Matthew 28:16-20
The Ascension of the Lord
Transferred from 18 May 2023
by Rev. Jack Peterson, Y. A.
Reprinted by Permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.  When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.  Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  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.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

I always let out a sigh when I recall the ascension of our Lord.  It would have been very hard for me to watch the Lord ascend and disappear after only three short years of public ministry.  I am pretty confident that I would have been confused and hurting as one of his disciples.  I would have felt shortchanged and longed for more time walking the streets of Capernaum with Jesus.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit, the church and 2,000 years' worth of saints and scholars, I have a much better perspective and I can truly rejoice in the beauty of this most important event.

First of all, God the Father was directly carrying out this plan of salvation and took the lead on the events that happened on the 40th day following the resurrection.  Three times in our chosen passage from the Acts of the Apostles describing the day of the ascension, a reference is made to the Father's engagement with Jesus.  St. Luke, the author of Acts, starts off this critical book of the Bible by noting that in his gospel, he dealt with all that Jesus did and taught "until the day he (Jesus) was taken up/"  A few verses later, Luke refers to the fact that on this day, Jesus was "lifted up" and taken "from their sight."  God, the father, is the protagonist in this drama.  His plan to save the world unfolds as he lifts up Christ and seats our Savior at the right side of his throne in heaven.

The importance of this event hardly can be comprehended.  One clear fruit of this moment is that Jesus paved a path for his disciples to heaven that we might follow him and tread that path at the end of our earthly pilgrimage.  Jesus had promised earlier during his ministry, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the 'Father's house' to God's life and happiness.  Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that  we too shall go where he, our Head and Source, has preceded us" (661).  This is a glorious gift of God.  It was made possible by Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension.

The ascension also points the whole Christian world to the grand finale of Jesus' mission - the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus exhorts his disciples before he disappears to wait for his parting gift: "The promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."  Moments later, Our Lord continues, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  This reference to the great commissioning in our Gospel for today proclaims that the Holy Spirit will be the dynamic force dwelling in his disciples that will empower them to continue Jesus' work of building the kingdom of God on this earth

I would like to see the church spend more time focusing on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and of individual Christians.  The beauty of the Holy Spirit and the flood of graces that he desires to bestow upon Jesus' disciples is not measurable.  The Spirit dwelling in us through baptism, confirmation and reception of Communion is a source of love, power and wisdom that can totally transform our lives, build up our families, ignite a fire in our ministries and bring unity to the church.

The days between the ascension and Pentecost are a time for baptized Christians to beg the Father and the Son to stir up in our hearts a deep reverence for and a brand new openness to the work of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  Allow me to finish with St. Augustine's prayer to the Holy Spirit: "Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.  Act in me O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.  Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.  Strengthen me O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy."