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.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Aloha. It’s a traditional Hawaiian greeting which can mean either hello or goodbye, depending on the context. The celebration of the Ascension is Jesus’ “aloha” moment. Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascends to greet his Father even as he says goodbye to his disciples. In other words, at the ascension, Jesus goes from us. This can be understood as Jesus going from us, that is, His body and soul departs in order to definitively enter into heaven. But in another way, by the ascension, Jesus goes from us. The ascension marks the culminating marriage of humanity with divinity as Jesus enters body and soul into heaven. Now once and for all, humanity sits at “the right hand of the Father” and intercedes for us all. Jesus’ ascension is the supreme moment of hope, pointing to our ultimate vocation. Where He once was, we now are; where He is now, we are destined to be.
And yet questions remain. Once, in explaining the feast of the ascension to a group of third graders, I was asked, “If Jesus loves us and lives forever, why did he leave?” It’s an excellent question. Again, consider Jesus’ final words before the ascension. After instructing his disciples to preach, teach and baptize all nations, he reassures them with the promise “know that I am with you always.” And then he leaves, He ascends. With good reason, we wonder how Jesus’ ascension does not vitiate His promise to be with us.
This leads us to the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains the ascension when He says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go, for if I do not go, my Spirit, the Counselor, will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Jesus ascends so that He can send His Spirit into our heart. This is why he instructs His followers to return to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Christ promises, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” In order to fulfill His command to be witnesses to the Gospel, the disciples need the empowerment of the Spirit.
The Feast of the Ascension reminds us of our final home, while challenging us to discover
where the Spirit is alive in our daily life. In order receive the Spirit, we must follow the disciples, who after the Ascension, returned to the Upper Room of the Last Supper to wait in joyful hope. This original novena (there are traditionally nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday) prepared the minds and hearts of the disciples to be open to the promptings of the Spirit, so that they could preach with courage. Are we ready for the Spirit to renew our lives? How can we prepare?
I have two practical suggestions.
First, pray for those who will be and who are recently ordained. Yesterday we rejoiced as Frs. Peter Hannah and Justin Gable were ordained as Dominican priests, and Brs. Corwin Low and Gabriel Mosher were ordained as transitional deacons. Also, next Saturday, June 7, our very own young adult, Tony Vallecillo will be ordained for the San Francisco Archdiocese. Fr. Tony will celebrate his first Mass here at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 8, and all are welcome to come worship and receive his special first blessing. We celebrate these ordinandi and pray that their ministry is always led by the spirit.
Second, I invite you to attend our Called and Gifted Workshop, which takes place on June 13-14 (see inside for more details). The goal of the workshop is to recognize that God has graced each one of us with unique spiritual gifts. When we discover and can name these gifts, we can share them with our family and friends, our workplace and community. Come and learn how the Spirit works in our lives and be prepared to have the Spirit enliven your life. During this novena week, let us take time to reflect on how we can better open ourselves to the promptings of the Spirit, that we might discover Christ afresh in our lives and share this inspiration with others.
~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P., with the Ascension window as part of the Glorious Mysteries in the Lady Chapel.