“Go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”, Mark declares Jesus commissioned his disciples just before he ascended, when the Risen Christ returned to the Father. To recognize the importance and spiritual beauty of the Ascension we need to see it in the fullness of salvation history. Jesus’ descent to share in our humanity began at the annunciation when Mary conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. It continued with the birth of our Lord in Bethlehem where the shepherds and Magi offered homage. It was followed by his quiet years in Nazareth when he grew in wisdom. Then came his years of public ministry which included teaching, healing, praying, calling and commissioning. It culminated in his passion, death and resurrection. While we note each of these with individual feasts and Masses, each is a vital part of the total plan of God the Father to rescue us from sin out of love and with the gift of mercy. Next week we celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes upon those same disciples commissioned in today’s Gospel and empowers them to go out to the whole world though the Church Christ instituted.
The Gospel just proclaimed is the end of the Gospel of Mark. The Scriptures then turn to those commissioned disciples in the Acts of the Apostles our 1st reading which reaffirms the Ascension and their letters including Ephesians our 2nd reading which reaffirms our personal call through baptism.
On this feast day we recall that Jesus ascended to be with His Father so that he might be with us in a new way not limited by time and space. Each of the Gospels though affirming the truth of the Ascension describes it differently as to time and place. It is proven once again with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as Jesus said.
As is our human nature there have been attempts to come up with unique ways to depict this important mystery of the Ascension which is hard to put into understandable words. In one Church to depict the Ascension the Easter candle was rigged to slowly rise, to ascend up to the ceiling as the readings were read. Unfortunately it got stuck in midair. Others have used balloons to symbolize the Ascension. One choir sang, up, up and away. Of course that was not our choir. The key of course is not how it is depicted or explained, like all mysteries we believe in faith and recognize its essential significance.
Sometimes the Ascension has been compared to a rocket launch. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen described the Ascension this way: “We are not to think of our blessed Lord as going beyond the farthest star, or to think of him as being so many millions of light years away, nor are we to think of him as going from one point to another, and certainly we are not to envisage him in the Ascension as a form of space travel. Our blessed Lord once had a descent; he came down from heaven. This did not mean a physical descent; it was rather a drawing aside the veil in which divinity was revealed to humanity. So the Ascension is not like a rocket . . . Rather the ascent and the descent mentioned in the Creed and in Christian doctrine refer to humiliation and exaltation. . . He ascended into heaven because he had humbled himself and was made obedient to the death of the cross.” (Your Life, 106)
We now live in the time of the Church which will end when Christ comes again. While doubt is human and real, we ought not to let doubt dominate or immobilize us from being the witnesses Jesus calls us to be. We can keep doubt in perspective because Jesus declared the truth we can rely on, “I am with you always.”
The essence of our Christian faith is God’s love reflected in the paschal mystery, out of death comes life, out of darkness comes light. The Holy Spirit was sent to the first disciples, and is sent to us through baptism, confirmation and the Church to give them and us strength, courage and hope, which allows us to live as joyful though challenged witnesses of Christ’s with love and mercy ourselves.
This weekend we celebrate Mothers Day. With grateful hearts we honor all mothers and those who have assumed a mother’s role, accepting their vocation.. While on their own journeys have witnessed love and sacrifice over the years, though not always appreciated.
One Mother’s Day two children told their mom to stay in bed for a while. Suddenly she could smell bacon being prepared; anticipating that breakfast in bed was being readied. Then the children called on her to come downstairs. When she did she saw the two of them eating bacon and eggs without her. “As a surprise for Mother’s day,” one said, “we decided to make our own breakfast.” Ah the life of a mother.
Ah the life of the Blessed Mother, who is the model for motherhood. A woman told of being at Mass in a small chapel where directly behind the altar was a large rendering of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of the Americas. As she listened to and looked at the priest delivering his homily, her small daughter took hold of her head and moved it to view directly the image of Our Lady. “Always look at her,” the wise beyond years daughter whispered to her.
We like the first disciples are commissioned to go into the whole world or at least our little piece of it and proclaim the Gospel. One priest challenged his parishioners to take up this calling. He said that when I do so, people will say it’s his job. When you say or witness it by how you live yours lives it is because you have chosen to do so and others will notice. The Blessed Mother, Mother of God and Mother of the Church walks with us.
Back in the days before electricity, a man sat with a friend in the dusk of evening and watched a lamplighter on a distant hill, torch in hand, lighting the street lights one after another. Soon the lamplighter’s form was no longer visible in the distance, but everywhere he went he left a new light burning brightly. “There,” said the man, “that is what I mean by a real Christian. You can trace his course by the light that he leaves burning.”
May the light we leave burning as we pass our earthly way be worthy of the one who was taken up to heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ, the light of the world who can light and enlighten our lives.