FEAST OF ASCENSION.
Many years ago there lived a very poor family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by the name of Carpenter. The oldest boy was a teenager before his father took him on his first trip to the city, where he saw paved streets, skyscrapers, and electricity for the first time. The boy wanted to stay there and get an education. His father arranged for him to board with some family friends, who generously financed his studies when he decided to become a doctor. He graduated with honors, but declined all job offers to practice medicine in the city. He said he was going back to the mountains, where there were many sick people and few doctors. For many years he ministered to the sick. Some paid, most couldn't. He gave his very best and helped everyone he could. In his old age he was in broken health himself and almost penniless. Two small rooms above the town grocery store were his home and office. At the foot of the creaky stairs leading up to his office was a sign with these words: "Dr. Carpenter is upstairs." One morning someone climbed those stairs to find the devoted doctor dead. The entire community was plunged in grief. They wanted to erect some kind of monument to him. But they decided to simply write these words on a large tombstone: "Dr. Carpenter is upstairs."
Jesus is the divine doctor of our souls. He is "upstairs" in heaven, where he ascended after his resurrection. But he is still alive and eager to help us through the sacraments, the Bible, and the Church. Every time we turn to him in prayer, we climb the stairs to his office. Because he is upstairs, Dr. Jesus is always in.
Christ is the only King of the universe, the only Lord of history. Only Christ has ascended to the throne of heaven - not Buddha, not Confucius, not Mohammed. There is only one Savior. Jesus’ ascension finishes the job of reconciling fallen humanity to God, because it brings our human nature back into a right relationship with God. It guarantees that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was completely accepted by the Father. Reconciling fallen humanity with God has always been the main problem that religion tries to solve. In the Old Testament, the Israelites achieved this right relationship through what was called the sacrifice of atonement -the sacrifice that made sinners, once again, one with God. This sacrifice took place in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of Moses' tent of worship and, later, of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was separated from the inner altar of incense by a huge, thick, ancient curtain. Only the High Priest was allowed to pass through the curtain, and even he could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement. That ancient ritual foreshadowed Christ's Ascension.
In his Ascension, Christ was taken up into the real, eternal Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the universe, heaven itself. But instead of coming back out, he stays there, in his human nature, as our representative, as the everlasting bridge of reconciliation between mankind and God. Through faith in Christ, we have no more doubts that our sins can be forgiven; we don't have to wait for the Day of Atonement; we can live constantly in a right relationship with God. And he is the only way to the Father. Jesus didn't tell his followers that he was "one of the many ways, truths, and lives that are out there." And none of the other founders of world religions rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and let their Resurrection and Ascension be witnessed by hundreds of followers. Only Jesus Christ is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. Only his mercy can heal hearts that have been wounded by sin and evil.
At the end of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus assures us that he will be with us. He does not promise that our lives will be easy but he does assure us that he will walk with us intimately. The Ascension of Christ is his liberation from all restrictions of time and space. It does not represent his removal from earth, but his constant presence everywhere on earth.
As Catholics, do we obey the parting directive of our Savior to preach and baptize and obey his command ?
It's true that many parents make it a point to have their children baptized. But it doesn't end there: "teach them," Jesus says, "to observe all that I have commanded you."
This teaching to observe what Jesus commands us, in turn leads to forming us as true, mature disciples, not just nominal Catholics. And that's crucial. To be a disciple means to be "disciplined" or well formed in our faith. A disciple is a follower or "pupil" of Christ, our Teacher. That means an ongoing process throughout our growing-up years and right through adulthood.
Someone once called a preacher to say he wanted to place church membership. But, he went on to explain that he did not want to worship every week, study the Bible, visit the sick, or serve as a leader or teacher.
The minister commended him for his desire to be a member, but told him the church he sought was located in another section of town. The man took the directions and hung up. When he arrived at that address, the man came face to face with the logical result of his own apathetic attitude. There stood an abandoned church building boarded up and ready for demolition.
Being a Christian, without practicing what Jesus commanded us,does not help us experience resurrection and share in his ascension. If we find the world not receiving forgiveness and the ascension experience, it is because we don’t follow his directives to be his agents in the world.
A woman saw a little girl in the street. The child was poorly dressed, ill-nourished, and playing in the gutter with filthy trash. The woman became angry and said to God. "Why do you let a thing like this happen in the world you created? Why don't you do something about it? God replied:
"I did do something about it; I created you."
This story invites us to ask ourselves: "How seriously do we take Jesus' command to transform our world into the kind of place God created it to be?" Starting today, let's ask Our Lord to deepen our faith and help us better observe all His commands.