As I sit to write this reflection on the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus I am overjoyed by the news I received this morning that my niece Michelle gave birth to a baby girl, Madeline Elizabeth. Congratulations to her and her husband, Kevin Donahue.
Quite a few years back a gentleman asked me a question to this effect, "Fr. John, I believe what the Church teaches and I believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, but what difference does it make in my life?"
A good question indeed, and one that has affected my preaching not only for this feast, but for several others throughout the years. Before addressing that question I'll deal with another that has been asked. How come some places keep the traditional Ascension Thursday while others have the feast moved to Sunday (as is the case here in St. Petersburg)?
The answer to that question is that holy-days are not set by Rome but by the local bishop. Corpus Christi,for example, a holy-day in most of the world, was never one here in the US. At the present time each ecclesiastical province (a cluster of dioceses presided over by a metropolitan archbishop) determines which are the days of obligation. In most of the US and Europe it has been determined that it is more important that the greatest number of the faithful celebrate this great mystery rather than holding to the 40 days mentioned only in Luke's Gospel, thus it is moved to Sunday except in the northeast corner of our country. It is the mystery of faith that is important rather than an exact date.
Now back to that man's question to which there are basically two answers. First of all we can say that the Ascension is a continuation of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh and with Jesus entry into heaven human flesh, now glorified, enters heaven with Him. To the rest of us fleshly folks that is quite significant. Where the head goes, as St. Paul teaches, the body will follow. Where is heaven? The word ascend, of course, applies that heaven is "up there somewhere". With our present understanding of the universe we really don't know spatially what is up and what is down. I like to think of this feast as the feast of transition, the feast of Jesus returning to the Father so that He can be present to us in new ways.
This last thought leads into the second answer to the man's question. Even in His appearances as the Risen One, Jesus is only in one place at a time. With His return to the Father and then His sending of the Spirit (next week's feast) He is present everywhere, most especially in the Eucharist, but also whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name. We don't have to fly to Jerusalem to see him. We also believe that when we act in His name that He is acting through us. As our young people would say, "That is pretty cool stuff."
So then, I think that the Ascension means a great deal to us.
Finally, back to the good news mentioned at the beginning. Here is a picture of Madeline Elizabeth Donahue.