The Ascension of Jesus ultimately prepared the hearts of the Apostles to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.—Mark 6:19-20
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Feast of the Ascension (celebrated on Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter) was seen as the end of the Easter Season. On that day, the Paschal Candle—the great symbol of Risen Christ present and illuminating the Church—was extinguished and put away and the days before Pentecost became a time when the Church focused its attention on Pentecost without much thought about what had come before. In 1969, when Blessed Pope Paul VI approved the reformed Church calendar, the Easter Season was again presented as the great Fifty Days (as opposed to the forty days between Easter and the Ascension) and the themes of Baptism, discipleship, and what it means for us to be Church became the touchpoints of the Easter Season.
Of course, this feast celebrates the truth that the Risen Christ took his place in glory, “far above all heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). But, when we reflect on Saint Mark’s account of the Ascension proclaimed this Sunday, we also see how the great Easter themes are also part of this celebration.
In his Gospel, Mark tells us that after Jesus was taken from their sight, the Apostles went out, preaching and performing signs and wonders. This is an important detail, because when the Apostles went out, they weren’t concerned about their own ideas and agendas. Rather, they were continuing Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the Reign of God. They were going out to bring the love, the healing and liberating power of Jesus to individuals that Jesus never met and to communities where Jesus never traveled. Their mission—which was ultimately the mission of Jesus—was, as Saint Paul tells us, to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
This feast is an invitation for us to reflect on how we are—or are not—continuing this work today, in our communities, parishes, and families. And yet, we also know how easy it is for us to become weighed down by our day-to-day responsibilities and the legion of distractions and diversions that fill our lives. But the Solemnity of the Ascension reminds us that we are called to greater things: nothing less than sharing with others our own experience of the Risen Christ. This is what the Apostles were about and this is what are called to, as well.
The Ascension of Jesus ultimately prepared the hearts of the Apostles to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It was grace present in those gifts that inspired their preaching and teaching and that gave life to the Church, even in times of persecution and division. As Pope St. John Paul II has reflected, “the Holy Spirit makes them witnesses and prophets. It fills them with a serene courage which impels them to pass on to others their experience of Jesus and the hope which motivates them” (Redemptoris Missio, 24). This same Spirit is offered to us in Baptism and Confirmation, missioning us to also be Christ’s witnesses and prophets.
As we celebrate this great feast and continue to look toward Pentecost, the fulfillment of these Fifty Days, take time to reflect on the mission that has been entrusted to the Church and to each of us—to bring the compassion, love, and mercy of Jesus to everyone who needs to hear the Good News: “What the Lord preached that one time, or what was wrought in Him for the saving of the human race, must be spread abroad and published to the ends of the earth … so that what He accomplished at that one time for the salvation of all, may in the course of time come to achieve its effect in all” (Second Vatican Council, Ad Gentes, 3).
How is God inviting you to share your faith with others? When have you received the gift of someone else’s faith and hope? How did that gift change you?As we look towards Pentecost and the end of the Easter Season, how does this feast invite you to reflect on your own commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus.
Words of Wisdom: “‘Go,’ Jesus tells us, even today. In Baptism he conferred upon each of us the power to proclaim. Thus, going out into the world with the Lord is part of the Christian identity. It is not only for priests, nuns or the consecrated. It is for all Christians. It is our identity; going into the World with the Lord is our identity. Christians are not stationary, but on a journey: with the Lord towards others.” —Pope Francis in Exsultate et Gaudete, 135
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