OST OF WHAT WE KNOW and think about on the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord comes from what St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles or in his Gospel. He is the one who mentions the forty days as you just heard from the Acts of the Apostles. In his Gospel account St. Luke says that Jesus then took them out toward Bethany, which is close to Jerusalem, where the actual Ascension takes place. Now there is a shrine and Basilica built there to commemorate the spot. We also read in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem after His departure, but to stay there to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The Acts of the Apostles: It may be worthwhile to say a bit about the book of the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles. It was written by St. Luke. And in the very beginning of it, St. Luke makes reference to the fact that he had written another treatise about the things that Jesus had done and taught, which is what we know as the Gospel according to St. Luke. The Acts of the Apostles may well be considered the First Church History Book. Biblical scholars will have different ideas and suggestions as to where St. Luke got his information and sources. Some of it was definitely from personal experience, because he was a companion of St. Paul which makes up a big portion of the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke appears to have been very learned. Tradition has it that he was a physician. And so when one is an expert in one field, they are generally also trained in other fields at least in a general way. But if you have never read the Acts of the Apostles and would like to know how the early Church got started, this would be a good place to start to learn.
Focus of the Ascension: In celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, we are not just commemorating the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after He rose from the dead. We should be reminding ourselves and rejoicing over the fact that someday this too is our goal. In some respects we can say this is what life is all about. This is what makes life worth living. As one of the prayers for this Feast says, “Where Christ, our Head has gone, we too his body hope to go”. Celebrating this feast should help us get our lives back into the proper focus again.
IT IS SO EASY AT TIMES TO GET OUT OF FOCUS, to forget what life is really all about, to forget what the important things in life are. So often we spend so much time and energy—and I might add, useless worry—over things that don’t really matter, and forget the all important things. A feast like today should help us get things back into their proper focus. St. Paul says, “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, not the things that are here below.” Do we really believe that? The Church considers the fact of our Lord’s Ascension into heaven so important that she has made it one of its major feasts. It is so important that its observance is transferred to the following Sunday if it is felt too impractical for people to celebrate it on the actual fortieth day after Easter.
Novena for Pentecost: And so that brings us now to that period of time, between the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost when the First Novena, the first nine days of prayer took place with Mary and the Apostles in the upper room. We can only imagine what that must have been like. I suspect Mary had to do a lot of encouraging, even though she herself didn’t have all the answers. It was just that her faith and confidence in God was the greater. We too can have our uncertain moments. Jesus simply told His eleven Apostles to go back to Jerusalem, and not to depart from there, until the Holy Spirit came. I’m not aware that He told them exactly when or exactly what He would do. He did promise the Holy Spirit, but quite bluntly the Apostles possibly didn’t really know what that meant. So this must have been a time of great anxiety and expectation.
I can just see them going up to Mary and asking her if she had any idea as to what was going to happen. She probably had to tell them that she had no certain knowledge, but simply to trust the words of Jesus that He was going to send them the Holy Spirit. When that happened, then all would become clear. They would then learn and know what they were supposed to do. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, they would get the strength to be able to do it. But that is somewhat telling the ‘rest of the story’ already this week. Our duty this week is to try and spend it with the Holy Spirit as we prepare ourselves hopefully for the special graces, help and inspiration that we will be receiving next week on the Feast of Pentecost.
I would highly recommend that you use this week as a special week of prayer to the Holy Spirit. During this Easter season we have heard so much about Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to His Apostles. That also includes us. But we have to make ourselves receptive to Him. How about saying some prayer each day this week to the Holy Spirit?
We hope you enjoyed this homily by Fr. Valentine Young, OFM.