Gospel according to Saint Matthew 28,16-20:
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Jesus, they bowed before him, although some doubted. Then Jesus approached them and said, «I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples from all nations. Baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to fulfill all that I have commanded you. I am with you always until the end of this world».
Closer to the Father
p. Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, May 21, 2023 | Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:12-14; 1 Pt 4:13-16; Jn 17:1-11a; Mt 28, 16-20
In some dioceses the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on a different day, so the Sunday Readings may be different. But, in any case, they convey a very similar spiritual flavor. Christ does not say farewell to us, but to the world, that is why he says: And now I will no longer be in the world (Jn 17: 11).
Faced with the doubts of some of the disciples, St. Matthew says that Christ came to them and confirmed them in their mission to bear witness to the Gospel and also that he would accompany them to the end. He does not say goodbye to us. Thus, Matthew’s Gospel ends as it began: speaking of Jesus as Emmanuel = “God is with us”. And St. John picks up in his words Christ’s plea to the Father, “that they may be filled with the same perfect joy that I have” (Jn 17: 13).
Although there are several beautiful interpretations of the significance of the Ascension in the life of Jesus, we are interested today in penetrating what it means for our own spiritual life, just as the Passion and Resurrection have a profound meaning in our ascetical and mystical journey, in what we are to do for the divine persons and what we receive from them.
1. Something we should understand and remember in this regard is what St. Teresa of Avila says passionately and with certitude born of experience:
Christ has no body, but yours. He has no hands or feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he sees compassion in this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses the whole world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes with which He sees compassion in this world. Christ has no other body on earth but yours.
To put it another way, it is similar to what happens when parents have to go to an appointment and ask their eldest son or daughter, aged 12 or 13, to look after their younger siblings. Parents are aware of their child’s limitations, but sometimes there is no other possibility. The firstborn is asked not only to be well-behaved, but to remember how they, the parents, treat and care for the younger ones. Experiences like this are necessary for maturation in faith. Only when we come to understand that the Master has given us his own mission, can we reach the necessary fullness. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16: 7).
So it is not simply a matter of personal maturity, but of an effective, active companionship of the Holy Spirit. Those who have doubts about this can recall how the disciples, even in the presence of Christ, were full of fear and doubts, but then they completely changed, becoming strong and courageous enough to give their lives, giving signs of abnegation and willingness to die for the Gospel. The Gospel tells us that after the Ascension, the disciples went back into Jerusalem filled with great joy.
We are indeed witnesses. The danger is lest we should be witnesses without the power. A bad witness has lost many a case. Think if some friend were arrested, and brought before the judge in connection with some suspicious circumstance and now I am called as witness. I would die for my friend, for I owe him everything; but alas! I am confused in my statements, and they seem to be contradictory. My friend looks at me, surprised and grieved. The judge shakes his head. The counsel for the prosecution sits down with a smile; it is plain enough that the case has gone as he would have it. Jesus Christ is ever at the bar of public opinion; and whether men shall accept or reject Him depends upon our evidence.
A story is told that Leonardo da Vinci had once started to work on a nice painting on a large Canvas in his studio. So for some time he chose the subject, planned it, sketched the outline and began applying the colors. Then suddenly he stopped working on it. He invited one of his talented students to complete the work. The student was horrified and dismayed; he told Leonardo that he was unworthy and unable to complete the great painting which his master had begun. But Leonardo told him: Will not what I have done inspire you to do your best?
2. Almost every time the Ascension of Christ is mentioned, the sadness of the apostles is referred to, the pain they felt because of their farewell, etc. But Jesus was also a man and undoubtedly felt sorrow and concern at having to disappear from the sight of his disciples, whom he called friends. So the Ascension is a lesson of authentic abnegation, of moving away from the human form of our affections, however lawful they may be, and, with the physical separation, giving a sign of absolute obedience, of surrendering his own affections, so that the Father may use them as he wills. Perhaps that is why, in his farewell, Jesus says: But the world must know that I love the Father and that I do exactly what the Father has commanded me (Jn 14: 31).
Some of us are not aware of the damage that can be done by a bad administration of our affections. Sometimes in the form of being respecter of persons, of preferences and sometimes creating affective dependencies, in the form of a true addiction.
During one of the visits I made to one of our missions, a sincere and intelligent parishioner wanted to have a spiritual conversation with me, because she recognized that she was not sincerely living what she had learned in the Gospel. Indeed, being a young, sensitive and affectionate person, she had lost her husband in an accident and her feeling of loneliness was difficult to bear. But that led to a controlling and anxious friendship with a man older than herself. She had no malicious intent, but she spent a lot of time sending him messages, was unhappy if she did not receive an immediate reply, and also expected the replies to be full of affection and almost adoration. To make matters worse, she was convinced that she was helping that person with her form of affection. She was looking for security and recognition, in a very wrong way. She was hurting herself and, of course, also the person who had become her emotional target.
She only managed to overcome this situation, for me admirably, thanks to her faith. She understood well that the other person was not “her property” and could no longer use him as an instrument for her comfort. On the contrary, she succeeded in bringing the man closer to the parish and integrating him into a fairly close-knit group. It seemed to me to be an act of abnegation and a true surrender of the hunger for affection and admiration that we all feel.
3. On several occasions (e.g., May 31, 1981), our Father Founder has associated the ascension, our personal ascension, to aspiration, showing how this aspiration, which – let us not forget – is given by the Holy Spirit, separates us and frees us from everything that is a burden on our path to perfection. First of all, a strong, authentic aspiration rescues us from many desires, which cannot be called aspirations, but rather whims. Moreover, in this way, we feel prepared to accept and take advantage of the meaning of the Spiration, the breath of the Holy Spirit, which leads us on unsuspected paths.
It seems to me that the case of the parishioner cited above is a complete illustration of this reality. For some reason, in our Examination of Perfection, we see that Aspiration is the deepest result of the Spiration, the breath of the Holy Spirit in our sails.
This should change my perspective and my look at my neighbors, in whom shortcomings and limitations prevent me from seeing their authentic being. The following words of Pope Benedict XVI (May 7, 2005) should make us think, of course, of the Ascension of Christ, but also of what this primordial Ascension means for understanding the identity of every human being:
Christ’s Ascension means … that He belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with Him flesh and blood in a transfigured form. The human being finds room in God; through Christ, the human being was introduced into the very life of God.
Perhaps this is why the celebrated English writer C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) noted: Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
Returning to this perspective that today’s Solemnity gives us, Christ’s Ascension also signifies the beginning of the final hour of human history. By Christ’s Ascension into Heaven the final age – indeed the final “hour – of the world has begun. The Catechism states: Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at ‘the last hour’. Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect (CCC 670). All of us are living in “end times”, which means that we should be diligently preparing for the return of the Lord who is already present to us specially through the Holy Eucharist and the action of the Holy Spirit.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,