It seems the hour had come for Our Lord to depart, to leave His Mother Mary, Peter, John and the rest of His companions behind – but only after giving them instructions. They had a mission to perform, and the instructions were as clear and sure as the ones the Father had placed in the Lord’s own heart. The instructions were, above all, that they should await the Holy Spirit, the Father’s supreme gift. From the beginning, it had to be crystal-clear that the source of their strength and wisdom would be, as it was for Our Lord Himself, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would guide them: the Gospel would be spread through the power of God, and not by means of human wisdom or strength.
He instructed them to teach and proclaim the Good News just as the Evangelists did for us with the Gospels. They were also to baptize those taking the Gospel to heart, and do so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They were to speak explicitly about God’s Kingdom and about salvation. Finally, they were to bear witness to Christ to the whole world – to ends of the earth.
The early Church clearly understood these instructions, and so the missionary era – our era – began. Christ’s mission to the Apostles is now ours. Baptized according to the living tradition they started, we have the same Spirit within us, providing the wisdom and strength to perform the mission first given to them by Christ Himself.
This brings to mind our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI call to New Evangelization echoing his predecessor own call. To me this makes it urgent.
I came upon an Ascension Thursday homily by Blessed John Paul II. Referring to our mission, he gave this counsel: “You must be strong, dear brothers and sisters. You must be strong with the strength that comes from faith. You must be strong with the strength of faith. You must be faithful. Today, more than in any other age, you need this strength. You must be strong with the strength of hope, the hope that brings perfect joy in life and which prevents us from ever grieving the Holy Spirit. You must be strong with love, the love which is stronger than death … You must be strong with the strength of faith, hope and charity, a charity that is conscious, mature and responsible, and which can help us at this moment of our history to carry on the great dialogue with man and the world, a dialogue rooted in dialogue with God himself, with the Father, through the Son in the Holy Spirit, the dialogue of salvation.” (JPII Homily, 10 June 1979).
Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the Feast of the Ascension thus invites us to devote ourselves to consolidating Our Lord’s Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of goodness, justice, solidarity and mercy. It challenges us to give courageous witness to the Gospel before today’s world, bringing hope to the poor, the suffering, the lost and abandoned, the desperate and those yearning for freedom, truth and peace. It inspires us to be good to those we live and work with, to love them, and by doing so to show our love for God, who in all things loves us.
This is what the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord means. It does not mean the Lord has left us behind, nor that He has departed to some far away place, far from people and far from our world. It means He no longer belongs to the world. He belongs to God. In His Ascension, the Lord takes our human existence into the presence of God. He takes with Him our flesh and our blood, so that you and I and every human being desiring to do so now abide in God, and God abides in us. The mystery of the Ascension thus introduces us into the very life of God. The Ascension means that Christ had not indeed departed from us. It only seemed so. In fact, He is close to each one of us forever. On intimate terms with Him now, each of us and all of us together can work with Our Lord as He shares His strength with us to bring His own mission to conclusion. “Behold, I am with you always. . . .”
Gospel – Matthew 28: 16 – 20
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”