The Gospel passage for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (Luke 24:46-53) completes the Gospel of Luke. From the perspective of the disciples, it was the end of their course, semester, and training with the Master. And these were the final points Jesus wanted them to remember: first, that He came to suffer; second, that He rose from the dead on the third day; third, that they should preach repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, to all nations; and fourth, that they should “Stay in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high.” Further, as the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11) notes, Jesus told them that “they will be His witnesses.”
Immediately following this, Jesus ascended before their eyes. And with their heads tilted toward the sky, they followed his ascent until they could see Him no longer. Regarding Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, I believe that it is important to remember this event through the eyes of His now “seasoned disciples.” For, by doing so, we will find that these are the same disciples who denied Him, fled the Cross, and even doubted His Resurrection. But now, things are different. Their former partial trust in the Lord has become rock solid. At the back of their minds, they surely must have thought that “if Jesus rose from the dead, He can surely ascend to the Father.” Plus, from a purely human perspective, individually and collectively, with their own eyes, they saw Jesus ascend!
Monsignor Charles Pope (Jesus Prepares a Place for Us, National Catholic Register, May 26, 2022) describes the reality of Jesus’ Ascension as bringing about what he calls the four H’s: (1) Holy Spirit; (2) Help; (3) Habitation; and (4) Harvest.
Regarding the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel (16:7), “that when I go, I will send Him to you.” So, in His leaving, Jesus does not abandon us; rather, He enriches us by sending the third person of the Holy Trinity to dwell with and within us! For a moment, think about how the Holy Spirit has enriched each of our lives, continually bringing about inspirations, possibilities, and realities that not one of us could ever conceive.
Regarding Help, Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us. For eternity, Our Lord is ready to save those who draw near to Him. At every moment of every day, Jesus waits for us to call upon Him. On our part, all we need to do is open our hearts to Him.
Regarding Habitation, Jesus reminds us that, in ascending to heaven, He has gone to prepare a place for us where we might dwell with Him—for eternity. At funeral Masses, we often hear a passage from John’s Gospel (14:1-6) where Jesus reminds that “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” It is a passage addressed to each of us regarding our own eventual leaving from this world.
Lastly, regarding Harvest, Jesus stresses His desire to draw all of humanity to Himself. This is where Jesus needs us the most; specifically, that we become courageous Christians who are willing to hold our heads high and witness in His name.
In this regard, one of my favorites is St. Stephen, one of the Seven Deacons in Acts 6. In Acts 7, Stephen became the first Christian martyr as he boldly proclaimed Christ to obstinate religious leaders who ultimately called for his stoning.
Fast forwarding to the 1960s, as they entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders provided a live TV broadcast where they showed pictures of the Earth and the moon as seen from their spacecraft. Near the end of their broadcast, Anders intoned:
For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.
After this, each astronaut took turns reading from the Book of Genesis, beginning with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and concluding with “and God saw that it was good.”
Borman then closed:
Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.
Upon their return home, NASA was promptly slapped with a lawsuit by militant atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Eventually, the case was dismissed and NASA instructed future astronauts to avoid the perils associated with Apollo 8’s evangelism. Thank goodness, most of them have refused the advice and counsel. Numerous astronauts who have followed Apollo 8 have also praised God for His creation!
On the Solemnity of the Ascension, after remembering Jesus’ ascent into heaven, let us ponder the ways we might become courageous Christians in a culture that increasingly seeks to dismiss any mention of Our Lord. One by one, may we be His witnesses and bring Christ to a world in desperate need of His blessings.