It might be hard to soar above what seems a rather prosaic description of the Ascension of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:9) so as to benefit spiritually as much as possible from this solemnity lest we forget what is the hope that belongs to God’s call and lest we forget also what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones.
Since this phrase found in today’s 2nd reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians is convoluted, I shall try to put it in plain English.
While we are on this earth, especially in these months during which we have been tried to the limits of our endurance and sanity by the relentless challenges of the coronavirus, we run the risk of forgetting that we, as Body of Christ, are destined for the same glory that the Father bestowed on His Son Jesus (the Head of the Body) for his obedience even unto death on a cross.
The Church foresaw that danger already; hence the opening prayer:
“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.”
It is rather prosaic to picture Jesus floating upward weightless and disappearing past the clouds with his disciples looking on with confusion and a sense of loss.
But what the readings are trying to convey to us is that in order to share in the same glory that the Father has already bestowed on His Son Jesus, we are to capitalize on all the impetus, the drive provided by the new presences of Christ Jesus so that we can carry out the Father’s will not all the way to a real cross but in ways that are, nonetheless, quite challenging and demanding.
From hindsight Jesus’ attitude of total obedience and reliability as expressed by this sentence from Hebrews 10:7 “Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”should give us goosebumps. The will of the Father included the cross!
Our glorification depends on how we carry out our missionary endeavor of preaching the Gospel far and wide and on how we teach others to observe all that Jesus commanded.
As with Christ Jesus, the riches of glory in the Lord’s inheritance among the holy ones depend on our obedience and dependability.
After some initial hesitation and serious doubts, as the first disciples had to adjust to non-physical presences of the Risen Lord in their midst (cf. Matthew 28:17), they rolled up their sleeve and carried out his great mandate to the ends of the earth even to the point of shedding their blood.
In my attempt at finding the true significance of the Solemnity of the Ascension, it dawned on me recently that Jesus left us several parables that deal with faithfulness, obedience, industriousness, dependability that are rewarded handsomely with incredible generosity when the wealthy master returns to see how his servants managed to multiply the talents they had received before he left on a journey. (cf. Matthew 25:14-23).
Emphasis on faithfulness, obedience, industriousness, dependability is also expressed by a similar parable found in Luke 19:11-19.
However, both parables offer to our consideration also how laziness, disengagement, paralyzing fear, aloofness can spell doom for those who might expect a share in the glory of Christ Jesus without having carried out his great mandate and “having skin” in the spreading of the Lord’s Kingdom to the ends of the earth.
In these months of multiple uncertainties about crucial aspects of our life, this solemnity of the Ascension, too, is Godsend.
Without a timely and prolonged reflection on its significance, we might succumb to the unsettling feelings that the Covid-19 might bury in our soul so as to paralyze it.
We must react forcefully and renew our faith that Jesus’ promise of being with us always, until the end of the age is kept—dependably so.
Yet, the situation is such that it would be reassuring to list these different, non-physical presences of Christ.
He is present in his words of life.
He is present wherever his Body, the Church is.
He is present whenever two or three are gathered in his name.
He is present in our bishops and priests and deacons.
He is present in the least significant, the needy and the poor.
He is present in the most heartwarming fashion in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist.
The more we become aware of the ways in which the Lord is present among us, the more vivid our hope will be and that awareness will sustain our missionary labor of spreading his Kingdom to the ends of the earth.