The Ascension of the Lord
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 1:17-23
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 28:16-20
One thing that I miss about teaching freshmen is the questions that they would ask. Their view of the world is, at times, wonderfully unsophisticated. Sophistication, so often the goal of each of us as we become more aware of how the world around us works, is one of the more subtle ploys of the bad angels. Where Jesus tells us to be like little children in order to enter the Kingdom, the world lures us to turn up our noses at those rubes who have a simple faith and who take the words of Jesus as they are without the subtlety of sophisticated nuance.
Adolescents are not alone in having a lack of theological sophistication, but they are more open about it than we adults, and so they ask questions like, “When we die, do we become angels?” To which the answer is an unequivocal “No,” and a quick look at the Creeds of our Faith lets us know that we believe in the resurrection of the body and since angels do not have bodies we can put that Hollywood theological fallacy to rest – sorry, no wings will be distributed at the Pearly Gates.
A question that students have asked on a number of occasions, a question that is answered in the first reading for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, is, “Do you think that the Jesus of the Second Coming has been born yet?” The implication of this question is that at some point there will be another Annunciation, another Incarnation, another Virgin Birth.
Well, the good angels who were at the Ascension begin their answer to this question in traditional rabbinic style – they ask a question: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” One could imagine that the Apostles were looking at the sky in the hope that the Lord would descend as quickly as He ascended, but the angels drew them away from their heavenward gaze by focusing on the real issue at hand – that of the Second Coming – as they point out that “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.”
This revelation to the Apostles reminds us that our time here on earth is linear and not cyclic. Jesus came into this world as the Incarnate Son of the Father and the Blessed Virgin Mary, He retained His identity through His death and resurrection, and He now sits at the right hand of the Father, awaiting “the time that the Father has established by His own authority.”
So, since looking around for a very holy baby would be a waste of our time, what is our role as we anticipate the Parousia, the Second “Arrival” of the Incarnate God? Fortunately, that Incarnate God left some very clear instructions: we are to be His witnesses and to make disciples of all nations, instructions that are simply two sides of the same coin.
To be a witness – a term that comes from the rather frightening Greek term “martyr” – is to live the Good News, is to live the Sermon on the Mount in all of our encounters with those we meet. If we treat that Good News like it is actually good news rather than a burden that keeps us from what we would rather be doing, then the lure of a life lived in and for Christ will draw together all people of good will – it will literally “catholicize” the Church.
So, our “call” – from the Latin term from which we get the word “vocation” – is simply to lead lives that will draw others to Christ. And in that, we can take a lesson from many a high school freshman: the less sophisticated we are, the better.