May 17, 2015 – Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1: 1-11; Ps 47: 2-3, 6-9; Eph 1: 17-23; Mk 16: 15-20
With the exception of five northeastern provinces and the state of Nebraska, the Solemnity of the Ascension has been transferred from Ascension Thursday (the 40th day of Easter) to the Sunday following it. The Ascension of Christ is significant from a number of perspectives. It marks the end of His physical earthly ministry. The Gospels of Luke and Mark and the Acts of the Apostles report it literally, but there are other references to Christ ascending physically into Heaven in the Bible. Today’s Gospel from Mark says that He “was taken up into Heaven.”
This is significant to us in terms of eternal life and the form it may take, but what occurs around the Lord’s Ascension is also important. Jesus tells the Apostles and His followers who witness His Ascension that they will “receive the Holy Spirit.” Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the recounting of what occurred at and around Christ’s Ascension. According to most Biblical scholars and theologians Jesus’ Ascension is one of the five major milestones in His earthly life, the others being Baptism, Transfiguration, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. In our Catechism ( #668) it states: “Christ’s Ascension into Heaven signifies His participation, in His humanity, in God’s power and authority.” So what does the Ascension mean to each of us personally?
Most agree that it was St. Luke who wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Thus, when Acts begins, “In the first book…I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up,” it is a reference to the Gospel of Luke. Based upon other references early in Acts, it would appear that the timeframe for the writing is around 60 A.D. Paul is in Rome at that time. The Emperor Nero would begin his persecution of Christians in 64 A.D. Nevertheless, the most important words in this first reading are those which tell us today what we need to be doing to build the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells the Apostles in this reading that they are to return to and stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit, which He has promised. Just as they needed the Holy Spirit to fulfill Christ’s wishes, we do as well. One week from today (May 24) we celebrate and hear about when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit (Pentecost Sunday).
As Catholics we receive the Holy Spirit initially at Baptism. However, the gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to come to us throughout our lives and in various ways. The traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. In this reading Jesus reminds us that we are to use the Holy Spirit to go and teach others the “Good News.” It is a call to evangelization and stewardship.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians confirms the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of how the “eyes of our hearts might be enlightened.” This is the same enlightenment to which the first reading makes reference through the Holy Spirit. However, it is in the Gospel reading that we gain the full understanding of our calling. Jesus could not have made it more apparent to us as when He says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.” As we have noted previously, this is not a suggestion from the Lord, it is a command. The final verses which present that “they went forth and preached everywhere” is our cue to do the same. It is often said that stewardship is measured by what we do, how we live. This direct summons from Christ is for us to live active lives of stewardship which demonstrate to all we know our witness to our belief and our faith.