Consider this imaginary conversation…
THEM: “What’s so great about being a Christian?”
YOU: “We Christians are joyful because ‘the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.’ That means that the Son of God became the Son of Mary, and became a human being like us.”
THEM: “Can you introduce me to him? I’d sure like to shake His hand!”
YOU: “Well … He’s not here anymore. Well, He is here, but in a special way that you can’t see. And it’s supposed to be better that way. Jesus went back to Heaven, and that’s so great that we celebrate it with a solemnity, that the Church says is a Holy Day of Obligation, except when it isn’t …”
THEM: “Now, let me get this straight. The best thing about Christianity is that the Son of God became a human being so that he can live a truly human life that people could see and hear and touch, and, it is also great that now you can’t see or hear or touch him, because he went back to Heaven, where presumably he governs the world from a distance.”
YOU: “It is better that Jesus goes to the Father, because if he goes away, then the Holy Spirit will come and console us. So, you see, Jesus going back to Heaven is actually a net gain.”
THEM: “Oh! The Holy Spirit is the consolation prize for the departure of Jesus. Can I meet Him? Can I shake His hand?”
YOU: “No, you can’t shake the Holy Spirit’s hand. But the Holy Spirit is great, helping believers perform miracles!”
THEM: “Do you perform miracles?”
YOU: “Well, you can get by without miracles, but the Holy Spirit gives wisdom, counsel, understanding and knowledge.”
THEM: “So, every Christian is wise?”
Faced with persistently awkward questions, we seem to find ourselves having to make excuses for God, because he doesn’t seem to live up to his reputation and his promotional literature. The process is unnecessary. The temptation to make excuses for God comes when we don’t understand the faith.
This week, we’re told to celebrate the Ascension of Christ, even though it appears to be a net loss. How can the Ascension mean anything other than, “Jesus is gone”? Then, we try to console ourselves for the apparent loss of Jesus by saying it is necessary so that the Holy Spirit will come, but we’re really not sure what that means either.
So we find ourselves in the false position of “celebrating” the disappearance of Jesus at the Ascension, and then we’re expected to “celebrate” Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the effects of which, I daresay, are not always readily obvious. If that is how we understand the faith, then it’s no wonder that we lack joy and hope.
We must understand the Ascension so that we can welcome the genuine consolation of the Holy Spirit that Christ intends.
The Ascension proves that human flesh may stand before the glory of God. The completion of Christ’s mission, the perfection of the Incarnation, demand that Christ ascend, so that He may open the gates of Heaven, and so allow a true man, body and soul to stand before God without shame. Christ calls us to do the same. He calls us to leave behind the limits of this life for the glorious presence of God.
The Ascension doesn’t mark the loss of Jesus; rather, it marks a gain of perfect hope. Because Christ returned to our Heavenly Father, we know that human life, body and soul, has an identity, a dignity and a destiny the world can’t offer. We’re not left orphans, as we prepare in this life for our own fulfillment in the next life, a life made possible by the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord.
Christ is still at work, through the members of His Body, the Church. To be his effective instruments and His credible witnesses, we’re given the Holy Spirit.
On Pentecost Sunday, we must celebrate, because all that we need to be faithful to Christ has been given to us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, our Heavenly Father raised Jesus from the dead. By the power of that same Holy Spirit, our Heavenly Father calls us to glory. Therefore, we must be a people of hope and joy and gratitude.
Let’s pray between now and Pentecost for three graces.
Pray to receive light, that the eyes of your mind and heart may be opened.
Pray to become light, so that others may see the path to Heaven.
Pray to receive might, so that you may have the strength to persevere until the end.
When I write next, I will speak of being prepared for what’s coming next. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.