May 22, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Feast of the Ascension reminds us of the meaning of life

This coming Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of our risen Lord into heaven.

Traditionally, the feast has been celebrated on Thursday of the seventh week of Easter time but, in our country and many others, it has been moved to the following Sunday. It has been moved because of the difficulty that people had of attending on a Thursday. It was decided to move it because the feast is too important for people to miss.

And that’s why I decided to reflect about the meaning of this holy mystery this week. The Ascension is an integral part of the mystery and meaning of the Resurrection. It is a continuation of Easter.

The feast of the Ascension is not so much a memorial of Jesus’ leave-taking from the disciples. It is a celebration of the way Jesus is now, Christ victoriously seated at the right hand of God the Father. It is a feast of hope.

After his being taken up into heaven, the Apostles, in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, wait for the presence of Jesus among them through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And as St. Luke’s Gospel says, “There they were to be found in the Temple constantly, speaking the praises of God” (Lk 24:53). They were awaiting the gift of the Spirit that Jesus had promised.

In the beginning of their faith journey, the disciples gathered in the Temple to listen to Jesus tell the story of the Father. They were struck by the authority with which he taught them.

At the end, after he had ascended to the throne of the Father as High Priest, after he charged them with the mission of evangelization, they went to wait for the gift of his Spirit to help them understand the meaning of his words, to understand the meaning of his life and death and resurrection.

The disciples prayerfully wait for the gift of the Spirit as a community in the Temple. They need guidance as they try to walk the way that Jesus walked—and to carry on the mission with which he had empowered them.

They had been to the mountain with Jesus. They had seen him betrayed and suffer, and they had seen him die. They knew him to be risen. They knew he had gone to prepare a place for them, and they knew he would send the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The feast of the Ascension is a connecting part of the Easter story. It is a celebration of Jesus as he is now, the victorious Christ.

What is the meaning of this feast for us? It is a call to us to respond to Jesus, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father as our priest and bridegroom. I like to focus on three points about the Ascension message.

First, what an important part of Christian life is the chore of waiting. After Jesus went to the right hand of the Father, the disciples waited to be empowered to carry out their mission to baptize and to teach and proclaim the forgiveness of sins.

Secondly, the role of the Holy Spirit is central if we are to appreciate the meaning of our lives and our Christian mission.

Thirdly, there is the recurring need to return to the Temple. We need to go to a place that calls on us to remember the mountain experiences of our life with Christ, who is our hope.

In contrast, I am also struck by our impatience in waiting. I am struck by our tendency to want to avoid or even to miss the point of the meaning of our lives, especially our relationship to God.

In contrast, there is our discomfort in the quiet of the temple, our preference not to remember, not to wait and to listen for the voice of the Lord. We tend to be too busy with the worry of so many other things. Perhaps we forget what truly counts in life.

During the next 10 days, with the Church, we relive the waiting of the disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Let’s make up our minds to renew our understanding and our appreciation of the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.

Let’s remember to return to the quiet of the Temple in prayer, remembering that our discipleship begins there and ends there.

Let’s probe our lives in search of what the Spirit is telling us.

Let’s renew our belief that our lives are not accidents, that we are led by the Holy Spirit of God.

Let’s make up our minds to wait and listen in a little more prayer than usual these next days—because we need to, because we want to. †

Local site Links: