Category Archives: Ascension

Hopeful pessimist or hopeless optimist? Thoughts on Ascension Thursday

tumblr_m2ac30GRU61r35gi7o1_500“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…” – Ephesians 1:18

A little lectio divina led me to savor this particular line of today’s Scripture, for Ascension Thursday. While I’m a little wistful that Easter draws to an end, I also find myself hopeful. Now I’ve been floundering around for something to say about my hope, and wouldn’t you know it, God pointed me to some words on the topic. Just yesterday, in the throes of my final floundering, I came across a post written by Bridget at Women in Theology, where she, among other things, reminds us of something very important:

“…hope is not optimism. In fact, in certain cases (I suspect most of the cases where it actually matters) optimism can be a vice opposed to hope. An optimist can discount and ignore evidence against her conviction that things will right themselves. An optimist is threatened by others’ pain. But someone acting in hope—the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise—that person can face pain. Without denying pain or being swept away by it, she can face her own and others’ suffering.”

Hope is not optimism. Do a little lectio with those words – they are most powerful! I find this so helpful – and so hopeful, as I return to those words from Ephesians that open this post. I also appreciate that Bridget reminds us of the importance of language and of depth of reflection, something we can easily forget in the land of status updates and tweets, in the land of “optimistic opinionating” that social media can represent. (This is not a swipe at social media, without which there would be post today, but rather a call to reflection. Add to that a reminder that God uses all things for good – including social media, which provided the incubator for both this post and the WIT post that ultimately inspired it.)

Today my reflection, along with it my prayer, is to be anchored in hope and free from optimism. This does not make me a hopeful pessimist, any more than the opposite would be a hopeless optimist… although I can see the allure of the latter. No, it is the banality of optimism that I was reminded of at the last minute, and the power of great hope that grows out of faith.

Pentecost will arrive on Sunday, May 19. In these days in between, we await the Holy Spirit. What will your prayer be during this powerful time? Suddenly, my own prayer which was centered around the ways that I “hoped” that God would shape my life, has shifted. Today – at least just today, just this moment – pray that hope grows more deeply in my heart. If I am able to string my prayer of hope from moment to moment, and day to day, between now and Pentecost, who knows what will happen? Maybe, just maybe, the “eyes of my heart will be enlightened.” And to that I say, amen, and amen, and amen.

In the meantime, don’t just go staring at the sky, waiting for Jesus to come back down. Open your heart and notice Jesus all around you, especially in the most pessimistic of places and in the people you would never imagine finding Jesus is, but where Jesus might be found with the open eyes of a willing heart.

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Ascension Reflection

Today we have two reflections for Ascension. This one by me, and one from Don Wilson, here.
Ascension Thursday is 40 days after Easter.

As we know, Easter is when Jesus rose from the dead. He stayed with his disciples for 40 days, 40 always being a number to pay attention to. The Jews wandered in the desert with Moses for 40 years. Jesus went into the desert, prior to being crucified, for 40 days. Now another 40 days has passed and Jesus must go to the Father. 40 days always reminds us to remember who we are and where we came from, 40 days means to go forward in confidence, that no matter what, God is always with us – as Jesus has promised before He ascended.

He promises to always be with us, but Continue reading

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Ascension, Our Call to Duty – A Reflection by Don Wilson

We can share the mixed feelings of the apostles about Jesus departure. They felt somewhat unsettled, and partly sad at the thought of His imminent departure. After having been with the Lord all this while; they saw Him suffer, being scoffed at, insulted, and mocked on the cross. Therefore, it was not going to be easy for them now to come to terms with their Master’s physical absence.

The last thing our Lord did was to bless His people, and the first thing they did was to worship Him. The two always go together, because when we truly worship God, He will pour His blessings on us. Jesus also told them that He would send them what the Father has promised – the Holy Spirit to empower them to continue His work of bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth – beginning from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit would lead them in their mission, having been assigned with the ministry of reconciliation; they would bring about a rebirth through Baptism, help men adopt God’s way through His graces from the Sacraments He has instituted.

After Jesus was lifted up gradually, a cloud took him out of their sight – a sign telling that He had entered heaven. This instantly reminded the disciples on the ground of what He had said to them earlier, “I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God. Still the apostles and disciples did not leave the place, but kept looking up into the blank blue sky – probably hoping to catch another glimpse of Him. There is no doubt that Christ, though He was already up in heaven, knew they were still down below looking into the blank sky for Him, thus He sent two angels in white to appear to give them a gentle rebuke. “Men of Galilee why are you still standing here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

What the two angels said can be interpreted as a reminder to them (and to us) that we have plenty to do for the Lord in the spreading of the gospel; hence, they should get on with what they had been commissioned by Jesus to accomplish, instead of standing there, and looking into the blank blue sky meaninglessly, and wasting their time. Then, Peter and the others went back to Jerusalem with great joy.

Christ who gave His life for us awaits us in heaven, and one day, He said He will return and take us to be with Him forever: to make us citizens of heaven. The hope of heaven will fill us with joy because it is a great hope based on what Jesus says in John 4: 2-3). Hence, it can be said that the Ascension ignites our hope of attaining heaven as our destination, and should make us very happy.
He has clearly stated in Revelation 22: 12 that He will be back soon, and give everyone “according to what he has done.” The last six words should be taken seriously. His disciples and followers will each have to give an account of what he or she has done for Him – how they have continued His works. In verse 20, our Lord repeats that He will be back soon, which smacks of an urgent appeal to all of us to always be ready. The same warning is also found in Matthew’s gospel.

Though He is not with us physically, Jesus still remains close to each of us, and lives in our hearts. We can find Him not only in the church, in the Tabernacle, in the Sacraments, but also outside the church, and in every personal encounter we experience. As nourishment for our soul, He still keeps giving himself to us in the Eucharist. This nourishment helps us to seek the things that are above. With the Ascension, Christ’s earthly mission draws to a close; and ours, as His disciples, has just begun.

The feast of Ascension reminds us to show our concern for souls in response to a command of love given us by Jesus. After His Ascension, He dispatches us throughout the whole world with the great responsibility of witnessing to the good news of His gospel. However, for us to accomplish this, it is essential that our lives will first have to reflect His ways and the fruits of the Holy Spirit – so that our actions are able to remind those around us of the goodness of Jesus. Those we live with, those we work with, those we study with in school, and those we come in contact with in our daily lives, should see Jesus in us.
His Ascension is proof that He has conquered every enemy, and that He reigns supremely far above all. In heaven today, our Lord ministers as our High Priest, and our Advocate. Therefore, He gives us the grace we need to deal with testing and temptations. And if we fail, we have His promise that He forgives and restores us when we confess our sins.  As the glorified Head of the Church, Jesus is equipping His people to live for Him and serve Him in this present world. Through the word of God and prayer, He is ministering to us by His Spirit and making us more himself.

A point worth noting here is the character state of the disciples before and after the Ascension of our Lord. When Christ was around, they were fearful of getting themselves into trouble all on account of Him. They were apprehensive of risking their lives for Jesus, even though they – particularly Peter and Thomas – had orally professed allegiance to Him and would even die for him. But, when the hour of need came during His passion, the same disciples, His friends, denied Him and abandoned Him.

However, after the Ascension, things were very different. Peter and his group revealed their faithfulness toward God and the courage of conviction to accomplish the major task of bringing salvation to lost souls through the gospel and baptism. The expected hardships, the threat of hostility from those who were dead set against them, and even getting killed, could not deter them from witnessing and preaching the gospel – a stark contrast to what they were before Ascension. The reason: they were empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Witnessing is something that the Lord does – through us – if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, if we want to become good witnesses to the gospel for Jesus in this life, we too must be filled with the Holy Spirit. We will not be able to take on this massive task that our Lord has entrusted to His disciples or the church – without power from the Holy Spirit.

It appears that many Catholics are under the misconception that sharing the good news of salvation and the gospel with others, especially lost souls, is not within their purview. They feel that it is the job of the Priests, those in the religious order, and the church. Let’s not forget that those in the clergy (Priest and religious), and lay people – every one of them – form the church, which is the Body of Christ. Hence, it is incumbent upon each layperson, as well, to participate in witnessing to the gospel. We need to exhibit in our lives the attributes of Jesus to show how different a people we are, so that others can see in us how good Jesus is. Once nonbelievers perceive the Lord’s goodness in us; it will interest them to want to know more about Jesus and His gospel.  Again, we cannot do this with our own efforts and strength without being renewed in our minds and transformed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit first. That was precisely the reason why Jesus had to send down His Holy Spirit to the disciples on Pentecost to continue His mission. And His Spirit will remain with us, and the church, till the end of this age, as He has promised.

In closing, let me say this; we need to turn to Jesus frequently in prayer for His help in our endeavors to witness for Him. Can we tell Him that He can also count on us to make Him and His teachings known everywhere we go? The story of the gospel does not end in the Ascension of Jesus. Let’s not forget that we are witnesses who point to Jesus Christ to tell lost souls how they can be saved.

Is the Gospel going out to the ends of the earth from “our Jerusalem“?

Can we all agree that there is plenty to be done for Him, to continue what He wants us accomplish, before He calls us home….

_____________

(Don Wilson is a parishioner at St. Edwards who is involved in numerous ministries and attends the Kateri Institute for Ministry Formation, that is run by our diocese. Don will offer this reflection for the Coxsackie REC program, of which he is a member.)

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