We know from the Bible that the Ascension of Jesus took place forty days after the Resurrection: “[Jesus] presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days.” Acts 1:3. The 4th day after Easter Sunday will always be Thursday, therefore the Church, from very early on, celebrated Christ’s Ascension on this day.
But with the declining number of attendance on a weekday, many US Ecclesiastical Provinces as well as some countries, decided to transfer the feast to Sunday. You may remember that last year, our bishops of New Jersey decided to permanently transfer the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord from Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter to the following Sunday, the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Hence we keep the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord today.
Ascension does not mean that Jesus disappeared, because even as he ascended, his assurance was, “I will be with you always, even to the end of times” (Matthew 28:20). What is celebrated is Jesus’ exaltation and the end of his earthly existence as a prelude to the gift of the Spirit. Hence this feast is a celebration of Jesus’ final glorification after his suffering, death, and Resurrection – a glory in which we also hope to share.
And yet, humanly speaking, the concept of bodily Ascension is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. Pope Francis doesn’t shy away from explaining the mysteries of our faith. In his catechesis on Ascension, he says: “Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven thus allows us to know this reality that is so consoling on our journey: in Christ, true God, and true man, our humanity has been brought to God. He has opened the way. He is like the leader of a mountain climbing party that is roped together. He has reached the summit and pulls us to himself, leading us to God. If we entrust our lives to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain of being in safe hands.”
Next Sunday is the great Feast of Pentecost. We are who we are because of the power of the Holy Spirit whose indwelling is within each one of us. Remember, what happened to the Apostles and the Blessed Mother after the Ascension? They gathered in the Upper Room and began to prepare themselves for the next nine days for the coming of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus told them (Acts1:4; Lk 24:49). They were anointed by the Holy Spirit and were totally changed. They became as new persons with a new life that even the citizens around them could see it so clearly.
As a parish community, we can be proud that we are becoming a spirit‐filled people not only when we gather to worship in church, but also as we volunteer to serve the community through the various ministries we have. At our Ministry Fair this weekend in the cafeteria, we have an opportunity to become familiar with many of those ministries. As you move from table to table, and hear more about each of those ministries, the Holy Spirit will prompt you. Listen to the Spirit and see if you are called to join any of those ministries. Do pray about it these days that the gift of the Holy Spirit will be “fanned into a flame “, “rekindled”, and “kept alive.” May the Spirit bless us as we prepare for the Feast of Pentecost.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal