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Called to witness, to the ends of the earth

May 15, 2015
Father Charles Puthota

Disheartened, the abbot of a renowned monastery consults with a holy man living in the mountains about steeply declining numbers of his monks. He wonders what sin might have led to this situation. The holy man calls it the sin of ignorance, that is, one of the monks is the Messiah in disguise and everyone is ignorant of his presence. Back at the monastery, the abbot calls the monks together and reveals that one of them is the Messiah. They are stunned. What if this monk or that one is the Messiah? How could they recognize him if he is in disguise? So they take to treating one another with respect and kindness. The new atmosphere soon turns the monastery into a place of vibrant joy. Before long, dozens of aspirants are lining up to become monks. Once again the monastery reverberates with the holy chants of the monks aglow with love.

This Ascension Sunday, we uphold the truth that the Messiah is among us and in us – and will always be. The risen and ascended Jesus having completed his mission is now the Christ in the Spirit. “I will be with you always,” he says. So we had better take to treating each other with love and respect. He has permeated the material world. So we had better protect the earth with gentle care. He has forever entered the human history. So we had better shape our history in a progressively loving and peaceful ways. We are not orphaned. Jesus is alive in us in whole new, surprising, and transforming ways. This conviction we celebrate this Ascension Sunday.

There are two divine mysteries related to the Ascension that we could treasure and explore – and of which we could become stewards and sharers.

First, the ministry of Jesus continues today. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom as a radically new way of relating to God and to one another. He needs us to continue his mission and bring the kingdom to its fruitful conclusion. He sends us out: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” He trusts us enough to have passed on the baton. We run the relay race now, carrying the life-giving message of Jesus from one person to another, from one generation to another. He says, “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.” Our work is not to be “standing there looking at the sky” but to go help and heal, to love and serve, to touch and transform the world. The Ascension empowers us for this mission.

Second, we are called to a life in the Spirit. We cannot externalize what is not internal. We cannot proclaim in words and deeds what we do not cherish deep within. We cannot help extend the risen-ascended Christ into space and time if we do not invite him into our lives first. As individuals and church we need to luxuriate in Christ who is in the Spirit. The Spirit will transform us into new beings. In prayer, contemplation, worship, the word of God, silence, sacraments, devotions, and liturgical celebrations, we can sense Jesus saying, “I am the vine, you are the branches … Remain in me as I remain in you.” Paul’s prayer “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened” means that in our inner vision, imagination, and desire, we shall see and feel Jesus so that we can share him with conviction with others.

The Ascension of the Lord enables us to become authentic disciples by living a life in the Spirit and impels us to become ardent apostles sent out to complete Jesus’ kingdom mission.

Father Puthota is pastor at St. Veronica Parish, South San Francisco.

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