Jesus’ presence-in-absence. It involved a new, quite different way of being with Jesus in faith and discipleship. In the Acts, the emphasis falls on the future promise of the Spirit. Matthew is more traditional, falling back on the biblical “I will be with you” (cf. Emmanuel at the start of this Gospel). The eloquent prayer in Ephesians really takes us into our present moment on the spiritual journey. So, different lenses on the same experience of closure/transition.

Which of them speaks to me at this moment in my life?
(Kieran O’Mahony).

For exegetical commentary on today’s readings, click here.

Last Will and Testament

The ending of his gospel St Matthew makes no direct reference to the ascension, but he reports the Lord’s final instructions, as it were his Last Will and Testament.

There’s a story about a woman who was troubled over making out her will. She had grown up in a tradition where making a will, like deciding to ask for “Extreme Unction” or “The Last Sacrament” was somethiing to be delayed until the last possible moment. There was something ominous and final about it. Some of us may know families that became bitterly split because someone hadn’t made a will. In today’s gospel, Jesus is quite definite about what he wants to happen after he has left the scene. He asked his disciples to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of people, their feelings and expectations were varied. Some of them worshipped him, while some of them still doubted if his project could continue. Jesus he knew that, when the Spirit came, all of those doubts would be ended. It would seem, indeed, that he was in a hurry to take his leave of them, so that the second part of his plan of salvation could get underway.

They were to go out in his name, and speak the Gospel with his authority. The authority goes with the mission, so he adds, “Go, therefore.” As if to say, “because I have the authority, you can go wherever I send you. My power, my promises, and my Spirit will go with you, and will see you through.” Then he concludes with the powerful promise, “be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The mission of the apostles was simple to understand; difficult to carry out. It was to teach others all that he had taught them. Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask that others should obey his directions and instructions also. This is like when a doctor puts you on a course of antibiotics. The original sin was a lie. The Spirit is a spirit of truth. One of the rules connected with taking antibiotics is that it is essential to complete the course. Some people begin to feel well after a few days, and they discontinue taking the medicine and, of course, their condition gets worse. The programme of redemption and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, the two things that have not changed are Jesus himself, and every word of his message. The Message and the Messenger have never, and never will change. People who are bothered about changes in the church today should be reminded that the only two things that matter have not changed at all.

“You write a new page of the gospel each day, through the things that you do and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?” Even sharing with another something you heard here today that you find helpful is to give witness. It must seem obvious to anyone who wishes to see, that the evidence of someone who is trying to live the sort of life that Jesus has taught us to live, must be a powerful witness, indeed. There seems to be a lot of depression around today, or it may be that we are now more conscious or aware of it. But there is a great difference between being alone and being lonely. I could be in the midst of a crowd, and be lonely; while one can also feel, like Cicero, never less alone than when alone ( “minus solum, quam cum solus” De officiis 3.1). This applies especially to those who take seriously the final words of today’s gospel, “lam with you always.” Communication with our Lord doesn’t even need words. If I am open to His presence in my life, and live with a conscious awareness of his presence, I can experience fully that “Joy of the Gospel” about which Pope Francis spoke so warmly.

Heaven on earth

Jesus didn’t simply dissolve into thin air. On Ascension day, one might think that he removed himself into a new form of divine exclusion. But the case is exactly the opposite. In being with God, Jesus is here with us in a new and very specific way. Only by his physical separation from the historical scene can his spiritual union be complete with all the world for all time. Jesus one day left the world in order to be available to everyone through all time. He had to dissolve the bonds he had made with his friends, in order to be available for everybody. In Jesus, the future has already begun!

At the Ascension, his disciples hear his last instruction, not to try to stare into the future nor be asking when he will come back. We must not stand idly staring upward or moaning about the past, about which we can do nothing except to bury it deeply in God’s hands and heart! The Lord will be glorified, and it follows that his disciples will also share in his glory.

Let’s get going and carry a piece of heaven into our world. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream! May Christ’s dying and rising move us to make God’s glory dwell on earth. May our hope for the future inspire us in a respect for the present. May our desire for heaven not make us neglect our work on earth.
(Thomas Rosica)

Ascended, but still guiding us

Our Gospels offer different approaches to how the first Christian communities understood their future task without the physical presence of Jesus with them. Maybe it all wasn’t as simple as we sometimes think. How did they understand and live out their relationship with him, once he had disappeared from the earth?

Matthew doesn’t mention an ascension to heaven. He ends his Gospel with a scene of leave-taking on a mountain in Galilee on which Jesus solemnly promises to them: «Know that I am with you always, even until the end of the world». The disciples shouldn’t feel his absence. Jesus will always be with them. But how?

Luke has a different vision: in his Gospel, Jesus «withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven». The reluctant disciples have to accept the separation realistically: Jesus now lives in the mystery of God. But he rises to the Father as he «blesses» his own. His followers begin their journey protected by that blessing with which Jesus healed the sick, forgave the sinners and hugged the little ones.

The fourth Evangelist adds another key aspect. When he takes his leave of them, Jesus says: «It’s best for you that I go, so that you may receive the Holy Spirit». The disciples’ sadness is understandable. They want the security of having Jesus always near them. It’s the temptation of living in an infantile way under the protection of the Teacher.

The very absence of Jesus will make his followers grow in maturity. He leaves them sealed with his Spirit who, in Jesus’ absence, will promote in them a growth that is responsible and adult. It’s good to remember this at some points in which there seems to be growing among us a certain fear of creativity, a temptation to stay stuck, or a nostalgia for a Christianity worked out for other times and other cultures.

More than once throughout history, Christians have fallen in the temptation of interpreting discipleship in infantile ways. The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord reminds us that, when the historical presence of Jesus ended, we are living «the time of the Spirit», a time of creativity and of responsible growth. The Spirit hands on to us Jesus’ eternal prescriptions. The Spirit give us light and zest, to go seeking always God’s action today, right here and now.
(J.A. Pagola)

Ascension: Beginning a new age

Life is busy with people coming and people going. People arrive and people depart. People are born and people die. Most people mark the time of birth and death with rites and ceremonies. New babies are greeted and cooed over, deaths are mourned and prayed for. The Easter season began on Easter Sunday and will end next week, on Pentecost Sunday, the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s readings we have two stories of Jesus’ final departure. Both were written by the same author … St. Luke. Luke brings his Gospel to a close with the story of Jesus’ Ascension. Luke begins his second Book (Acts of the Apostles) with the story of the Ascension told again ….. and also the beginning of a new age. For St Luke then, the Ascension is both an ending and a beginning

The ascension is the end of Jesus appearances; it is the completion of his life’s mission on earth. But before the disciples begin their mission they must be clothed with power from on high. Just like Jesus himself…. Before he began his public ministry he was filled with the Holy Spirit. So the new church must first be clothed with the Holy Spirit before they begin..

Next Sunday is our special feast of the Holy Spirit. So this week we wait and pray to be clothed and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. (P.L.)

2 Responses

  1. Joe O'Leary

    Hard to preach on this alarmingly transcendent feast, for one lacking the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation’ of which the second reading speaks,’ so I listened to some great Christian voices from the past, for inspiraiton. Bach, who dedicated his labors to the greater glory of God, came to the rescue with his Advent Cantata (aka Advent Oratorio)


    I first listened to this recording in 1965 and I marvel at how intensely present Kathleen Ferrier is in her sublimely expressive performance, an emblem of the dynamics of the feast itself. At Seisen girls’ school just now I played this for seven contemplative minutes and hope to do it again for a Filipino congregation this afternooon.

    Then Blessed J. H. Newman has his word to say:

    ‘We have lost the sensible and conscious perception of Him, we cannot look on Him, hear Him, converse with Him, follow Him from place to place; but we enjoy the spiritual, immaterial, inward mental, real sight and possession of Him; a possession more real and more present than that which the Apostles had in the days of His flesh, because it is spiritual, because it is invisible. We know that the closer any object of this world comes to us, the less we can contemplate it and comprehend it. Christ has come so close to us in the Christian Church (if I may so speak), that we cannot gaze on Him or discern Him. He enters into us, He claims and takes possession of His purchased inheritance; He does not present Himself to us, but He takes us to Him. He makes us His members. Our faces are, as it were, turned from Him; we see Him not, and know not of His presence, except by faith, because He is over us and within us. And thus we may at the same time lament because we are not conscious of His presence, as the Apostles enjoyed it before His death; and may rejoice because we know we do possess it even more than they.’

  2. Padraig McCarthy

    Good reflection by Damian Howard SJ at https://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20120516_1.htm?utm_source=Thinking+Faith&utm_campaign=87da062c06-TF_20170524&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_620a4d7197-87da062c06-68839381&mc_cid=87da062c06&mc_eid=302b026981

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