Chapter Talk – Ascension – June 2, 2019, cycle-C
He is departing so that he may be with us always, through the Spirit…Departing and then returning in another way….a way that asks us to be aware, present, listening, listening in the monastic sense of ‘listening with the ear of the heart’. This new encounter with Jesus had to be different for the disciples who knew him in the flesh…perhaps it was easier for them than for us, for our senses today are so directed to the outer, so preoccupied with things that are not ‘eternal’. Our lives on this earth are utterly meaningless without that inner sensitivity that perceives the ‘eternal’ in ordinary human experiences. This sensitivity to the ‘eternal presence’ grows through prayer…it grows through listening, it grows through dwelling in silence, going deeper than all those noises that block us from apprehending his new way of encountering us.
Let us not put this feast of the Ascension into linear time. Jesus departs and returns in one movement. Next week we will celebrate ‘Pentecost’…it is good that we have these different feasts to pray and to reflect on…The new way of Jesus being with his first disciples and with us is through the Spirit…this form of Presence is enduring, beyond time, beyond historical events…for it is eternal and no one, no human person can remove or destroy this reality.
Fr. John Donahue in his commentary writes that the Ascension is a “transition between the earthly and enduring presence of Jesus” (Hearing the Word of God, p.72). Thus, how do we know, how do we experience this ‘enduring presence’ of Christ? How are we to abide in this Presence that is enduring, always there? As Christians we are his living Body and so we are bound through a personal covenant to ‘walk as he walked’…to live his proclamation of the reign of God without putting any conditions on what this might mean in our lives. In the Lukan account of the Ascension we hear what the disciples are missioned to do: ‘proclaim repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name to all nations’. And this proclamation of forgiveness and repentance is to be done by those who are living this repentance and forgiveness daily, turning from those ways that diminish God’s life, that squelch life through fear, jealousies, envy, hurts that turn into anger. We proclaim through abiding in the Spirit of love, we proclaim when our hearts have first been transformed…there is no forgiveness in a heart that has not first been forgiven…a forgiven heart is ‘pure’, knows from inside what it means to be forgiven.
In all three gospel accounts of the Ascension there is a ‘commissioning’ by Jesus to his disciples and implicitly to us…all disciples, all followers. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus blesses the disciples with his same ‘authority’ and says: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…’ In Mark’s gospel: ‘Go into all the whole world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation’. In Luke’s gospel the commissioning as I mentioned is to proclaim ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations’. This commissioning, this proclaiming is the fruit of the encounter, the encounter with the risen One. What is interesting about all three gospel accounts is that the disciples are to journey to the ends of the earth proclaiming the good news…there is no boundary, no limitation to where they are to spread the ‘good news’! The Holy Spirit will “equip them for this task” (Light of the World, p.195). With the departure of Jesus and his return in a different form, von Balthasar writes: “To open the worldwide space for them and make it accessible, Jesus’ visible form disappears. The center of the cosmos is no longer the place where he is visible, the center is now everywhere, which is where the Church will constantly have to go” (p.195). The center of ‘Presence’ is now everywhere. Indeed, it is here in our midst…And, it is everywhere…including those places of the world most in need, torn apart by poverty, violence, oppression, injustice.
From the particular to the universal…Starting at home first, our consciousness is then able to expand to the ends of the earth. Thus, to conclude I bring this closer to us through the words of Bernard of Clairvaux in his third sermon for the Ascension. To embrace the mystery of the Ascension and to prepare for the coming of the Spirit with Pentecost, Bernard goes directly to our inner life and he uses a three-fold pattern to do this. He calls us to be “great-souled, patient-souled, one-souled” (Cistercian Studies, vol. XXV, p.8). By great-souled he refers to being ‘magnanimous’, a heart expansive and wide open to conversion, wide open to God’s promptings; patient-souled he refers to ‘longevity’, meaning enduring over time in faith and hope, one-souled, he means being united with, not divided, being of one heart and mind in community, in the Church. In Bernard’s words: “Magnanimity was evidenced in our conversion; may there be longanimity even to the end, may there be unanimity in our way of life. It is in fact in souls of this kind that the heavenly Jerusalem wishes to be set up. In it there is lacking neither the magnitude of faith in taking on the burden of Christ, nor the longitude of hope in persevering in it, nor the uniting of charity, which is the bond of perfection” (p.8).
Magnanimous in conversion, magnanimous in spirit no matter what is asked, holding on for the long haul to faith and hope, united, at one with the Spirit of Truth and Love, always putting this unity before the things that would pull one or a community apart…magnanimous: wider than wide…then we will behold the One who makes all things new…who breathes the power of transformation into our fears and doubts, who turns the power to destroy into love, peace, life everlasting.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess