This Sunday we are presented with a Gospel reading that should deeply challenge us.
These are readings that remind us of who we really are—disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not only his friends, called to stay near to him, but we are also his missionaries, called to go out and to spread his Good News.
Not only are we sent out to share the Word, but Jesus says that we will even perform signs in his name. When we read words like this from Jesus, there’s usually a small voice inside of us that says, “That was back then, but stuﬀ like that doesn’t happen now.” But that voice is not from the Lord. In the scripture today, our Lord clearly calls us to have faith and says that those who believe in his name will be accompanied by miraculous signs.
So we have to ask ourselves, what does it really mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Does our Church today look like the lives of the early Christians who healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons? Do we really believe that even though Jesus Christ ascended, he is alive in us and can work with us to proclaim the gospel?
First Reading Reflection
In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke continues the narrative begun in his gospel. The central character remains the same, Christ, but now seen in his Mystical Body the Church. Fittingly the book commences with the seeming disappearance of Christ yet the assurance that he is still with them. The disciples are given their task—to preach and to baptize, that is to gain more members for the Mystical Body. Yet it is clear that the disciples do not fully understand their mission. Their question “Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” shows this. It seems they are still expecting a temporal restoration, something like the great days of David and Solomon. Christ is unperturbed. He has the solution set out already: “Wait and pray.” And he goes on, “It is not for you to know. . . . but you will receive power.”
The kingdom is in fact being restored to Israel, the son of GOD, but it is through the communication of the Son’s own life into the souls of his members. And as they take on his life, they participate in that restoration.
How encouraging that even those who have been with Christ before and after his death and resurrection, beneﬁting from his personal instruction, need to simply wait and pray in order to fully comprehend their vocation. We are not far from them at all. As we seek to follow the LORD’S call to spread the Gospel, we should begin with patient and expectant prayer for his Spirit. It is Christ’s mission, and he will bring it to pass if we trust him.
Second Reading Reflection
Saint Paul here shows us the Great Commission being carried out. With words of blessing he tells his readers and us of the great good GOD has planned for us, truly preaching the Good News. The knowledge of Christ for which he prays leads to a shower of incomprehensible blessings, a participation in God’s own glory. His words show that the feast of the Ascension is truly a feast of hope, the hope to which every Christian is called.
The knowledge that Saint Paul speaks of is far more than an acknowledgment of a historical Christ, or even an intellectual comprehension of the doctrine. Both those are important, but this transforming knowledge is a divine thing, a gift of God. It is the knowing with which we are able to trust God as our Father and friend. This trustful knowledge, which we may also think of as faith, is truly the key to receiving all of the blessings that God wants to give us. Relying on God’s goodness and receiving his grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can hope for our own glorious transformation.
If this seems too good to be true, we can look to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the perfect example of what God wants to do for humankind. Her belief in God, her trusting surrender to his plan, leads her to the most perfect participation in Christ’s life—ﬁrst his suﬀerings and then his glory. Her Assumption is a lovely echo of Christ’s Ascension. Her Coronation puts her at the right hand of the king (See Psalms 45:9). May this great feast day increase our joy in believing as we look forward to the glory that God has in store.
Mark’s account of the Ascension corroborates Christ’s statement: “It is good for you that I go away” (John 16:7). In true Markian style there is immediacy: Christ goes, and the disciples go forth and do what he has commanded. Notice that Pentecost is not even mentioned as a separate event. Yet it is clearly implied. The gospel begins with a command and promises. Recall how in the ﬁrst reading Christ refers to the Holy Spirit as the “promise of my Father.” And at the conclusion it stated that the LORD is still working with them and conﬁrming them.
It is interesting to note in this gospel reading what the promises imply. Christ gives his followers a job and the power to do it. He does not promise an easy time. In fact, they endure serpents, poisoned drinks, sick people, etc. But they are given (and so are we) the assurance of the ability to handle whatever the job entails. A tough and hugely important job and the power to see it through.
One is reminded of Moses’s commission described in the early chapters of Exodus. He is uncertain of his ability—it’s a tall order to go to Pharaoh and take away all his slaves. And it’s not like GOD is giving him an army; he’s mostly asking him to fight with his words.
Yet God gives him help as well, including miraculous power to handle serpents (see Exodus 4:3–4) and the assistance of Aaron his brother (see Exodus 3:10). For Christ’s disciples the task is similar. Like Moses we are to go back to our brothers and set them free through proclamation of the Gospel, wresting them from the evil one. And for this task the power of the Holy Spirit is offered, and so is the companionship of Christ himself.
DIGGING DEEPER: COME, HOLY SPIRIT
If we are desiring to answer the call to the Great Commission, a very simple way to begin to open our lives to Jesus to act through us more is to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.” This is a little prayer that can be said at any time and can become almost like breathing to us. It is a small way to begin to consciously invite the Holy Spirit into any and every moment of our lives and give God permission to act through us.