Many of us will remember the significant events in our lives. These events, either happy or sad, somewhat shape the person we become. Whether we are conscious or not, the memories take root in our lives in such a way that our future experiences draw information from these events. There are times when these past events can spur us to greater heights.
For the disciples, there were several life-changing events that shaped them as followers of Jesus. As I reflected, I narrowed it to four key events… the Call (when Jesus first called His disciples), Passion-Death-Resurrection of Jesus, the Ascension, and Pentecost. Each of these events greatly influenced their future mission.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension and this is one of the core tenets of our faith. When we pray the Creed, we say He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. If for us today it is a profession of faith, for the disciples of Jesus 2000 years ago, it was an experience of faith.
One must remember that the Ascension had a profound impact on the disciples. Up to the moment that Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples seemed to be puzzled, trying to figure it all out. Even after encountering the Risen Christ, they were just slowly putting the pieces together of what Jesus had taught and prophesied to them – gradually it was all beginning to make sense.
In one of his sermons, St Leo the Great points out that the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension were a time where great truths were revealed to the disciples. That is why unlike the crucifixion where the disciples were dejected that Jesus had left them, the Ascension brings a different understanding. They knew that through the Ascension, Jesus was neither leaving them as orphans nor was He abandoning them. That is why in Luke’s narrative of the gospel we are told that after the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy (cf. Lk 24:52-53). They held on to these words, “I am with you always, to the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
With His Ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus is now present to us in a new way. On the eve of His Passion, Jesus had told the apostles that it was to their advantage that He goes away: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counsellor will not come to you: but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).
This is what we need to be aware of when we profess, “He ascended into heaven.” It is a proclamation that Jesus is living among us in a new way. Though Jesus’ earthly and visible presence in the world ends, He remains with us in an invisible way. He has not left us alone. He is always close to us.
The Ascension is not just a proclamation of faith, but it becomes the mission of the Church, the mission for us all. The proclamation makes clear that Jesus is no longer confined to a particular location but now transcends space and time. However, the mission must impel us to ask and examine how can we impart the Lordship of God’s love to the world. Especially now at a time when we are becoming comfortable with all these online services… from bed to device… we can quite easily lose sight of the mission.
Some are getting too used to this “new way of being Catholic” because they find it more convenient. There are those who even believe that this is the future of the Church and that we should accustom ourselves to a new normal. While it may be true that the old normal may no longer work when our churches reopen, we must also ask ourselves if we are prepared to live out the Gospel and how to be on mission in this new social setting?
If we are not careful, we will build a wrong sense of comfort in this new normal. Some are already remarking that when physical Mass resumes, one may have to drag oneself to church or even ask, why can’t we continue with online participation? If we are not careful, complacency will set in.
The Ascension is not merely a historical or theological event to celebrate. In fact, it is a mission to accomplish, just as it did to the disciples of Jesus. For the disciples, the new normal after the resurrection was the mission. Let us pray that we may not fall into a state of complacency in our faith but instead be inspired that Jesus who is present in us will cause us to be renewed and transformed in our faith in this new normal. Amen.