Today is the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven, and this Gospel story brings us up close and personal to our feelings of abandonment. The apostles are gathered around visiting with Jesus. Jesus tells them that he desires that they go and spread the Gospel, making disciples of all nations. He stresses that he will be with them always. He blesses them. Then, suddenly, he ascends into the sky, far away from them. Undoubtedly they feel abandoned! Where IS Jesus? Yet, Jesus has told them that he would be with them - and us - until the end of time. How can this be so, when Jesus disappeared? Jesus feels missing in action, so to speak!
Bishop Robert Barron tells us there are two ways to understand the Ascension of Our Lord. He says that the first way is this: "God exists, but ...he lives in a distant realm called heaven, where he looks at the human project moving along, pretty much on its own steam, on earth." In other words, "Jesus goes up, up, and away, off to a distant and finally irrelevant place."
Then he describes the second way to understand the Ascension: "But the biblical point is this: Jesus has gone to heaven so as to direct operations more fully here on earth. That’s why we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus has not gone up, up, and away, but rather—if I can put it this way—more deeply into our world. He has gone to a dimension that transcends but impinges upon our universe." (Bishop Barron's Daily Gospel Reflections 5/13/21).
Through prayer, the apostles, and later Paul, meditated on what had "happened" to Jesus once he had ascended into Heaven. Prayer, they believed, opened the "eyes of their hearts" as Paul described their experiences. Seeing through the eyes of our hearts is like taking off those sunglasses that darken God and our lives. After all, dark sunglasses remove light, and Jesus is the Light of the World! Seeing through clear glasses brings Jesus the Light of the World back into our lives so that we can see our lives and all reality clearly again. The apostles and then disciples realized through the Power of the Holy Spirit which descended on them at Pentecost, that the reality is that Jesus is still with us, still acting as the Light of the world. But, ascended, he is now the Christ, living in a dimension beyond us and yet with our universe in a whole new, all-encompassing and personal way.
Jesus has become the Christ because the Father, once again, generously gave Him to us. In his letter to the Ephesians (1:17-23) Paul describes the interaction of Father and Son because of the Ascension:
The Father "gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way."
The Father - our Father - specifically gave His Son to be head over all things of the universe. And, he specifically gave His Son to the Church, which is His Body! Stop to think for a moment: Christ operates as our Head and WE are the Body of Christ, every one of us, His skin, bones, blood, nerves, ligaments, brain, heart, senses, according to the gifts and ministries that we have. We can never be abandoned. Jesus the Christ is forever head of the Body, which is us. And, think how intimately our own head operates with our bodies. Do we ever do anything without our heads? No, of course not! And our heads need our bodies to operate. So Christ needs US to bring His Kingdom to fullness.
And, Paul describes God as "fullness" - the "fullness of the one who fills all things in every way." God is uncreated Light, intimate Love, and Love is passionate fullness, abundance, spilling over and into all of creation, which was formed lovingly by God's hands through Christ! Christ inhabits every particle of the universe, lighting it with beautiful grace from within, so that whoever and whatever we encounter, we encounter God's Presence.
This knowledge of Christ filling the universe, not the universe itself, but filling all of creation with His goodness, love, beauty, and power, can unbelievably energize our prayer. Christ likewise fills His Body - us. So we can prayerfully find Him in everything that we humans personally create with love! When we expect to find, to see, Christ in all things, it's as if we'd been in a power black-out and then suddenly radiant light suffuses everything! Pope Francis describes this kind of prayer so beautifully, this finding God in the loveliness of everyday things:
"THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2021
“We can contemplate by gazing at the sun that rises in the morning, or at the trees that deck themselves out in spring green; we can contemplate by listening to music or to the sounds of the birds, reading a book, gazing at a work of art or at that masterpiece that is the human face…. First of all to contemplate is not a way of doing, but a way of being. To be contemplative. And being contemplative does not depend on the eyes, but on the heart.”
Pope Francis' words remind us of Paul's own words: understanding God and reality with the eyes of our heart. We can use our heart wisdom and choose to put on clear glasses so that we can see the Light of God's Love shining through everyone, everything, every situation. We have free will. We choose how we will believe and act, how we will essentially BE.
Do we choose to wear dark sunglasses and routinely mentally turn down dark, hopeless paths because we feel victimized by God and believe that God treats us like abandoned children? Do we believe that evil will ultimately win out in the world, or even in our own lives?
Or, do we wear clear glasses and take seriously and literally the loving, committed words that Jesus, about to ascend into Heaven, spoke to his apostles: "I will be with you always until the end of time." Love is, after all, first and foremost COMMITMENT. If we choose to be this kind of person, we rest optimistically and securely in the arms of a God Who is intimately interested in our lives. We can find this God wherever we focus our eyes, our ears, our hands, our hearts, our souls. In the depths of our beings, we believe that we belong to Christ as intimately as our bodies belong to our heads. We believe that, even as we go through our own sufferings and crucifixions, we can say with Jesus "Into Your Hands, Father, I commend my spirit" and trust in our eventual resurrection to be forever with God.
God, our passionate and intimate Lover, our uncreated Light, wants to be with us every day and in every way. It is up to us to look with clear glasses to find Him, to search out His radiance, even when Light appears to be hidden. But this is the most important Prayer-Search of our lives. As Fr. Richard Rohr says (Fr. Rohr's Daily Meditations 5/13/21) "God wants to give us absolutely everything. Why do we settle for less?"