Sunday, May 20, 2012

Easter Reflection: The Ascension of the Lord

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
(Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13; Mk 16:15-20)

It’s tempting for us to view the event of the ascension as the conclusion of Christ’s earthly ministry, but—as the author T.S. Eliot reminds us—what seems an ending is also a beginning. And that is what we really celebrate today.

As we just heard in St. Matthew’s gospel, before he ascended to his Father, Jesus instructed his disciples: “Go...make disciples of all the nations.” He urged them to baptize, to preach the Good News, to do the work he called them to do. In a sense he is telling them, “The world is waiting for you, so...GO!”

This sending of the disciples is also confirmed by the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. After they watch Jesus disappear into the clouds, two men appear and ask, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking into the sky?” In other words, what are you waiting for? ... GO!

There is a sense of urgency about the command of Jesus and the admonition of the heavenly messengers. The disciples were not to waste time staring up at the sky, wondering where Jesus was going and when he would return. Nor were they to look back nostalgically on the good old days when Jesus was with them, working miracles, healing the sick, and calming the storms. There was a world waiting to be converted and, after all, Jesus’ last word to them was go. Go and transform the world. Go and pick up those who have fallen. Go and heal those who are hurting. Go and love those who have been forgotten or neglected. And we know from the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters of Paul and other disciples, and the history of the early Church, they went and great numbers came to believe in Jesus Christ as a result of their work and witness. Through the centuries, other men and women have also heard that call and brought people to faith in Jesus Christ.

What about us? After Mass, we will return to our homes, our families, our routines. We have appointments to keep, errands to run, and all the business that makes up our lives. Where in all of that does that command of Jesus fit? How and where do we heed Jesus’ simple command to go and proclaim the gospel? How do we participate in the great commission given to the apostles and all believers? So much of the world still needs to hear and know the Good News; that they are loved, that they have not been forgotten by God, that they, too, have a place at the Table. And, if we who gather here day after day and week after week do not tell them, who will? It is not enough for us to gather here, nurture ourselves, and return to our homes. We need to hear the simple command of Jesus: Go! Take what you have received and share it with others. We need to be reminded as were the disciples—don’t linger too long. Don’t waste time dwelling on the past. Look instead at what lies before you. Get ready and GO! The kingdom of God still needs to be built. The Ascension was just the beginning; the rest is up to us!

– Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.