The Ascension of the Lord
Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Luke 24:46-53

When I was in high school I planned to write the great American novel. Then a friend talked me into helping him write liturgical materials for the Chicago Archdiocese. At the time I knew little about liturgy but my friend’s enthusiasm led to nights and days of preparing materials and meeting deadlines. Soon I found myself learning all I could about liturgy and religious education. I attended university and went to whatever lectures were given about the Church. I studied and I learned. Other dreams were put aside in favor of a vision that I believed was greater and more exciting than any of my personal aspirations. Someone else could write the great American novel.

My friend was my mentor and my guide. And then he left the ministry. Clearly, he had his reasons and the implications were greater for him than they were for me. At the time, I knew only that my leader was gone. Without his charism, I was certain that there would be no one to lead us and the Chicago Church would never learn all that he had to teach. I was wrong.

The Church in Chicago flourished and the charism remained because spiritual charisms do not belong to individuals. They belong to the Church and they are truly a gift of the Holy Spirit given to the believing community rather than to an individual.

Though the situation was quite different, I can imagine that Jesus’ disciples felt like I did when I lost my mentor. Jesus told his followers that he was returning to the Father and they felt bereft, inept, and possibly abandoned. The apostles had not yet learned the paradox of Jesus being present with God and also present in the world. They had not yet experienced the coming of the Spirit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples what it is all about. “Go into the whole world,” he says, “and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  Think for a moment about how the apostles must have felt. Surely the task was daunting. This is the command that we hear at the dismissal of every Holy Mass. Jesus’ words are no less challenging when we hear them now.

Today, when we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, we remember that Jesus’ new life is not merely a return to the life he enjoyed before his death. The Lord who has ascended to the Father is in God’s presence and promises to send his Spirit. This is the Spirit that guides the Church that remains with us through the ages. It is, in fact, the same Spirit that guided me in my fear and indecision.

In a very real sense, the Feast of the Ascension is the “Rosetta Stone” that unlocks the mystery of Christ’s Paschal Mystery and his very identity. This is a festival that helps us understand our faith. It is a feast that gives us the courage to spread that faith.