The solemnity of the ascension of Jesus

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila - The Freeman

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, which happens 40 days after his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Today, the Vatican also celebrates World Communication Day. Our gospel reading today comes from Luke 24: 46-53.

46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

* * *

If you read today’s gospel carefully, the ascension of our Lord happened in Bethany, near the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. When I went to the Holy Land, I went inside the chapel, where the Catholic Church believes was the exact place where our Lord left his footprints on his last day on earth. As I earlier pointed out, this event happened 40 days after the resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.

Perhaps you may ask, why did Jesus leave his disciples 40 days after his resurrection? Forty is a significant number in the scriptures. If you read the Torah or the Old Testament, Moses went to the mountain to seek the face of God for 40 days in prayer and fasting. Then when they left Egypt, the people of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years in preparation for their entry into the promised land.

As we read further in the Bible, Elijah fasted for 40 days as he journeyed in the wilderness to the mountain of God. For 40 days after his resurrection Jesus appeared numerous times to his disciples to assure them that he had risen indeed and to prepare them for the task of carrying on the work which he began during his earthy ministry.

Mind you, the departure and ascension of our Lord into heaven was both an end and a beginning for his disciples and the Catholic Church that he created. While it was the end of Jesus' physical presence with his beloved disciples in this world, it also marked the beginning of Jesus' presence with them in a new way. Jesus promised that he would be with them always to the end of time.

Now the glorified and risen Lord and Savior ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, as we have recited in our Apostle’s Creed for centuries. More importantly, our Lord Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit who would anoint them with power on the Feast of Pentecost, just as Jesus was anointed for his ministry at the river Jordan. Allow me to point out that when the Lord Jesus departed physically from the apostles, they were not left in sorrow or grief unlike 40 days earlier when he was arrested, tried, and crucified. Instead, they were filled with joy and with great anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The ascension or our Lord into heaven is indeed the final proof for the disciples of Christ that indeed, Jesus comes from heaven as he had told them and is returning back to sit at the right hand of Father God. So there was no reason to mourn or grieve for his physical departure back to heaven.

Today is the 53rd World Communications Sunday. As we’ve already known, World Communications Day is the only worldwide celebration called for by the Second Vatican Council and is celebrated in most countries, on the basis of the recommendation of the bishops of the world, on the Sunday before Pentecost. World Communications Day was celebrated for the first time on Sunday, May 7, 1967 and is celebrated with the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers (January 24), to allow bishops' conferences and diocesan offices time to prepare materials for national and local celebrations of World Communications Day.

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