When it was decided that the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven would now be moved to a Sunday in the dioceses of New Jersey, I was certainly disappointed. I perceived this change as another pastoral move conceding the Church’s sad defeat when dealing with contemporary society. Shouldn’t the Church be attempting to re-Christianize and boldly influence a post-Christian modern world? Yes, there may be less priests to offer Masses, and many people, in general, do not really consider Holy Days of Obligation that important. However, are there really too few churches within driving distance in New Jersey for modern man to get to Mass? Does the tradition and theology of 40 days after Easter no longer have relevance (hence, Ascension Thursday)? The world (secular culture) apparently has a stronger say in the decision making process than does holding to Church tradition. Chalk another one up for the world.
That being said, we should look at the feast we now celebrate this weekend. Christ appeared to His chosen disciples after His Resurrection, but there came the day when His Resurrected Body physically left this earth to return to the Father. We no longer see Him walking this earth.
However, Jesus did not abandon us. He left us His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. He remains in His words and teaching in the Sacred Scriptures. The ordained priest acts in His very person (in persona Christi) in the sacraments of the Church. He is present where two or three gather in His Name—community prayer, liturgy and worship, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And, as God-Man, He continues to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father.
Our humanity is now elevated in Jesus’ glorious Body and has entered Heaven. The fall and exile of Adam (original sin) is now reversed through the saving action of Christ, the new Adam. Heaven is open to us through Him. As He told us, no one comes to the Father except through Him (Jn. 14:6).
In the year 2000, I visited the Holy Land with my mother. One of our stops was a place reverenced as a possible sight of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. We gathered there to pray with our guide who read a Scripture passage about the Ascension and led us in a hymn. As I stood there reflecting, I wondered what the disciples possibly thought at the time. What do we do now? The Master just told us to go and baptize all nations. WE have work to do. (See Mt. 28: 16-20 and Acts 1: 1-11)
Jesus’ instruction to His disciples—to make disciples of all the nations—has to continue with us. WE should start with our family, friends and those within our circle of influence. We are not called to be passive and timid regarding our faith, but to make disciples.
Additionally, we should pray for and anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The power of the Holy Spirit fortified cowardly disciples into bold witness of Jesus and His Resurrection. Many disciples witnessed in the face of persecution and unto death on His behalf. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit acting in our lives if we allow Him.
Thank God, there will be no changing of the celebration of Pentecost Sunday. (I hope.)
Fr. Ed Namiotka