The Ascension of the Lord (A)
My dear encountered couples:
That must have been a sad day for the apostles. Jesus left them. Even though he had promised to come back, even though he said he was really still always with them, even though they would soon receive the Holy Spirit in a very special and moving way, his ascension to heaven must have been a sad time for them. He had been the center of their lives for three years or so. Not to see him anymore was going to be really hard. They must have felt like those sheep without a shepherd Jesus so often spoke about.
We, on the other hand, are used to not seeing Christ around. Our faith, however, tells us he is really with us wherever we go, wherever we are. But because we can’t see him we often don’t even think of him. The visible things in our lives get most of our attention. That’s understandable. But we do experience what the apostles felt - the absence of the visible presence of Christ.
We might not think that is what we sometimes feel. But we do. We were created, we were made in such a way that within us is a deep need not only to have God spiritually with us, but to be able actually to see him and experience the security that his visible presence gives.
When we experience loneliness, when we are afraid, when life seems to drain all courage out of us, it is not because God is not with us, nor Christ who came to be God’s visible presence. And it is not necessarily because our faith has a lot to be desired. It is because we can’t see God, we can’t touch him in Christ. We can’t hear with our ears his speaking to us as friends speak to one another.
When we are unhappy we are experiencing what the apostles experienced, what all the close friends of Christ experienced, the bodily absence of the most important person in their lives and ours. But that was necessary for them. They didn’t understand that, and most likely would not have chosen it to happen. But for their own good Christ needed to leave them. They probably had become more dependent on him than was good for them. Do you suppose he had become their decision maker and their provider? I wonder if he did all their thinking for them. If so, then they really needed him to leave.
When we think of seeing God and living with him, whether in heaven or on earth, it is possible to get the idea that we are going to lose our freedom to make decisions. We might think everything will be left up to God and we will just follow out his orders, abide by his decisions — sort of like robots in one of those religious communes, sort of like we have been brainwashed and blindly obedient to whatever God wishes. I don’t think that is exactly how heaven is. I think that idea is far from reality.
It is necessary for us to learn to make our own decisions, to at least try our hardest at providing for ourselves, while also not forgetting to help others. Though God is always behind the scenes with his assistance, we need to grow and mature by exerting our own efforts of taking responsibility.
Some parents encourage their children to move out of the house and be on their own so they can learn to grow up in a way that home life doesn’t always give the opportunity to do. The parents still might give moral support and step in on occasions with other assistance; that’s a very loving and normal thing to do. But far too often parents tend to hold on to their children and give too much help and protection which can stifle growth towards maturity. Though God is always with us I think he lets us feel we are on our own so that we can grow up to become mature human beings and saints.
We need him to be invisible to us so that we can grow up. I believe that in heaven we will still have free will to make our own decisions.
God will not take that freedom away, and we need to learn how to use our freedom well while we are here on earth.
Christ told us what is best for us, but we are to be the ones to choose or reject to live according to what he had to say. The apostles and disciples had to learn that also. They needed to grow without Christ visibly with them. Please give that some serious thought.
That Ascension Day must have been sad and hard for them, but it was one of the greatest acts of love Jesus could show them. He gave them the basics, he gave them the knowledge, He and his Father were giving them the Holy Spirit. Now they were to decide what to do with it all. They were to grow, they were to mature, they were to become saints. And saints are those who make their own decisions, learning to think and choose and do with their own free will what is best. We need to learn that. Nobody else can do it for us, not even Christ.
But Christ is with you, sisters and brothers. You know that. The Holy Spirit is in you. You know that too. God your Father is giving you all the help and moral support you need. Now it’s up to you to do something with it all. You are to decide. God is so good and wise. How lucky the apostles were, how lucky we are! That first Ascension Day was the beginning of their ascent towards sainthood. May this one help you with your ascension towards your sainthood – all the way to the heart of heaven!