In Canada, the Church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord today. Here are some thoughts about this feast, reflections on the realities that are being experienced at this very moment, and some concrete ways in which the words of scripture presented to us today can help us to live in hope.
I am with you always
Just a few days ago, the people of Saint Elizabeth's parish in Temagami celebrated the funeral of a long-time friend Marcel, and yesterday afternoon, family members gathered at the local cemetery to bury the mortal remains of another of this community’s well-known inhabitants. These moments mark significant passages, but in the midst of the sadness that is part of saying goodbye to those we have known and loved, these moments are also occasions for us to celebrate and to grow in faith.
Today, the Church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord. The gospel tells us that after he had died, Jesus appeared to the disciples a number of times, so that they could come to believe that physical death is not the end of the story. Throughout the season of Easter, we have retold the stories of these encounters with the risen Lord so that our faith too might be strengthened, and today we hear another part of the story. The eleven disciples went to Galilee: to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them (Mt 28:16). It is always difficult for us to say goodbye to someone we have known and loved, but we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and because of that, it will be the same for all of us. While we wait for that day, we must continue to do what Jesus tells us to do. We must go to the places he sends us to, and we must look for him in those places. When the disciples saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted (Mt 28:16-17). The world around us would have us believe that there is no such thing as life after physical death, but our faith tells us differently.
It wasn’t easy for the disciples to believe, so why should we think that it would be easy for us? Yet the truth of what Jesus taught has managed to withstand the test of time. If it were not true, all that he taught would have been forgotten by now. Thankfully for us, Jesus sent the disciples to the ends of the earth. He told them: Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you (Mt 28:19-20). Ever since that day, we have been doing these things – going out to all the world and sharing the good news of the gospel with those we meet.
Jesus wants us to be his witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria (Acts 1:8) ... wherever we live. When we encounter others, and share with them the treasure of faith that we have received, God works through us to call to their hearts, encouraging them to believe that they too can have the joy of knowing him, and of coming to believe that we have a heavenly homeland that awaits us.
About a year ago, I met Robin. She is a mother who has been living life, but she has also been searching. She was baptized as a child, but never completed the other sacraments, not until now. Over the past few months, she has been learning more and more about her faith, and she has been encountering the joy that we encounter in the faces of those who have come to know Jesus. Like Saint Paul, we who have been part of Robin’s journey of faith have been praying for her and for her family: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ ... may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know him so that, with the eyes of their hearts enlightened, they may know ... the hope to which they have been called (Eph 1:17-18).
This morning, Robin will finally celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, as will her eldest son Dustin. She will also receive the gift of the Eucharist for the first time today, along with her two sons. This is a day of great rejoicing for them and for us, a milestone that marks a moment within their faith journey, but their faith still needs to be supported and strengthened – as is the case for all of us – for none of us knows the times or periods that God our Father has determined (cf Acts 1:7). What we must do is our very best to live each day in hope of a heavenly future that is yet to come.