Abbot Damien Toilolo, O.S.B.
Not many Catholics know much about the Ascension, unless they pray the rosary and know the Glorious Mysteries. The Ascension is when Jesus went up to heaven, after His resurrection. It happened 40 days after the Resurrection, which is why we used to celebrate it on Ascension Thursday…but now some bishops think it’s better to celebrate it on Sunday so that more Catholics are able to attend Mass.
Why is this feast so important to us? Is it just to remember something that happened to Jesus? What’s the big deal? Is it just to show the power of Jesus? If that’s all it was, then we would just say “oh that’s nice”…or “good for Jesus”… But the Ascension of Jesus has real meaning for us too…at least for those who are going to die. If you’re not going to die, then the Ascension has no meaning for you. Because of the Ascension of Jesus, we now have the hope that we too will one day ascend into heaven…not just our spirit…but our body as well…
This is really important because it shows us that Jesus is not just concerned with our spirit, but our body, too. In redeeming humanity, Jesus not only gave salvation to our souls, but He began the restoration of the material world itself to the glory that God intended before the fall of Adam. So it’s not just our soul that goes to heaven, but our body as well….a glorified body…
As Christians, we don’t just believe in a philosophy or a theology or a bunch of rules and regulations. We certainly have those things, but we believe first and foremost in a Person, Jesus. Jesus is not some mythical person….or someone from the past. But He is a real person who lived and lives. It is an historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth, a real human being, walked the face of this earth. So He is a real person like you and me…who has a mother like you and me….who ate, who cried, who laughed, who hurt like you and me…..and who died, was raised from the dead, and is in heaven right now…not like you and me, but because of you and me. See how much we are loved.
Someone might ask, then why don’t I feel loved? Why does He allow people to hurt me? Why doesn’t He protect me? Why does He allow bad things to happen to good people? Why doesn’t He stop the war, abortion, innocent children being abused? Of course, we all want to know the answer to that question…. What’s important to remember…though it may be unsatisfactory to you… is that God is not Superman or Spiderman or Iron Man or any kind of super hero….who stops crime and evil everywhere in the world by punishing or killing the criminals. God is better than that. God doesn’t want to destroy the criminal, but He wants’ to convert the criminal; to save the criminal…to forgive the criminal, to absolve the sinner like us. And true conversion doesn’t usually happen because of force; sometimes it happens out of fear, but that kind only lasts a short while…only as long as the fear lasts.
Real conversion happens when a person chooses to change out of love and friendship and respect. God allows us to choose hoping that we might freely choose Him…It’s too easy to force someone to do something…but what happens when the enforcer is not around? We see it on the freeway…when cops are not around, people speed. When cops are around, we slow down. When the teacher’s not looking, students do weird things…when parents aren’t around, children do daring things…when the Abbot is not around, the monks still pray and do what their supposed to.
When we are forced to change, the change doesn’t last because it’s superficial. God is interested in lasting conversion….conversion that goes to the root. And that only happens when we are able to freely choose. Of course, there is a risk that we will freely choose to do wrong. And some of us do. But there is also a chance that we will choose rightly. And many of us do. But when we do choose rightly…when we do choose God….it doesn’t mean that life gets easier or better or that people start to like us more…or that the cash starts rolling in….(trust me, it doesn’t)….No. But what it means, is that we’ve made the most important decision in our life….literally, a life or death decision….and the benefits of this decision…which are literally eternal….will come later.
And we are asked to get this message ‘out there’….the message of Jesus….the message about conversion, forgiveness and eternal life….because there are people who don’t know this. Before Jesus ascended in to heaven, He didn’t say to His apostles, “Thank you all. Take care until I come back. See you later. Go ‘find yourselves’.” “Remember to help each other.” No! He said, “Go be my witnesses to all the nations.” Tell people.
Bearing witness to Christ, to his message of forgiveness and repentance….and the power of his goodness: this is our primary mission on earth, as Christians. Our mission is not to make lots of money…it is not to fulfill ‘our dream’…it is not to find our soul mate….but it is to get this message out there…tell everyone you know….either by word or action….that we live in and with hope. Tell people what or Who is the Source of our hope. And tell them that this hope is for everyone….because of Jesus….because of His love…..because of His death, resurrection, and ascension.