Years before that first Ascension Thursday, God entered into His own creation as the God-man, Jesus. He came as a humble babe, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. His birth took place in a stable that housed livestock. Little is recorded of His early years; He was 30 years old when He began His public ministry. During the next three years, He proclaimed the Kingdom, prepared His apostles, healed the sick, forgave contrite sinners and performed miraculous signs before thousands… He did the work of the Father.
Then the wheels apparently 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. When the world could not seem darker, He rose from the dead on the third day and for the next 40 days, He appeared before many witnesses and continued to teach and prepare His apostles. Doubt, confusion and pain gave way to hope and joy.
Lord, Please Stay… Just a Little While Longer
“But, can’t you stay Lord, just a while longer?” Imagine the apostles’ emotions… what a ride! In my prayers, I have often meditated on how they must have felt at the Crucifixion, contrasting the exhilaration experienced during the Lord’s public ministry to the anguish and uncertainty that followed His death. And I have learned from them the importance of relying upon the Blessed Mother for strength and consolation during times of trouble and doubt.
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). And in today’s Gospel, we are told, “…they worshiped, but they doubted.” (cf. Matthew 28:16-20)
Jesus had to return to the Father, but 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 10 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 recently 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 was fathering His chosen “first-born” people, preparing them for the coming of the Messiah and the ushering in of His Kingdom. Jesus, by His sacrifice, has paid the price for our sin and redeemed us from the evil one. In these present days, we live now, since His Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, in the end times… in His grace by faith. Our sin paid for, we are now by that grace able to grow in holiness and perform works pleasing to Him. We now have access to Salvation.
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. And now God remains with us still.
- 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 into 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.
Throughout salvation history, each person has had his role in this grand drama. Before the coming of the Messiah, some were priests, some were rulers, some were prophets and some were everyday, ordinary people of faith who were to shine forth His goodness by their very lives. This was no different when Jesus dwelt among us before the Ascension. Some were disciples, others apostles – and Peter singled out to one day be their head – and of course there was only one Lord.
In the time of the Church, Jesus left us the apostles and their successors – the bishops – others He called to be priests and others deacons. But it was not to these alone that He bestowed His grace and gifts. The Holy Spirit bestows different gifts to different people, as He wills.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-13).
We are all called to a great work to give witness to Christ and His Gospel, but all are not called to live this work out in the same manner and role.
- The Pope, our Holy Father, has been called to be the Successor of Peter, Christ’s Vicar on earth and head of Christ’s Church.
- The bishops in union with the pope are the successors to the apostles.
- The priests and deacons, with the bishops, comprise the clergy who are ministers of word, sacrament and service.
- Some are called to the religious life as sisters or nuns, brothers or monks.
- Lay people are called to the married or single life, to mission fields or at home, to hospitals and nursing homes, to prisons and shelters.
- Some are called to raise children, made for Heaven and entrusted to their parents.
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.
In our day, 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.
Questions for Reflection
- Have I truly accepted the good news that God loves me infinitely? Does that change how I look at myself? Since God loves others as He loves me, does that change how I look at them?
- The world seems so out of control at times, but an overview of salvation history shows that God has a plan for this world and for me. Do I embrace His plan for my life, recognizing the sacredness of the adventure to which He calls me?
- What are the gifts and talents God has bestowed on me? Have I nurtured them and put them to good use? He has entrusted so much to me… will I let Him down or will I accept His gifts?
- Do I appreciate the role of the Church as the family of God on earth? Do I recognize that the Church and Christ cannot be pitted against one another? Do I learn from her and love her in humility and docility or does my pride turn me into myself and away from her?
- Can I begin to imagine the God of the universe dwelling in my soul? How can I make my soul a more fitting palace for my King?
Into the Deep…
Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (Year ABC) — Acts 1:1-11; Psalms 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20.
Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.
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