I had an interesting phone conversation with my niece in Maryland some months ago during my last visit to Los Angeles from the Philippines. She asked me point blank, “Uncle, when are you going to come and visit us?” I gave her many valid reasons why I could not really visit her during my brief stay in the country. Her unrelenting reply left me speechless, “But uncle it is not fair; you promised to visit us when next you come to the United States. You promised. You promised!”
She was right. I had indeed promised her a long time ago that I would visit her the next time I was in the country. Thanks be to God for providing the means and time for me to eventually fulfill my promise and visit with my niece and her family during that visit. I learned from this experience to be very careful about promising my niece anything from now on. She never forgets and she will surely hold me accountable for all my promises to her.
But I also learned a deeply spiritual lesson. When I reflected on how this little girl held on to her uncle’s promises all these years and how she prevailed on me to fulfill them at the opportune time, I had to ask myself how strongly I held on to God’s promises to me as His beloved son. Do I really believe and hold on to God’s promises to me with conviction till it affects all aspects of my life? Do I let those promises of God shape my self-image, my life of prayer, apostolate, actions, attitudes, relationships, plans, etc.?
The Ascension of Jesus Christ is Jesus fulfilling His promises to His disciples and us, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to your God and my God.”(Jn 20:17) The fact that the glorified Christ did not abandon His human nature after His resurrection but ascended in His glorified humanity gives our human nature a great dignity as God’s children, coheirs with Christ.
The Ascension of Jesus is also a renewal and updating of His promises to us. There are three promises from the Ascension that we must hold on to if we are going to live our lives according to the dignity that Christ has won for us.
First, there is the promise of God’s abiding presence with us always, “And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.”(Mt 28:20) Even after Jesus fulfilled His promise to rise from the dead, the disciples still “doubted as they worshiped Him.” Jesus promises them that He would still be with them even when they persisted in doubting Him or His presence with them as the risen Savior.
Second, there is the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of witnessing to Jesus. Though Jesus had enjoined them to “wait for the promise of the Father about whom you have heard me speak,” the disciples still wanted to know the plan of God for their nation, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has established by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4,6,7-8) The disciples may not know or understand God’s plan for them, their community, or their country but they are given divine power to witness to Christ in all places and in all circumstances.
Third, there is the promise of Christ’s glorious return to judge the living and the dead, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.”(Acts 1:11) Rather than live in fear of His glorious return, we wait in that joyful hope because we know that He died and rose so that “He may bring us to God.” (1Pet 3:18) The disciples are not just to wait for Jesus’ glorious return but give witness to Him by His own power and authority, “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.”(Mt 28:19)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Ascension of Jesus into heavenly glory with our humanity also implies that we too will follow Him into His heavenly glory only if we also live according to the dignity that He has won for us as God’s children. We cannot live according to our dignity when we are not holding on to these three promises of the glorified Christ.
We are easily overcome by doubts when we are not holding on to His promise to be with us always. We doubt His abiding love for us because of our past sins and failures. We doubt our ability to face our uncertain futures with His grace. We doubt that He would adequately provide for our needs. We doubt the efficacy of prayer and the sacraments. We doubt our ability to triumph over evil in our lives. We lose our exalted dignity because we do not see the glorified Christ present with us always and sharing in all our dark and painful experiences.
We also have those questions that do not seem to have answers. We have so many things we do not understand and we just cannot accept. Why have we been locked up in quarantine for almost three months over a virus? When are things going to go back to normal again? When will God answer our deepest questions? When can we return to full public liturgical worship? Why is there so much scandalous behavior in the Church? We cannot understand many things but as Jesus told His disciples, though these are mysterious moments, we are empowered by the Spirit at these times, not to live for ourselves, but to bear witness to Him, making Him better known and loved by others.
What happens when we forget that Jesus is returning to judge every single one of us based on how we have made use of all His Spirit’s gifts? We make up our own convenient mission in life and ignore His mission. In the words of the Catechism, “The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.”(CCC 850) We ignore this primary mission and settle for things like protecting the environment or some purely sociological activities that has little or nothing to do with bringing other souls to know and love God more, live according to their dignity, and also long for His glorious return. We thus live for this world only, forfeit that joyful hope of God’s children, and consequently get overcome by fear of death and judgement to come.
The Preface of the Mass for the Ascension of Jesus has this beautiful line about the glorified Christ:
“Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state but that we, His members, might be confident in following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”
This succinctly states the great dignity that Ascended Christ has won for us as God’s children as well as the huge responsibility we have to bear faithful witness to Him before others.
Like Mama Mary, who held on to God’s promises to her and “believed that there would be a fulfillment of all that was spoken to her by the Lord,”(Lk 1:45) we too can only live up to our exalted dignity and fulfill this lofty vocation when we hold on tenaciously to the glorified Christ’s promises to us – to be with us always, to empower us with His Spirit for faithful witness, and to return in glory to judge each and every one of us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!