“To Be or Not to Be”
THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C)
or it replaces the Seventh Sunday (May 7, 2016)
Do I understand the plan of God for the salvation of everything that is good in the world? Do I understand that God “saves” by giving divine value to people and to all they do? Do I want to offer myself to be God’s instrument in the work of extending his salvation throughout the world?
Do I want to bear witness to Christ? Do I want to be a prophet?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us we don’t do God’s work by just standing around “looking up at the skies.” God didn’t choose to save the world by simply beaming down graces from heaven. He sent his Son to work on ground level, as a human being. It was in and through the human words and actions of Jesus that grace was given to those he touched. And Jesus is still continuing to give his grace, and to establish his reign on earth, through human words and actions — in those who are his body and living presence on earth today. When that work is complete, “the Lord will return” — in all his glory as Lord — just as his disciples saw him ascend. That is his plan.
In the Opening Prayer we ask the Father to “make us joyful in the ascension of your Son” because “his ascension is our glory and our hope.” Why is it that?
Christ’s ascension is our glory because it was the activation of God’s plan to give us a part — an essential part — in the work of saving the world. When Jesus “left” this world, he left it to us to carry on his work. What we do not allow him to do in and through us will simply not get done; at least not in our time and place. We can speed up or retard Christ’s return in glory.
Christ’s ascension is our hope because we know he ascended in triumph to sit “at the right hand of the Father.” His victory is won. His triumph is an established fact in the eternal “now” of God’s time. It is just in our time-frame that it is yet to be extended in time and space. This may take more or less time, and human resistance can permit more sins and errors to cause more pain and suffering. But there is no doubt about the outcome. As long as Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father,” our hope is absolute.
Our “job description”
The Responsorial Psalm calls us to celebrate: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord” (Psalm 47).
Acts 1: 1-11 tells us that Jesus has won his victory — but in such a way that it will be our accomplishment as well as his. He left this earth with a promise to return. This makes our present time an interim period: the “time between” his first and second comings; between the Incarnation and the Parousia.1
The angels’ words to the apostles tell us that during this interim we have work to do. We are not just to “stand here looking up at the skies.” Jesus told us, “You are to be my witnesses… even to the ends of the earth!” Is this what I want?2
Actually, we were consecrated and commissioned to this at Baptism. The minister anointed us with chrism on the top of the head, saying, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so live always as a member of his body.” A “prophet” is one who bears witness.
I am a prophet by Baptism. Do I want to live up to that commitment? My choice.
Most Christians don’t, because most Christians are not even aware they were anointed as prophets at Baptism — or what it means to be one! This was a flaw in our religious formation. But now I do know. So what will I do?3
Sent to Witness
In Luke 24: 46-53 Jesus gave this commission to the Eleven: “You are witnesses of all this.” The first disciples were unique as eye-witnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.4 But the commission was meant for us all. The Good News must be preached “to all nations.” This is evangelization.
Pope Paul VI wrote, “The Church exists in order to evangelize.” And, “The first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life” by people who “radiate faith in values that go beyond current values…. Through this wordless witness they stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them?…. Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News.”5
In the Church, as in human life, the acceptance of adulthood is marked by the decision to go to work. We reach maturity in the spiritual life the day we accept the mission of the Church as our own. This is to accept our baptismal “job description” as “prophets, priest and stewards of Christ’s kingship.” To be a prophet is to take on the work of bearing witness as Pope Paul VI describes it above. Is this what I want to do? Do I want to be a prophet or not?
In Ephesians 1: 17-23 Paul prays:
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom… so that… you may know the great hope to which he has called you… and the immeasurable scope of his power in us who believe.
In the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass we recall explicitly three things: Christ’s “passion, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into glory.” The Feast of the Ascension proclaims that Jesus has not only triumphed over sin and death, but that one day we will see him in his triumph. God has:
put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
We cannot even imagine the glory we will see when Christ comes again. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him." 6 But when he comes, will I have the joy of knowing I have contributed to what I see? That is the question that the celebration of this feast raises for each of us.
Specifically, it raises the question of whether or not I want to be a prophet; that is, someone who chooses to live a lifestyle that bears witness to the values of the Gospel, the values of Jesus Christ. Have I chosen to institute a process of continuing change in my lifestyle — in the way I eat, drink, dress, drive, read, watch television, speak to my friends, speak to strangers, spend my time and money, decorate my house or room, prioritize my cares and expenditure of energy, and make every choice that is visible in my lifestyle? Do I want my way of living to be inexplicable, to me and to others, without explanations drawn from the Gospel? This is what it means to be a witness.
To be a “Christian” is a very simple choice: it means to accept consciously to be Christ, which is what Baptism makes us, and to let Jesus as Savior live and act with me, in me and through me in everything I do in order to save and renew the world.
But implicit in this choice (and explicit in the ritual of Baptism) are four other choices: 1. the choice to commit myself to studying Christ’s mind and heart as a disciple; 2. the choice to accept my mission as a prophet; 3. the choice to minister as a priest by Baptism; 4. the choice to take responsibility as a leader, or “steward” of the kingship of Christ. To grow into the fullness of Christian living is to grow into acceptance of the grace of Baptism that consecrated and committed me to continue the presence and mission of Jesus on earth in these ways.
We focused on the first way during Advent-Christmas; on the second during Lent; on the third during this Easter season. We will take up the fourth and fifth as we reflect on the readings of Ordinary Time. The question we pose to ourselves today is, “To be or not to be? To be what Baptism has consecrated me to be or to be like those “hearers of the word and not doers… who look at themselves in a mirror and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like” (James 1:23)?
God is giving you existence in an ongoing “word” of creation: “Beeeee…” Join him in saying it.
1“Parousia” comes from the Greek word par-eimi, “to be there.” It means “presence” or “coming,” and refers to the Lord’s “Day,” his coming in glory at the end of the world.
2The word “apostle” means “someone sent,” not necessarily just the Twelve Jesus chose in Matthew 10: 2-4.
3If by any chance it is not perfectly clear to you what it means to be a prophet, read Reaching Jesus, Five Steps to a Fuller Life, Step Three. This whole set of reflections during the Easter season is written to support you in living that step.
4That is why Judas had to be replaced by “one of those who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1: 15-26).
5 Evangelization in the Modern World, #’s 14, 41.
What does the Ascension of Jesus say to you now? What does it inspire you to be?
Commit yourself to make constant changes in your lifestyle. Make it bear witness.