On this feast of the Ascension, an integral part of the Easter Mystery, we prepare for Pentecost, like the Apostles to whom Christ promised at the moment before His Ascension, that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit. As we focus on the ascension this week, let us reflect about what the ascension of our lord means for us. Today’s feast might strike us at first glance as a feast of farewell and absence. This certainly seems to be the case as we read the first reading from Acts. It had been forty days since the day that Jesus was raised from the dead, and the reading notes that during this time Jesus appeared to them proving that he was indeed alive. And then, as he gives them a final commission to be his witnesses, "he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight."
A Soviet astronaut, one of the first persons to enter outer space and orbit the earth, seemed to have commented, “I don’t see any God up here”. Too often we believe, speak, and even live as if God is somewhere “out there” and not “within”. We are left with a gap between God and humanity, and heaven and earth. That is because we sometimes think of heaven as another place, as there are places in the world. Rather than looking up and seeking God up there the ascension directs us to look within.
The ascension is about presence and not absence. Jesus has not left us. Rather Christ has filled us. Jesus disappears in his ascension beyond the clouds, not into some geographical location, but into the heart of all creation where he dwells in his glorified humanity. He is no longer physically in front of his disciples but rather within them.
Here is what Pope Francis had to say about this feast of the Ascension: "The Ascension does not indicate the absence of Jesus, but tells us that He is alive among us in a new way; He is no longer in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension; He is now present in all space and time, next to each of us. We are never alone in our lives".
Today’s Gospel concludes with Jesus’s great commission- That final commission also, contains a hint that the feast is not really about farewell and absence at all, but rather about Mission and Presence. Jesus is going away—yes—but as he goes away, he calls on his disciples to continue his work, and promises that he will be with them every step of the way. We celebrate today, therefore, the great task of Mission that we have been given as Jesus’ disciples. Although Jesus has been "lifted up" out of our sight, his mission—of witnessing to and proclaiming God’s love and gentle power, God’s mercy and forgiveness, God’s identification with the poor and marginalized, to be a beacon of light for our fellow human beings continues with us.
A big task indeed. It is a challenging vision. And it is a vision that can only be accomplished with God’s provision. And that will be our focus next week, the provision of the Holy Spirit, the provision of the gifts of the Spirit, the breath of Jesus, empowering us to fulfill that vision.
6th Sunday of Easter
As we approach the end of the Easter season, our readings begin to focus on the descent of the Holy Spirit that awaits us on Pentecost. The phrase that stood out for me when I read this gospel passage is: “I will not leave you orphaned.” They speak directly to some of our greatest fears and challenges; isolation, loneliness and vulnerability. They remind us that we were never intended to stand alone. We were created to love and be loved, to live in relationship as persons giving themselves to each other.
Jesus says, “The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always. The Advocate, of course, is the Holy Spirit. Soon, we will celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit fell like fire upon the apostles. Since then, the disciples were working for the Gospel in almost hopeless situations. Yet, none of them gave in to fear. They were serene, and the Spirit had much to do with that serenity. They had not forgotten the promise of Jesus. Their main advocate, the Holy Spirit, stood before them like an unconquerable mountain.
The ‘Spirit’ will be with you, Jesus says. Over and over, day after day, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, regardless of what is happening in our lives that is Jesus’ promise. The question is whether Jesus, for us, is a past memory or a present reality, a sentimental story that makes us feel good or a living experience that challenges, guides, and nurtures our life.
In today’s gospel, Jesus invites his followers and each of us to be people of love –to be caught up in the love that we have already received from God. Now that is not an easy thing to do. Bringing the same selfless, caring, non-judgmental love that we receive from God to others is indeed a very difficult task. What we are being invited to do is hard. But there is help. The gospel lesson reminds us of that promised help in the words of Jesus. "I will not leave you orphaned". The same God who showers us with love, the same God who challenges us to live that love stays with us and promises to send us the Spirit of Truth.
Today I invite you to reflect upon two things which are interior within us, two things that can be known only in their expression. One is love and the other is the Holy Spirit. Both cannot be really known in themselves; both are made real for us in their activity, in their expression, in their external manifestations that we bring into our lives. As we all know love is not simply a nice feeling, a sentiment, or merely a warm emotion. Love becomes real in the decisions we make and in what we do. It is in its actions, actions that result from our choices, that love is realized.
The Holy Spirit is present within our hearts and souls, animating and inspiring us. The Holy Spirit, acts internally within each one of us. And just like love, we discern the Holy Spirit’s presence within us when we cause external things to happen – when we act and engage with the world around us. Love and the Holy Spirit - Both are realized in acts, in deeds, in things that are done.As we approach the end of the Easter Season and prepare ourselves for the great feast of Pentecost, let’s hold on to the promise of the Spirit that keeps us all connected to God and one another in love. The Spirit of Truth not only teaches us a vision of life totally in harmony with the vision of God but also guides us in all our decisions, actions and relationships, so that we may live by that vision.
5th Sunday of Easter
In the beginning of our Gospel reading, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me. Right now, it’s hard for us to not let our “hearts be troubled.” There’s still the pandemic, and all its effects; there’s still violence and division even in a crisis of such magnitude. As much as we try to avoid it, we all inevitably encounter troubles and trials, especially at this time as we continue to live with the impacts of the current events.
I came across this prayer by St. Teresa of Avila "Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. Those who know God have everything. Only God is enough." I think Teresa's prayer was an adaptation of Jesus' invitation to the disciples: "Do not let your hearts be troubled." One of the fundamental questions addressed by all religions is how can we know God and how can we get to God? In response to Thomas's question, Jesus proclaims himself to be "the way, the truth and the life." He says of himself that he is at once the goal of human existence and the road that leads there. In St. Augustine's words, Christ is "where we are going and how we are going there." There is obviously an answer to our questions. We come to Know God as we come to know Jesus as the way the truth and the life.
We call Jesus the "Way" because he is the visible manifestation in human form of all that God is. Our knowledge of God is not simply limited to knowing something about God, but we can know God personally. Jesus makes it possible for each of us to personally know God. To see Jesus is to see what God is like. Jesus is the “Truth” because he is the one who reveals to us the truth about God. He teaches us that God is loving, merciful, and forgiving. And finally, Jesus is the “Life” because it is only when we live in God, we find life. The medieval monk Thomas Kempis, the author of Imitation of Christ explains Jesus’ statement, in this way. “Without the way, there is no going; without the truth, there is no knowing; and without the life, there is no living.”
There is the story of a man who fell off a cliff. On the way down he manages to grab a tree limb. Peering into a deep valley, he calls out, “Help, please. Is anyone down there?” After an unbearable silence, a voice answers, “Yes, I am here.” “Who are you?” the man shouts. “It’s me, the Lord!” Greatly relieved, the man says, “Thank you. Have you come to rescue me?” “Yes,” says the Lord. “Let go. I will catch you.” The man thinks for a second, and then asks, “Is there anyone else down there?”
In our gospel today Jesus reassures us that even in the most difficult of times, there is a way for us to follow; there is a truth that will guide us, and there is a life of peace and serenity. In these uncertain times we will find our way by placing our trust in our loving God as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Let us pray for the grace to live this week in hope, trust and joy.
4th Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday
As we continue through the Easter season, our Gospel readings are no longer accounts of the Risen Jesus appearing to His disciples. In the reading for this Sunday Jesus uses the image of both a shepherd and sheep to express the relationship between God and humanity, a relationship that grows with our faith in God. This Sunday’s gospel reading concludes with a very significant saying of Jesus: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” This is a powerful statement that tells us so much about who Jesus is, the meaning of his ministry, and the way in which he relates to us. Saint Irenaeus, writing near the end of the second century, echoed this saying of Jesus when he said, “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” What that means is that the presence and power of God are most fully displayed when people are genuinely alive.
As I reflected on the saying of Jesus in today’s Gospel, a question that came up for me is: In the light of what’s going on now, how can there be abundant life? There is so much suffering and pain in our world. How can suffering be a part of abundant life?” And this led me to really reflect on what does it mean to “have life and have it more abundantly.” I believe what Jesus means by abundant life is different from what worldly wisdom would think it means. I think worldly wisdom would see abundant life as having everything one would want, with no worries or anxieties or suffering.
According to worldly wisdom, Jesus’ life was not “abundant.” He was not rich. He suffered physically and emotionally, and even spiritually. But from the perspective of faith, Jesus trusted in what He was sent to do. He had life more abundantly on earth, and gave of Himself, so that we could have it, too. Even in those times of darkness and fear Jesus never failed to do the Father’s will. And as Jesus’ resurrection shows us, he was carried through the darkness to a glorious rebirth. Jesus tells us that the basic commandment is to love – to love God and to love our neighbor. If love is the basic element of how we are to live as disciples of Christ, it is the basic element of abundant life.
Following the example of our good Shepherd, let us keep on doing the deeds of love and caring to which Christ has called us; reaching out to others in various ways, and trying to alleviate their suffering in any way we can. Even when we are experiencing doubts, we must continue to act upon what the gospel teaches, and trust that life has a purpose and a meaning beyond the temporary struggles and suffering that we see and experience. It is my prayer that each of us find the “abundant life” as we follow our Good Shepherd.