20 May 2007

NOT ABANDONED

SOLEMNITY OF THE LORD’S ASCENSION
Lk 24:46-53

Life is an endless series of coming and going. We arrive and we depart; we enter and then we exit. We are born then we die. We celebrate new births while we mourn over every death, marking them with rites and ceremonies. Because they affect other people’s lives, dates of birth and death are also registered and certified. And the only thing we know about death is the parting. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote thus:

“Parting is what we know about heaven
And all we need to know about hell.”

The last thing we know about a person is his death. The apostles, at first, thought the same as regards Jesus. Thinking that their world would crumble at the death of Jesus, they felt that there was no hope at all left for them between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But, with their experience of the resurrection of Jesus, their faith was renewed and their hope, reborn. Nonetheless, they had to face the fact that Jesus still had to return to the Father on the appointed time. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension to mark that appointed time.

In our liturgy today, there are two stories about the final departure of Jesus: one is from the gospel according to St. Luke and the other is from the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written by Luke. Luke concludes his gospel and begins his second book with the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. He opens the Acts of the Apostles in the same way he closes his gospel. By doing so, Luke tells us that Jesus’ return to the Father is the completion of His mission while at the same time it is the beginning of the mission of the apostles. The Lord’s ascension, for Luke, is both an ending and a beginning, a going away and a coming in.

The final departure of Jesus is not His death. Jesus resurrected three days after His death, and allowed Himself to be seen by His chosen friends so that they experience the new life in Him. That new experience is the foundation of the apostles’ preaching. In his first homily, Simon Peter said, “God raised the man Jesus back to life, and we are all witnesses to it” (Acts 2:32).

In the gospel according to John, when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the night of the same day of His resurrection, Jesus breathed on them, gave them the Holy Spirit, and commissioned them to teach all nations. But Luke has a different version of the story. According to Luke, Jesus told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and there wait for the power from on high to overshadow them. That overshadowing was the descent of the Holy Spirit who would empower them to preach in the name of Jesus Himself. For Luke, Jesus first had to go so that the Holy Spirit could come. The departure of Jesus meant the arrival of the Holy Spirit; His ascent into heaven was the descent of His Spirit upon the believers.

The descent of the Holy Spirit was of vital significance for the apostles because they were not ready yet to give witness to Jesus. They could not fall back to their own resources in carrying out the mission Jesus entrusted them with. Their own resources were not enough to minister in the name of Jesus. They need to be vested with power from on high, as Jesus said. But Jesus must first go away. Thus, He brought them to Bethany, blest them, then ascended into heaven until He vanished from their sight. His going away marked the end of His physical presence. It is finished. Now is the time of the Spirit.

Do you remember the story of Luke about how Jesus started His public ministry? Was He Himself not “clothed” by the power of the Holy Spirit? After His baptism at the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. “Filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1), Jesus began His public ministry. The Spirit marked the time of Jesus’ new beginning, the time of His public ministry that was filled with power and authority. We hear an echo of those events when the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, begins her public ministry as well. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the early Church, empowering her to minister in the name of Jesus at the heart of the world.

Because it was the Holy Spirit who marked the beginning of the Church, the same Spirit empowers the Church in all generations. Since we are the Church, the Holy Spirit gives us a new beginning and empowers us with His manifold gifts. This is why the Solemnity of Pentecost next Sunday is very important: it is not only a memory of how the Church began but, most importantly, it is a celebration of the Spirit in the heart of the Church today. Without the Holy Spirit, we will have to fall back on our own resources. But because it is very clear that our own resources are not enough, we can only minister in the name of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Easter and Pentecost are very intimately related. The resurrection of Jesus is about the Holy Spirit. Jesus rose to life so that He may give us His Spirit. For without us receiving His Spirit, what good was there in the death of Jesus? In between Easter and Pentecost, however, is the Ascension: Jesus must return to the Father so that, from the Father, He may send us His Spirit. This, Jesus did. Thus, today we feast.

According to Luke’s account, after Jesus vanished from their sight on Ascension day, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, filled with great joy. At first, it seemed odd that the disciples were filled with joy as they went back to the city just right after Jesus’ final departure. But now, we understand their immense joy. The disciples knew that Jesus went away but He was not gone. Instead, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus became even more present. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, Jesus was not only with them anymore; rather, Jesus was already in them. The same is true with us who are disciples of Jesus today. Jesus now lives in us. And if so, should we not, through the power of His Spirit, be another Jesus to one another?

Jesus did not abandon us. If ever people feel that they are abandoned by Jesus, can it be because it is us who abandoned them?

1 Comments:

At 3:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Father!

First of all, let me greet you a happy valentine's day!I would like to commend you for your effort of restoring the community of St. Joseph Manggagawa and bringing in a lot of blessings from God through your fervent prayers and act of love.Hmmmm.....Fr., could I make a request? If you don't mind. Could you make your homily a little shorter and livelier? Kamukha po ng mga nauna ninyong homiliya na talagang napapatawa ninyo ang mga tao and yet tumatatak sa puso't isipan ang inyong sinabing mga paliwanang ukol sa Gospel.Namimiss po namin iyon, puera po yun question and answer.He-he.E, nakakakaba po iyong part na iyon.

Father, talagang wish namin na magtagal kayo dito sa amin kasi mahusay naman talaga kayo . We're praying for you and for whatever you are praying for.

Pagpalain po kayo ng Panginoon.

Shalom!

 

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