Ascension Is Also An Advent

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Ascension-A, 28 May 2017
Acts 1:1-11//Ephesians 1:17-23//Matthew 28:16-20

Life is actually a series of coming than of leaving. When children leave home for college, they actually come into their own. When they get married, they come to start a family. And when our loved ones die, they do not really leave us but come into a higher level of existence in eternal life that they continue being with us even after their death. In a similar manner, this is what happened when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven: physically He had left us but He had also come to us in a new and higher level of relating.

Today’s Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension is the summary of Jesus Christ’s Easter appearances as well as of His “farewell discourse” during their Last Supper which we have heard these past two weeks inviting us all to a new level of relationship with Him in the Father, asking us to“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”(Jn.14:11) On His Ascension 40 days since Easter, the Risen Lord is reminding us anew that He could only be known and recognized in the spiritual manner than in the corporeal sense as realized by Mary Magdalene and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who saw Him yet failed to recognize Him as Jesus indeed. In a sense, the Lord’s Ascension is also another form of His “Advent” or coming to us in the Church that would be formalized next Sunday on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains in the Epilogue to his third “Jesus of Nazareth” series that Ascension does not mean Jesus departed to a “remote location in the cosmos” but His “continuing closeness” with His disciples. This closeness of Jesus is a “divine presence”, not spatial or physical presence due to His being at the right hand of the Father following His Ascension into heaven (cf. pp.281-283). And along with His call to the mission to proclaim His Good News of salvation to all men and women (Mt.28:19), the Ascension is also about living in the present, in the here and now, as it tells us of Christ’s intimacy with us in the Father when He declared the assurance that “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”(Mt.28:20)

But how are we going to fulfill His mission of evangelization by living out His divine presence in this age?

Last Thursday, I accompanied 15 Church-beat reporters and photographers to Galilee Home at the foot of Sierra Madre in Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan. It is a drug rehab center run by our Diocese for almost 30 years now, debunking claims by the President that the Church does nothing about the drug problem in the country. Galilee Home relies solely in donations in its operations, charging nothing from its patients except for whatever voluntary contributions they could give in money or in kind. It is headed by my classmate Fr. Joshua Panganiban since our ordination 19 years ago! For its rehab program, Fr. Joshua adopted our seminary formation centered in spiritual life that involves daily Eucharist, prayers and silence, weekly confessions and counseling as well as bible-sharing twice weekly. During our visit, the journalists asked the patients about the important changes they have experienced in their stay at Galilee. Their top three answers were: first, they got to know God (nakilala ang Diyos), then they realized their value as a person (nakilala ng sarili) and third, they felt the gravity of their sins especially the hurts they have inflicted on their loved ones. What was really striking was how they have realized these truths through prayers and daily Eucharist. According to most patients, before coming to Galilee, their lives simply “passed away” on a daily basis. They never examined their lives and its directions, living only for a day, just thinking how to score a shabu to have a great time. They never prayed nor went to enter the Church. It was only at Galilee through the Eucharist, prayers and bible-sharing did they realize how wonderful life is especially when it is examined in the light of Jesus Christ who has always been communicating with them!

It was an eye-opener to some journalists who told me how those drug dependents’ former lives were also like theirs – no time for spirituality like prayers, Mass, and bible-sharing. I think it is the same reality with many of us today who never realize God’s presence among us because we are so “busy”, preoccupied with life’s many demands resulting into more stress and anxieties that push us into a rat race without any winner at all. As I listened to their interviews, I remembered a detail from St. Luke’s Ascension story: While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”(Acts 1:10-11)

That Thursday was also an Ascension Day for me up there at Galilee Home and we are the “men and women of Galilee” now being asked by the angels: “what are you doing standing there, so busy with so many other things, looking at the sky?” Their question reveal to us two other important things we must continue next to evangelization as commissioned by Christ in His Ascension, deep prayer and the Eucharist.

More than mere recitation of prayers and other devotions, the Ascension is teaching us the value of contemplation, the highest level of prayer when we simply commune with God in silence. Deep prayer is being with the Lord like lovers do when they could spend so much time together without speaking, with nothing but selves and yet feel so fulfilled after. Contemplation is important because it is only in this kind of deep prayer when we truly experience God as He is, when we realize direction in our lives as we confront the stark realities of Divine light and the world’s darkness. It is taking two or three steps backwards to let God set directions for us and the Church in general. This is what we need most in this age of social media when we even in the Church are so preoccupied with everyone’s activities, leaving God behind by Himself. St. Paul’s prayer in today’s second reading said it so beautifully, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.”(Eph.1:18)

Second thing that the angels revealed after Jesus had ascended into heaven is the importance of the Eucharist which is the summit of our Christian life. Like in contemplation, Mass is more than “attending” the liturgy but of celebrating the Lord’s coming and presence. Too often, we are sacramentalized but not evangelized during the Mass because it has become a mere routine or obligation and tradition for most, and sometimes, out of dire need for something. It is very unfortunate that in this age of convenience and instants, we try so hard to make God a commodity Whom we can have whenever we want or need Him that we have all sorts of gimmicks in the Mass. St. John Paul II wrote in “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” that every Mass is a “cosmic celebration”, the convergence of the eternal and temporal when we become one with Christ and others. That is when we truly become “holy”, when we are filled with God literally and figuratively speaking, prompting St. JP II to insist in the same encyclical that every program and plan we make as a Church and as a Christian must always flow from the Eucharist. May we joyfully go back to our mission and daily life like the Apostles during the Ascension, always making the conscious effort to meet the Risen Lord in deep prayer and the Sunday Mass. An uplifting week ahead to everyone!

Fr.Nicanor F. Lalog II,
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan

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