October 23, 2018

Ascension: The Beginning of Our New Life

Usually we do not pay any attention to the opening prayer. We just say our “AMEN,” we place our spiritual signature on the dotted line without really thinking that we are talking directly to God.

Gladden us with holy joys, almighty God,
and make us rejoice with devout thanksgiving,
for the Ascension of Christ your Son
is our exaltation,
and, where the Head has gone before in glory,
the Body is called to follow in hope.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

For those among us who were distracted by something else while talking to God, here is the general idea of our petition: In the midst of life’s trials and hectic pace, we begged God to make us joyful today because Jesus’ Ascension is our EXALTATION and our HOPE.

Of all the things we could have asked our Lord, we settled for his brand of joy for the fact that the Ascension is our Exaltation and our Hope.

All this needs a pretty good explanation, wouldn’t you say?

First of all we have to do a good deal of razing, of tearing down of old mental structures. On account of our human condition, the only way we can think and act and plan our future is through images bound to time and space. We have no other way of getting things into our heads. We have no other venues for grasping reality. That creates a huge problem, for us mortals, because we are dealing with realities that go way beyond time and space.

Let me illustrate our predicament to you by using the terminology and the images found in our readings (Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20). Bound as we are to time and space, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us the impression that Jesus was in heaven from all eternity. Then, roughly 2000 years ago he came down to earth and entered into our time and space. He stayed with fellow Jews for about 33 years. He was nailed to a cross; rose from the dead and, after showing himself for 40 days to his first friends, on Ascension day, he was taken up to heaven, past the clouds, much the way a hot-air balloon rises from the ground. Then, he disappeared from their sight.

If we stop here, our confinements of time and space lead us to believe that Jesus left his first disciples on Ascension Day and that he is in heaven, and that he will return from there at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.

Wait a minute, some of us will say, what about his promise of remaining with us forever? What about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; in the Sacraments; in the Bible; whenever we gather for prayer as a Community of faith; in the presiding priest at Holy Mass; in the needy and poor? Are those formalities? Are those figures of speech, or are they firm tenets of our faith?

Today, the passage from the Gospel of Mark can shed some light on our confusion.

“… after he spoke to them, [the Lord Jesus] was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God….[the disciples] went forth and preached everywhere,….while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”

Do you see? If we truly desire to be filled with God’s joy in spite of what is happening to us, we must believe that heaven is not bound by the confinements of time and space. Heaven is also whenever we happen to be, and that the Lord Jesus has all the intentions in the world to work with us and confirm our preaching with plenty of miracles. Only after this act of faith can we see how Jesus’ Ascension is our exaltation and our hope.

Now, if the reality in which we live in virtue of our Baptism and Eucharist makes us into the Body of Christ and goes beyond time and space, we can pray combining our opening prayer with Paul’s prayer from his Letter to the Ephesians.

May the God of  our Lord Jesus Christ…give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him [… ] so that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call[…] what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones (all of us included).

The solution to our bewilderment, to the mystery of living in Christ, is right before our eyes for our contemplation today, and always. We should, then, begin to wear a new outlook. Let it become habitual, like our favorite clothes, those that we want to wear all the time. Such an outlook will lift us way beyond our confinements of time and space. We would be filled with incredible joy even amidst serious trials. We wouldn’t care about what people think about us; what can happen to us; whether we have enough to eat, adequate health coverage, money, poverty, riches, the worst situations or the most enticing things this world can offer. We will live forever united with Jesus, our Head: the Head of the Mystical Body.

With him, we will be in heaven and on earth, at the right hand of the Father and in our homes, within the Holy Trinity and at our workplace.

With him and in him, we would feel compelled to go to the ends of the earth to preach his good news.

With him and in him, we would dare to dive into impossible, dangerous situations, and we will see him working with us and confirming our word with real miracles.

Thus, if we so decide—and dare, today, Ascension Day, can mark the beginning of our new life, filled with exaltation and hope.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On August 1, 2017 he was appointed Administrator of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. He works five days a week at that parish and two days at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left unwinding in his woodshop.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin