Sunday, May 28, is Ascension Sunday in the United States (Boston; Hartford, Connecticut; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; and the state of Nebraska’s dioceses celebrate Ascension Thursday three days earlier). Mass Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20.
Jesus understands human beings very well — and we would do well to learn from him.
His method of drawing us close to him is clear in the Gospel and first reading today. First, he meets the apostles on a mountaintop, where “they worshipped, but they doubted.” So what does he do?
First, he tells them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Then he commands them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Last, the first reading tells us, after reminding them of the Holy Spirit, “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”
They stood, dumbfounded — feeling suddenly alone and uncertain. Two figures asked, “Why are you looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way.”
The apostles, almost in despite of themselves, decide there is nothing to do but go and wait for the Spirit, like Jesus said.
What is going on here? The Lord is using a masterful teaching method to get his apostles to follow him.
“Why did the Holy Spirit not come to them while Christ was present, rather than after his departure?” asks St. John Chrysostom. Because “it was necessary for them to have a longing for the event, and so receive the grace.”
The apostles had to feel left behind before they were motivated to catch up.
They doubted when he stood among them — so he left them to long for him in his absence. They hadn’t learned his lessons, so he commanded them to teach his lessons to others.
What is the best way for us to do that? The way he did. Now it’s our turn to show people what they are missing — and make them long for Jesus.
Everyone has transcendent desires that can never be fulfilled on earth.
The only way to fulfill such desire is to find the One who is, says the second reading, “far above every principality, authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”
He is the source and summit of beauty, truth and goodness. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Our job is to point to their longing and then point to Jesus. Curtis Martin, who founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at Benedictine College, says he hears many excuses for why people don’t evangelize — that they lack training, for instance. “But I never hear people say they don’t tell others about their favorite restaurant because they lack training. When it comes to evangelization, the difficulty isn’t in the end, it’s the first step.”
So, on this Sunday when we hear the Great Commission, remember the first step. People know what they are missing. Tell them where it can be found. God willing, once their longing is fulfilled, next will come the sacraments, and then study — and, eventually, they too will spread the word.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence
at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas, and author of