Category Archives: The Ascension

Why can’t you stay? The Ascension: Other Implied Points: Prayer, Indwelling, Presence, Agape, the Cross, Persecution and Resurrection

The reality of prayer

Then there is the question of prayer.  If Christ was on earth humanly present, why pray to heaven, to a God we cannot see, when He has been manifested here on earth. After all, Jesus himself said: Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. [Jn 12:45].[1]  The problem is, as explained above, Jesus whole ministry was directed to obedience to the Father.  It is to the Father that He directs us to pray; it is the Father that He commands that we love with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind. [Lk 10:27; Deut 6:5]  It is the Father to whom He himself prays, glorifies, pleads, and offers His obedience in atonement for our sins.  While we do not know for what to pray, [Rom 8:26] we are urged to pray unceasingly, particularly that we watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. [Mt 26:41].

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  It also makes the heart and mind be raised to You, Father, as Your Son bid us to do, for You so loved the world that You gave You only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. [Jn 3:16].  Help us to love You back, for that is the only sacrifice which You desire, the only purpose for our existence, the only way to eternal life with You.  Amen. Alleluia!!!

The reality of the Father and I will come and we will dwell with you.

The reality of the indwelling of the Trinity boggles the mind.  If Jesus were still present in human form, this might seem an impossibility. But the Ascension enabled us to grasp the miracle that God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in every single human being that is in the state of grace.  They are right here…in you and I. Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. [Jn 14:23]  Jesus likens Himself to a guest at the door: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. [Rev 3:20].  Through this, we have the Divine life within us: If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. [Rom 8:11]

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. [1Cor 6:19-20] The indwelling was gained for us at the price of the Cross.  Our response should and must be to hold sacred all that we do, say and think, for God is not only enabling me to do all I do, but, by recognizing this and extolling Him for His graces and generosity in instilling in us not only physical but divine life, we praise Him…we give Him the recognition, the appreciation, the glory He deserves.

The reality of two or three gathered in my Name

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. [Mt 18:20]  Would we believe this is Jesus were still humanly physically present. This verse follows  and is explained by a most extraordinary verse concerning the efficacy of prayer: Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. [Mt 18:19] NABRE’s note on the Mt 18:20 comments:

“the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: ‘…When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them’ (Pirqê ’Abôt3:3).”

This echoes what Jesus said earlier in his ministry: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:7-8]  John puts is slightly differently, tying it in with dwelling in Christ and obeying Him; If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. [Jn 15:7]  Jesus can’t seem to emphasize this basic faith in His care and concern enough: And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. [Jn 14: 13-14]

Mark reiterates what was quoted from Matthew, prayer is the key: Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. [Mk 11:24] John sums it all up: And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.  [1Jn 5:14-15]

Father, help me have faith in You that when I say “give us this day our daily bread,” You hear us.  Jesus, deepen my trust in You that when we offer You in Your holy sacrifice to the Father, that You carry us with you and hear our prayers.  Holy Spirit, help me to believe that, though my prayers lack the fervor, the attention, even the appropriateness at times of my request, You will make things right: You come to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8:26-27]

The reality of whatever you do to the least of my brothers.

What if Jesus were right here in human bodily form…would this “least of my brothers” thing still hold.  Well, yes, but…now we are thrown on our own.  He’s not here to rescue us as He did the disciples when the father complained: I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him. [Mt 17:16]  If His disciples could not cure the boy when Jesus was among them, what chance do we have now?

His answer, I believe, lies, as it always does, in deeper faith. Jesus said in reply, “O faithless and perverse* generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me.” [Mt 17:17]  It seems that being with us longer is not the answer. “Why could we not drive it out?”  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [Mt 17:19-20]

You might protest: But that’s not how Mark tells the story.  You’re absolutely right.  This is one of the few instances where Mark has a much longer version of the pericope or vignette than either of the other two Synoptics.  In his version, the challenge to greater faith is exacerbated by the father’s statement: But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” One can sense the palpable exasperation which wells up in Jesus in His reply: “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

Then comes my most favorite verse of the whole Scripture…for it so encapsulates my existential dilemma: Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk 9:22-24]  I am an incessant pendulum…swinging crazily between belief and unbelief, faith and doubt, ardent love and tepid acknowledgement.  Elusive faith is there and then it’s not there or hiding or out gallivanting…I don’t know!  Yes, I believe…but achieving even this mustard seed bit is, seemingly beyond my ken, beyond my reach, beyond my existential grasp.

Paul states: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. [Eph 2:8] and we know from Jesus himself that at least understanding that comes through faith is a direct gift:For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. [Mt 16:17]  But, perhaps simultaneous with and synchronized to growth in the Spirit considered in the meditation on Pentecost[2], faith needs to be nurtured and grow: “Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” [Mt 13:18-23]…which brings us back to the mustard seed: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’ [Mt 13:31-32] and now I can see that, through faith, the kingdom of heaven grows in me.

Finally, how can I grow in faith: First, I need to realize that at least I am in good company:  And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” [Lk 17:5]  If we go back to the lack of faith that could not expel the demon from the body, Jesus’ explanation is that  “this kind can only come out through prayer.” [Mk 9:29][3]

The question is, am I in a “catch-22”: Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive, [Mt 21:22] that is, if I need to ask for faith in prayer, and if I need to pray with faith in order to receive that for which I asked, how can I ask and how can I increase in faith. “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” [Lk 18:27]  As we saw above, faith is a gift from God.

Paul’s words give me hope: If we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. [Rom 8: 25-27]

Lord, help me “wait with endurance” for the Holy Spirit to pray that I may have greater faith so that I may love the least of my brothers as You love me.

The reality of taking up the cross and following Him.

Would we really take this seriously if Jesus were still among us in human physical form.  I would be tempted to say: “What cross?  He’s risen.  He’s here. Let’s forget the passion and death and simply rejoice.”  But, as we are all aware, that doesn’t reflect real life.  And, if anything, Jesus came to tell us that being real human beings with all that entails, good and bad, birth and death, Cana and Lazarus, Transfiguration and Crowning with thorns, the Baptism and the water and blood pouring out His side.  Thus, the reality of His existence, His Incarnation, His humanity puts our lives in perspective.  Indeed, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. [Mt 16: 24-25]

A critical word here is “take.” The cross is not an option, something we may take or leave.  While I cannot avoid the cross, at times I can and do choose to ignore it. I try to cast it away, only to have it dragging behind me as if it were some loathsome and despicable offal.

We all have those aspects of our lives that burden and haunt us, terrorize us and frighten us, inflict mental and physical anguish on ourselves.  Part of this are the vagaries of human existence, pain, suffering, death, disappointment, injustice, ridicule, boredom and ennui.  These, of themselves, can make my life miserable, even tortuous.

But the other part is the evil I would not do that I do [Rom 7:19], the ego that erupts and, like Vesuvius, buries us under our sinful selves.  It is in this very state of degradation, of denial, of misery, of remorse, of despair, that Jesus sees me: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. [Lk 19:10]

Jesus, by seeking and saving us, accepts us as we are and enables us to freely choose to also accept ourselves as we are.  John, in the beginning of his 1st Letter, starts out by contrasting Jesus as the Son of God and the Word of Life and us as inveterate sinners: If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 Jn 8-10]  As the NABRE’s note on this section states: “Denial of the condition of sin is self-deception and even contradictory of divine revelation; there is also the continual possibility of sin’s recurrence.”

Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. [Lk 5:31]  Our sinfulness is a chronic condition.  His saving grace, by His forgiving our sins, by His feeding us on His Body and Blood, what He enables us to not only live with our chronic illness, but to overcome its debilitating effects.

The Cross is a choice. At the same time we pick up our daily bread from the Father, we are faced with the decision to reject or pick up our cross, lives as they are.   Jesus, enable me to follow You with, through and in Your healing grace.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

The reality of faith in Him in the face of persecution.

If Jesus were still physically present in his human body, we would probably have a much different mindset of how we were to act in the face of persecution.  Yes, we would have seen Him endure the passion and cross in obedience to His Father’s will, but if we were persecuted, as He prophesied that we would be, we would have turned back to Him on earth and pleaded for, even demanded His intervention and help…He was beyond their torments, therefore He must be able to abolish their torments…Our sentiments would be that His miracles alleviated suffering before; He can and should relieve it now.

But that is not the case.  We would not truly hear, truly heed His words: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.[Jn 12:24-25]

We have a very difficult time “getting it”: No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master. [Mt 10:24-25]  There is no “duh” moment when Jesus that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. [Mt 16:21]  Instead, we are like Peter; even today we take Him aside and rebuke Him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.[Mt 16:22] Not today!!! Not in our world of amorphous identities, untruth tolerance and aborted non-entities.”

Indeed, we are taken aback when Jesus gets so bent out of shape and scolds us, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” [Mt. 16:23] And we are in denial and totally ignore His next words: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. [Mt 16:24]

If we didn’t believe that what happened to Him will happen to us, He predicts it: But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagansBrother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. [Mt 10:17-18, 21-22]

Jesus, help me endure to the end.

The reality of the resurrection of my body.

The problem with the resurrection of my body, if Jesus were still physically humanly present, is that (a) we’d have to differentiate between the Lazarus/the daughter of Jairus/the son of the widow of Nain/Tabitha type of resuscitation and eternal resurrection, and (b) having done that, we would be faced with the fact that only Jesus would be walking around truly resurrected.  While Paul’s 1 Cor 15 arguments about faith in the resurrection would still hold, there would be questions in my mind about time passing and nothing happening…and the argument that only the Father, not even the Son, knows in Mt 24:36 would certainly not be reassuring in most senses.

People would be pleading with Jesus to resuscitate their loved ones, even multiple times.  The Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven would be questioned.  And one would wonder why we should look to the future resurrection since Jesus is still here.

But Jesus ascended.  And we are here.  And Jesus left us “alone,” a gentle, loving parent who knows when it is time to say “good-bye.”   Not that we are truly alone; his promise to be with us always, even to the end of the world [Mt 28:20] He has fulfilled in being physically present, not just in one place but in tabernacles all over the world, on altars at every Eucharist, in our very selves every time we eat His body and drink His blood.  He is present in the Church, guiding it through the Holy Spirit.  He is present whenever two or three are gathered in His Name [Mt 18:20].  And He is with us even when we just love Him, when the Father and He come and dwell in us. [Jn 14:23]

So we are not alone.  And he promised to prepare a place for us and to return to take us to be with Him [Jn 14:3].  And He has given us His mother, who was indeed assumed, body and soul, and continually cares for us and commends us to follow Him, to do whatever He tells you. [Jn 2:5]. And we believe in and look forward to “the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” [Apostle’s Creed]

Summary:

Jesus left us for many reasons, not the least of which was to send the Spirit: “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might continually sanctify the Church, and thus, all those who believe would have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father. He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal. To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through Him, until, in Christ, He brings to life their mortal bodies. The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons. The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits. By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth. Uninterruptedly He renews it and leads it to perfect union with its Spouse. The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, ‘Come!’” Lumen Gentium 4

Now it is our responsibility to get to work, doing the job He gave us to do as He left us: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Mt 28:18-20]

Now, pray to the Spirit that He enable us to utilize the personal gifts He gives each of us for the building of the Body of Christ: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, ‘allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills, He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit’. These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.” Lumen Gentium 12

Oh, yes, the Ascension, Christ’s departure to the Father was and remains extremely important.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Two Pentecosts: John, Evangelist Of The Spirit, June 10, 2014

[3] Some manuscripts add, “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting”; this is a variant of the better reading of Mk 9:29.[3]