This reflection is for Ascension Sunday, Cycle B, 5/13/2018.
I was surprised recently when talking with my students. It was this past Friday before Mother’s Day/Ascension Sunday. I like to make sure that my students are thoughtful about their mothers and how much their mother’s do for them and sacrifice for them. One of my students, when making a mother’s day card, wrote in Spanish in big letters, “I know I’m not the best son, but I’ll always love you, mom.” As I read it I told him how powerful it was and that I’m sure his mom would appreciate it. He said, “Yeah, Mr. Valgos, moms never stop loving you no matter how bad you mess up.”
As I agreed with him, I thought about my own mom and how many times I’ve messed up, and I thought about my wife and how much she loves our boys and sacrifices for them. I was immediately overcome with gratitude for both my mom and my wife, and got all choked up and became teary-eyed. Not a single one of my students clowned me for it. When you teach alternative education, everyone knows moms reign supreme. They pick up the phone, they hassle the kids, they make sure they’re dressed, on the bus, and are passing their classes. Moms are the ones who sacrifice everything for their children. In this Age of the Church, Jesus is working through moms in a powerful way. Many will come to know the love of God through the love of their mom.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. In the Creed we announce that, “He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” (C.C.C.659-667). And the very next phrase is, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” (C.C.C. 668-682). It is very important that we reflect a moment on the implications of these two short phrases because the implications are tremendous. I hear quite often that Jesus “lives in you and me,” or that Jesus “is in my heart.” But technically speaking, how is that possible if the resurrected Jesus “ascended to the Father” and “will return to judge” at the end of time, as we state every Sunday in the Creed?
I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus will return! Look busy!” If Jesus will return…then how can He also “be here” or “in my heart”? What I think most people really mean is that, “the Spirit of Jesus” lives within us, or that Jesus’ Spirit is here among us. It is the Holy Spirit that is Jesus’ active force in the world today. That, after all, is the importance of Pentecost, which we celebrate this coming Sunday! Jesus looked forward to ascending to the Father so that He could send the Holy Spirit (cf JN 16:7) and usher in the “age of the Church” whereby Jesus would act in and through his faithful disciples, the body of Christ, the Church.
The Catechism says it like this, “The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’–the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, ‘until he comes.’ In this age of the Church Christ now lives and acts in and with his church.” (C.C.C. 1076) In yesterday’s Gospel reading Jesus says to His Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (JN 17:18).
A great way to see these two realities lived out quite clearly is by comparing Luke, the evangelist’s, two writings, namely, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is part two of the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke begins with, “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Luke 1:1-4). So the Gospel clearly intended to gather information about Jesus’ life for “Theophilus” (which translates “Theo” = God + “Philus”= lover, so a “lover of God”) into an orderly narrative from the beginning to the end of Jesus’ life. Luke ends with Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
Acts of the Apostles is our reading for today, and begins with, “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2) Clearly Acts continues Luke’s teachings about Jesus, only Acts IS NOT about Jesus, per se. It is instead about the Body of Christ! Whereas we saw the earthly Jesus in the Gospel, we now see Jesus in Heaven working through the Holy Spirit in and through His Church in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Acts of the Apostles replaces the Old Testament reading throughout the Easter Season. We’ve been hearing from it everyday since Easter and we continue to hear from it right up to Pentecost. You might have noticed that in Acts, the Apostles heal people, show mercy to people, and proclaim the good news–in other words, they continue the mission and ministry of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit–and it all begins at Pentecost!
If you want to see Jesus in action, read the Gospel! If you want to see Jesus Spirit in action, read Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit is sent to Jesus’ disciples that they might be Him on earth until He returns. No, Jesus is NOT in your heart, is not in your neighbor, and is not in the Church–the Spirit of Jesus is! Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and will come again to Judge the living and the dead. The Holy Spirit binds believers together into one body with Jesus as the head. The Spirit makes Christ a present reality in and through His members, the Church, the Body of Christ.
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) said it perfectly and beautifully when she wrote the following poem:
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
In today’s Gospel Jesus said to his disciples, “’Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
Jesus is still “here” and working with and through His Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. We will indeed experience Jesus today–by the Holy Spirit that makes Christ present during this Age of the Church–most especially in the Eucharist. But we will experience Him primarily through others. Through other people’s responding to Jesus and producing good fruit. We will experience the fruit of the Spirit by their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (cf. GAL 5:22).
We will come to know Jesus Christ ascended by the working of His Spirit through the Church. We will come to believe in Him by the way that they live out holy lives. We will come to hear the words of God, see the face of God, feel the love of God through others…moms first of all. And we should do the same.
On this celebration of Mother’s Day we give thanks for all those moms who responded to Jesus’ call to proclaim the Gospel to every nation…starting in their home, with their husband and with their children. Thank you, mom. Thank you, wife. Thank you, Jesus. And we who have come to know the love, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus are called to go out and do likewise. We continue by the power of the same Spirit of Jesus that animated them to love to then go out and show love, forgiveness, and mercy to others. And that’s how we and the Holy Spirit build the Kingdom of God. Let’s get started! The King will soon return. Look busy.
HAPPY MOTHER”S DAY!