Just the Beginning
by Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Then he led them as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. 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.
The Ascension of Jesus into heaven should have been the saddest goodbye in history. Imagine yourself in the apostles’ shoes. After three years living at Jesus’ side, words are insufficient to describe all you have seen. You saw Jesus walk on water. You saw him feed thousands of people with a few barley loaves and a pair of dried fish. You watched in stunned amazement as Jesus made the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear — all by his mere command. You’ve even lost him to death and seen him come back again, risen and glorified — the same Jesus you had always known.
Now, Jesus is about to ascend into heaven. He’s leaving again — and this time, it's for good. Considering the friendship the apostles shared, and considering who was departing from them, shouldn’t this have felt devastating? But the Gospel of Luke says just the opposite. The apostles “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk 24:52). To understand the cause of that joy is to understand what the ascension of Jesus means for us.
Jesus Christ is God himself who walked this earth. But when he walked this earth, Jesus deliberately limited himself. If Jesus was present in one location, he was not at the same time present in another. If Jesus was speaking to one person, he was not at the same time speaking to another. That’s why he told his apostles, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going back the Father” (Jn 14:28). It's why he said, “It is better for you that I go, because if I do not go, the Holy Spirit will not come to you” (Jn 16:7). By the power of the Holy Spirit, who we celebrate next week at Pentecost, Jesus will be present not just in a single place, but everywhere. Not just to one person, but to everyone. From now on, Jesus will be more present than ever before. As Catholics, we know where to find him. As St. Leo the Great once said, “Since the Lord is no longer visible among us, everything of him that was visible has passed into the sacraments.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “I'm spiritual, but not religious?” Imagine how you would respond if someone told you, “I'm musical, but I don’t like instruments or notes.” Imagine how you would react to someone saying, “I’m a sports fan, but I don’t like playing fields or goal posts.” You realize, of course, that it's because of instruments that music is even possible, or that it's due to playing fields and goal posts that we can enjoy sports at all. Do you see how similar it is to say “I'm spiritual, but not religious,” when it's only through the sacraments that Jesus Christ is actually, tangibly present to us? Do you see how the ascension was not the end of something, but the beginning? That’s why the apostles walked away rejoicing. That same joy is still found among everyone who shares the faith they professed.
Julian of Norwich, the renowned 14th-century anchoress, once famously said, “In the end, all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Oscar Wilde is reported to have added, “And if it isn’t well, then it's still not the end.”
Jesus has gone ahead of us in the ascension not to leave us, but to be closer than ever before. He is with us in time and leads us home, to the place in eternity where there will be no more goodbyes. Until then, pray to deepen your faith in Jesus’ presence in the sacraments. In him — and only in him — all will be well.
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