Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Feast of the Ascension--What Does It Mean for Us??

    We are nearing the end of the Easter season and are celebrating several feasts which each in their own way help us to open up the Easter mystery more fully.  This week I would like to focus on the Ascension.  Those in the northeast U.S. celebrated this feast on its traditional day--Thursday.  In most of the world it is now celebrated on the seventh Sunday of Easter.  Some have asked, "How can Ascension Thursday be on a Sunday?"  This is an understandable question.  A little Scripture reflection is in order.  The Church's liturgical cycle is based on Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles (both written by the same author) which has the Ascension forty days after Easter and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost (50 days after Passover.)  The Church was just beginning to develop a liturgical calendar and this was a good thing to do.   In Matthew and Mark the Ascension is simply mentioned with no time line and in John Jesus is risen, glorified and sending the Spirit all at once.  In other words we don't really know exactly when these events took place. What is important is their meaning for us.

    Unfortunately I think that most Catholics accept that Jesus ascended to heaven after appearing as the Risen One but don't get what it has to do with us.  Also with our present understanding of the universe it is a stretch to believe that the Ascension was as pictured in the image I have attached to this blog entry, going to someplace "up there".  What we celebrate with this feast is that Jesus' earthly mission was finished after appearing to his disciples and commissioning them to preach the Gospel.  He returns to the Father so that he can work in and through all of us.  We are all commissioned to preach the Gospel.  This is really a feast of evangelization.   The great challenge of the Ascension can be found in the words that the men in white garments speak to the disciples in the feast's first reading in Acts 1:11--"Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?"   In other words our goal indeed is heaven, but there is work to do here on earth.  They then are promised the gift of the Spirit which will help them (and us) to do that work.    And what is the Spirit's role? That will be my next reflection for Pentecost.

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