(If you celebrate the Ascension in your diocese today, see the reflection below. Otherwise, skip to the next reflection and return to the Ascension reflection on Sunday.)
May 18, 2023
Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord (Year A)
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and 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. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20
These are the parting and final words our Lord spoke while on earth. As soon as He spoke them He ascended into Heaven to remain with His Father forever, preparing a place for us so that we could join Him one day. Never again on earth would the disciples hear Jesus speak to them or see Him in physical form. Though He would soon send the Holy Spirit upon them and speak clearly to them interiorly through prayer, they would not encounter His audible voice and physical presence once again until Heaven.
Just prior to the passage quoted above, we read that the disciples did two things. One was ideal; the other was not. We read: “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.” Of course, the fact that they worshiped Him is ideal, but the fact that they doubted is somewhat shocking and disappointing. After all that they went through with our Lord, after all they witnessed and heard, they still doubted. They witnessed Jesus cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the crippled, preach with a new authority, convert sinners, raise the dead and even rise from the dead Himself. And after all of this, they still had doubts.
Perhaps their doubts are recorded in this final encounter with our earthly Lord because it reveals to us our own ongoing doubts. Perhaps the real doubters are not only the disciples but also each one of us.
When you look into your own conscience, what do you see? Do you see a person with perfect faith and trust in God? Or do you see a person who seeks to worship God but also struggles with doubts? A doubt is a lack of faith. It is different from a difficulty, an uncertainty, or a confusion. A doubt is an action by which we positively make the choice to start down the path of disbelief. It’s more than a weakness; it’s a choice and not a good one.
The good news is that these doubting disciples eventually received something that eliminated every doubt from their minds. They received the Holy Spirit, and this gift of God began to dispel every temptation to doubt as they received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In particular, the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge would deepen their faith in God and enable them to both worship and believe.
As we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, reflect, today, upon the image of these disciples worshiping God and doubting at the same time. If this image strikes a chord within you, then pay attention to it. It is good to worship God, but it is also good to humbly admit where you lack perfect faith. Where you see this lack of faith, hold onto the hope that, just like these disciples, you will receive the full outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit in your life so that every doubt will be dispelled and you will receive true Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge in their fullness.
My Ascended Lord, You entered the glories of Heaven, body and soul, as Your disciples looked on. They worshiped You but also struggled with doubts. Help me to also worship You with my whole being. As I do, reveal to me my lack of faith and trust in You and dispel these sins by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I trust in You.
Novena to the Holy Spirit
Prayed in preparation for Pentecost
Further Reading – Ascension
Prayer Meditation for the Ascension
Image: Commission to Peter, detail: Jesus by Andreas Praefcke, via Wikimedia Commons
(The reflection below is used when the Solemnity of the Ascension is transferred to the coming Sunday.)
Deepening Your Understanding
May 18, 2023
Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter
(When the Ascension is transferred to Sunday)
Readings for Today
Saint John I, Pope and Martyr—Optional Memorial
So some of his disciples said to one another, “What does this mean that he is saying to us, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” So they said, “What is this ‘little while’ of which he speaks? We do not know what he means.” John 16:17–18
How about you? Do you know what Jesus means? Or do you find that you are confused by what He said just like these disciples were? Though pride may tempt you to claim that you fully understand all that Jesus taught, the humble and honest truth is that you are probably very much like these disciples in their confusion. And that is not necessarily a bad place to be.
First, the confusion of these disciples shows they took Jesus seriously. They were not indifferent. They cared, were interested, wanted to understand, and must have had some level of faith in Jesus. Otherwise, they would have ignored Him. But they didn’t. They listened, tried to understand, discussed His teaching, thought about His words and humbly concluded that they didn’t understand.
Jesus is not critical of their confusion. He sees that they are trying and that they have some level of faith. And even though these disciples are confused, Jesus continues to speak to them in figures of speech rather than directly and clearly. One of the reasons that Jesus speaks in figurative language is because the message that He is teaching is profound and deep. It’s not something that can be quickly and easily understood and mastered. The mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven are so deep, vast, profound and mystical that the only way to begin to understand them is to first have faith. Faith does not mean you fully understand everything. Faith is a supernatural gift by which you come to believe without fully seeing and understanding. The certainty comes for God, not from your own reasoning ability. But faith always leads to deeper understanding. Therefore, as these disciples professed their faith, they also came to understand. And even though Jesus speaks in this figurative way, these disciples ultimately made the choice to believe. Later in this chapter they conclude, “Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God” (John 16:30).
If you find yourself confused about various matters of faith, God, morality, and the like, or if you find yourself confused about the various mysteries of life itself, or your life in particular, do not be afraid to admit to this confusion. Admitting confusion is the humble admittance of the truth, and this humility will be a helpful step toward the gift of faith.
Reflect, today, upon whether you struggle at all with indifference toward the mysteries of life. If so, commit yourself to be more like these disciples who intentionally grappled with all that Jesus spoke. Do not be afraid to admit your confusion and to place that confusion before our Lord. Strive to have the gift of faith and allow that spark of faith to become the pathway for your deeper understanding of the many mysteries of life.
My mysterious Lord, You and all the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven are so deep and profound that no one will ever fully comprehend their depth, breadth and beauty. Please open my mind, dear Lord, to a deeper understanding of You so that I may profess my faith in You and in all that You have chosen to reveal. I do believe, my God. Help my unbelief. Jesus, I trust in You.
Novena to the Holy Spirit
The novena to begin is May 19-27, 2023
Saint of the Day – Saint John I, Pope and Martyr
Featured image above: Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples By Paolo Veronese, via Wikimedia Commons