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Ascension is newness in Christ

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The Lord Is My Chef Easter Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Cycle B, 12 May 2024
Acts 1:1-11 ><}}}}*> Ephesians 4:1-13 ><}}}}*> Mark 16:15-20
“The Ascension of Christ” (1304-1306) by Giotto, a fresco at the Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy from wikimediacommons.org.

We laid mommy to rest Saturday morning, the eve of today’s Ascension Sunday which happens to be a Mother’s Day too. I really can’t describe my feelings except having that emptiness in me amid a sense of joy too. Let me explain…

In my 26 years in the priesthood, I have always reflected the Ascension scene from Luke’s gospel in the many funeral Masses I have presided as something unusual to weird, even impossible: “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Lk.24:51-53).

How could anybody be with great joy after a funeral that is very much like the Ascension where there is a departure or a leaving of a beloved?

Photo by author, inside the chapel built over the site of the Ascension of Jesus outside of Jerusalem, May 2017.

But, after our guests have left at my mom’s funeral yesterday, that was exactly how we felt! Of course we are sad, we are in grief yet joyful with some sense of lightness within us. Like the death of our loved ones, Ascension is more than just the moving of Jesus to somewhere up in the heavens or to any location and place in the universe. Both the Ascension and death are about new state and level of relationships of Jesus and our departed loved ones hopefully entering into final union with God the Father. It is a leveling up not only of their existence with God but also of our own existence with God and one another.

Ascension is newness in our very selves to experience the glory of Jesus Christ now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. It is a breaking free from our many presuppositions and fears about life and dying.

When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

Acts 1:6-9

From the the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, dolr.org.

We have long been reflecting since Lent into Easter of how Jesus in becoming truly human like us in everything except sin had made us like Him, holy in His resurrection. If we have remained in Christ on His Cross, we have been made new in Him.

That is the lesson of His transfiguration in the second Sunday of Lent. Being new in Jesus, being transfigured in Him is getting out of the trappings of the worldly concerns like Peter offering to build three tents on Mount Tabor. Or worst, even after Easter like the disciples in the first reading today asking Jesus about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel.

Being new in Jesus following His Passion, Death and Resurrection is leveling up in our perceptions and outlook in life wherein we become simpler, taking life’s lessons bravely. We no longer go for “drama” like the disciples asking the restoration of the kingdom of Israel because we have grown in our faith in Christ as we hurdled life’s light and darkness, joy and sadness, triumph and defeat, even death that keeps on hovering above us, enveloping us at times. All these experiences of hardships and difficulties have changed us into better persons in the grace of God in times we did not even realize at all.

Photo by author at the site believed to be the Ascension site of Jesus outside Jerusalem, May 2017.

My ministry as a chaplain Fatima University Medical Center have greatly reshaped and affected my views on life and death, sickness and sufferings that enabled me to decide prudently when my younger sister was diagnosed with cancer in 2022 and lately this time with my mom when she had her second stroke that led to her recent death. As a chaplain face to face daily with the dying, I have come to terms with death by coming to terms with life at the same time. No more false hopes of getting any better but simply following the flow of life by having more meaningful moments especially with everyone, especially my late mom and siblings.

That is what St. Paul was saying in the second reading on the meaning of “he ascended” as the “one who also descended into the lower regions of the earth” (Eph.4:9). The more we go down into pains and sufferings, darkness and failures including sin or even death, the more we get closer to Jesus because we also get closer with our true selves and with others. To ascend with Jesus is to leave behind all those toxic topics and concerns, including persons who saddle our backs with extra luggages that prevent us from being light.

Ascension is also living in the present than wasting precious time and energy on past’s mistakes and failures or worrying about the the coming future. See how Jesus commissioned us all His disciples to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth with two angels later reiterating the Lord’s command.

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

“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?” is a beautiful reminder for us to live in the present moment, to be vigilant always in doing what is true and good, just and kind in this world so marred by the darkness of evil and sin. Remember, the Ascension is not about a place nor a location where Jesus went up to but a “leveling up” or a “shift_” in our relationship with Him and with others.

Therefore, it is also something that happens in the present moment. It is more than a distant moment in history but a reality happening daily.

Following His Ascension, Jesus has become more accessible than ever because He remains with us on a deeper, personal level. Recall how He asked Mary Magdalene not to touch Him upon appearing to her on Easter Sunday; that was to remind her and everyone that our relationships with Him is more than the physical level, that He cannot be bounded by time and space anymore as He is really present in us and among us in the most personal and spiritual manner.

Jesus lives in us that we have to keep on doing His work here on earth. The gospel clearly says it all, of the urgency for us to “stop standing, looking up” to start proclaiming the gospel to everyone. See how mothers are always busy doing something at home for us her family. Mothers never get tired cooking and doing everything for us family members because they love us so much that even after death, unknown to us, we imitate them by being so busy loving too.

Blessed Sunday to all mothers, especially those in heaven! Amen.

Photo by author, pilgrims waiting their turn to enter site of Ascension outside Jerusalem, May 2019.
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