Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

C - Our Lord's Ascension

May 23, 2004
Acts 1:1-11 • Heb 9;24-28; 10:19-23 • Lk 24:46-53

Did Christ Leave Us or Stay with Us?

Some say that the ninth beatitude is "blessed are those who know when to retire." It has often been found that someone who has done great work, a political leader in getting a country on its feet, a father in establishing a family business, a superior in founding a religious congregation, a bishop in liberating a diocese, can eventually become a block to the ongoing growth of his or her own creation. When that person becomes an object of cult or their insight becomes so sacred that it cannot be challenged, it is time for them to move on.

How we understand the Ascension is very important as it determines the way in which we perceive Christ's presence in the Church and world today. The understanding will follow on how we take two passages of St. Matthew's Gospel. One refers to his absence:

"For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me" (26:11).
The other passage refers to his presence.

"And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (28:20).

How we live this paradox is very important for us today. If we emphasize that Christ has left us we will perceive him as outside of the world, as absent, and our prayer will be an effort to bring him back. We will be asking him to come into our lives to solve our problems - especially our financial ones and our health ones. We will be asking him to cure the sick, to set the world in order. We will be trying to capture him through out cultic observances and liturgies. We will see ourselves as we find Jesus in this kind of situation at the Ascension. He has done the work that the Father has given him to do. He has planted a seed, but, as he himself said, the seed must die; he must move on if it is to bear fruit one hundred fold. After the Ascension the physical Christ would no longer be around but his Spirit would be there and would be more free to move in a more universal way. Powerless in an evil world in which we want God to intervene, our hope will be in God's future action amongst us.

If, on the other hand, we see in the Ascension that the humanity which Christ had assumed had returned to the Father, we also see Christ as freed from his physical body and more able to be present in all areas and aspects of the Church through his Spirit. We can see it as opening up to the age of the Spirit when Jesus is universally present. This understanding will make us conscious of a savior who is journeying with us in all of the events of our lives. We will not then be asking God to come in to change what is going on in our lives. Rather we will be asking him to open our eyes so that we see God in the events that are already happening. In this perception God has not left us but is present in what is going on in our lives right now.

As described by St. Luke in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, the Ascension of Jesus is a call to witness to the story of what he did and said, and to preach repentance for sin to all nations. It is very beautifully put in Acts, "He was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and said, "Why are you men of Galilee looking up into the sky?" In effect he was saying to them that the physical Jesus had moved on. They should not continue to gaze into the sky but they should concretize his presence by their activity in the world around them.

Prayer is not a matter of gazing at a God who has ascended into heaven. It is a matter of being present to a God who lives on in our hearts through his Spirit. It is responding to a God who is here, not longing for a God who is out there.

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Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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Sundays into Silence

A Pathway to Life

by Gerry Pierse, cssr
380 pp., PhP 299, U$ 19.95

“The best word I can find to describe this book is integration. In these reflections on the gospel readings for year A, B, and C of the liturgical cycle, Fr. Pierse integrates the richness of the word of God with experiences and stories from life in the community. He shows how through silence, the word can bear fruit in service and sacrament.” (R. J. Cardinal Vidal)

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