Christ’s ascent to heaven is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Aloysius Church in Great Neck, N.Y. The feast of the Ascension of the Lord, observed May 30 in 2019, celebrates the completion of Christ’s mission on earth and his entry into heaven. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
The Ascension: ‘I Am With You Always’
BY DEACON JAY W. VANHOOSIER, OFFICE OF FAITH FORMATION
When I read Scripture, I often like to imagine myself being present and witnessing the events firsthand. So when I reflect on events like the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, I like to put myself there – in that place and time – and think of what I would see and feel. At the Ascension, I imagine that the disciples were sad that Jesus was leaving, knowing that they would miss him. As they watched him rise up into the clouds to go to his Father, I am sure they were in awe, intently watching Jesus until they could no longer see him. If I were there, I would find myself meditating on the words that Jesus left us with, repeating them in my heart. “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
Of course, with the help of 2,000 years of theological reflection, we know that it was necessary for Jesus to ascend into Heaven. Why? It was so that the Holy Spirit could come to be with us. Referring to him as “the Advocate,” Jesus told his disciples that when he returned to his Father, he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. And, 10 days after the Ascension, the Holy Spirit did descend upon the disciples and Mary on the day of Pentecost, just as Jesus had promised. The Holy Spirit helped the Twelve burst forth from that locked room where they were huddled in fear and move out into the streets of Jerusalem to share the Gospel. And the Holy Spirit is still with us today to share his gifts with us. We too are Jesus’ disciples and the Holy Spirit still helps us to stay rooted in Christ as well.
However, the presence of the Holy Spirit does not mean that Jesus no longer abides with us. He promised to be with us always, and we can still find him even though he does not physically walk with beside us. For Catholics, the most obvious place where we can find him is in the Eucharist. In the Blessed Sacrament, we find his true presence as he gives us the gift of his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. More than this, he is with us when two or more of us are gathered in his name. We can still feel him with us at home, at work, at school, and wherever we go because we are to be a reflection of his light in the world around us. We might not be able to see him, but this is where faith comes in.
At first, the Ascension might seem like Jesus is leaving us to stay with his Father in Heaven, but this is not the case. He returned to his Father to give us the grace to continue his ministry. By sending us the Holy Spirit to guide us and by imparting the Great Commission, we continue to know, love, and serve him while helping others to do the same. Disciples eventually resemble their teacher, so by following Jesus, we become like him. In this way, he is still with us even after the Ascension, and he abides with us even more closely than before.
Dcn. Jay W. VanHoosier is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Owensboro. For more information visit owensborodiocese.org/faith-formation, email [email protected] or call (270) 852-8324.
Originally printed in the May 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.