SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (ASCENSION OF OUR LORD)
Readings: 1st- Acts 1:1-11; 2nd- Eph.1:17-23; Gospel- Matt.28:16-20
EVERY CHRISTIAN NEEDS THE MOMENTUM OF GRACE
Ascension is an auspicious moment to reflect on what heaven means for us as believers in Christ. I have always used the metaphor of taking off and landing the plane to capture the image in human terms. Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians, "What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended into the lower regions of the earth" (Eph.4:9). In the Nicene Creed we pray, "He descended into hell, and on the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty". Christ descended into the earth and now he is ascending to heaven. Can we say, he landed on earth, just as we understand landing of the airplane? He also took off from the earth. According to astronauts, landing and taking off are the most difficult actions for the aircraft. Experts describe landing and taking off as intricate actions for the airplane because it must conserve enough momentum, secure clarity and proper focus to perform either of those actions. Remember, the balloon cannot also fly without enough air. So, the Christian can only function effectively with the momentum of grace.
In the first reading, Luke writes, "When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight (Acts 1:9)". Christ was taken up to heaven to enable us realize the reality of heaven and the possibility of making heaven. Ascension is a symbol of motivation because through it we appreciate that heaven is as close as we can make it. Christ wants Christians to make heaven our gaze. Speaking to his angelus audience on April 17th 2016, Pope Francis said, “The Ascension of Jesus into heaven then reveals to us this reality that is so comforting for our journey, (that) in Christ, true God and true man, our humanity was brought to God”. Jesus “has opened the passage up for us,” and “draws us up to him leading us to God.”
Before his ascension, Christ mandated his disciples, "Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to everyone" (Mark 16:15). And after he was taken up into heaven, the disciples went forth and preached everywhere while "the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs" (Mk.16:20). Christ never deserted his apostles. He was present even while he ascended into heaven. He is “true God and true man”. Pope Francis put it this way, Jesus is no longer “in a definite place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us.” Christ’s ascension confirms the missionary mandate to the apostles, "I will be with you till the end of time" which we hear in today’s gospel. He commands all of us to go into the world and proclaim the good news, and not stand idle like those "men of Galilee" gazing into heaven.
If we go back to our airplane metaphor, going to heaven implies our capacity to take off. While on earth, each of us continues to gather the momentum of grace. We’ll take off at the end of our earthly mission. How far heaven will be from us depends on how we use God’s grace while on earth. Our momentum is the grace which we acquire through virtuous actions. Scripture says, "From his fullness, we have all of us received grace upon grace" (Jn.1:16-17). Because he was filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, Christ went about doing good. Those good deeds kept his momentum of grace active. He showed love. He healed the sick. He showed compassion. He forgave sinners. He cared for and supported those in need. He prayed. The gospel says, "These signs will accompany those who believe…" (Mk.16:17-18).
Saint Paul encourages us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us to goodness of life and love (cf. Phil.4:13). The more momentum of grace we acquire, the more we love; the more we become compassionate, merciful, forgiving and peaceful. The more momentum of grace we acquire, the stronger we become in faith, in prayers, and the more persevering we become in the face of suffering. The more graces we acquire, the more heaven-minded we become.
Think of the numerous end-time prophecies that we hear in the world today much more than the promptings good works. Is the world ending tomorrow, next week, next year or in the next fifty years-time? That’s quite insignificant compared to the demand for goodness in our lives. The disciples asked Christ similar question, “Lord, has the time come for you to restore the kingdom to Israel?” His response to them was, “It is not for you to know times and dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come upon you, then you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:7-8). Mark the words, “dates that the Father has decided by his own authority”. In some other gospel passage, Christ states, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt.24:36; Mk.13:32). End-time dates belong to God because he is the Creator of the universe. Ours is to open ourselves up to the working of the Holy Spirit who infuses in us the momentum of grace.
Do not stay idle wondering when the world would end. Do not be afraid what date it would be. Rather, witness to Christ through good works of faith. The more you do good works, the more connected you are with God. That way, going back to him will be a mere transition to eternity.
May the Lord fill us with grace, the momentum to ascend with him on the last day. Amen.