Fr. Imo's Reflections
5th Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2020
In My Father's House
The Gospel passage starts with words of comfort to calm the anxious disciples and ends with Jesus’ promise to go ahead to prepare a place so as to return and “take them home.” The main point in this Gospel passage is about the “mansions” to which he would take them to in the Father’s house. Believers have wondered how God’s house can be full of “big houses”? The Greek word for mansion is mone which comes from meno and translates as “staying” or “abode”. While a few centuries ago the word “abode” was only the past tense of the verb abide (meaning remain, dwell, or reside), now this verb form has come to be used also as a noun meaning “a dwelling place”. So, in this passage, Jesus was not talking about a place or a location as Thomas thought but the abode of the Lord. Is not the Incarnation a way Jesus is abiding (making his abode) with us so that we may one day abide with him and the Father?
Why is Jesus much concerned about this? It all began during the Last Supper meal when Jesus spoke in plain words to the disciples about his approaching departure. The disciples were deeply distressed and overwhelmed by grief to hear this (Matt 17:22-23). They were afraid to face the world alone. This Gospel passage is one of the efforts Jesus made to strengthen his disciples. He began by telling them not to “let their hearts to be troubled”. He knew that his departure would cause the disciples much consternation. He also knew that the uncertainty of life and its confusion would threaten the disciples’ commitment to him.
In this passage Jesus drew the attention of the disciples to the dangers of anxiety when bereavement is not received with faith. He placed this potential emotional state within the human heart (Jn 14:1). He knew that when the heart of a psychosomatic being is troubled, the mind is affected, and the entire life becomes disoriented. When this happens, any of these emotions will take the center stage: grief, guilt, anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, frustration, confusion, fear and doubt. All these are the enemies of faith and hope.
What is the relevance of this teaching to us? Like the disciples, we too have our own troubles: the experience of injustice and persecutions intimidates us; the scarcity of the necessities of life stares us on the face. We are troubled when we see certain things going on in our lives that we do not have answers for or the power to deal with them. We are infuriated by the lies that go with power politics in the country today; bewildered by the rate of secularism in our schools and Nation. As much as we try to avoid troubles, we inevitably encounter challenges and trials that can shake our confidence and trust in God. The outbreak of the coronavirus is one of such uncertainties distressing our hearts. In fact, when adversity or trouble comes our way, it challenges us to give in to fear and despair.
What is the way out? The way out to these life’s uncertainties is faith. Faith is the only way we can see the see the future and overcome its uncertainties. Jesus wants his disciples to have faith in the life after life. Jesus told his disciples that in his father’s house there are dwelling places. He does not only go to secure for his disciples a place of refuge, peace, and security, but secures for them an intimate communion and friendship with the Father. Here Jesus is talking not only about abode but also about a relationship. The disciples are promised a place in the indwelling relationship between the Father and Jesus. This indwelling relationship is a form of residence in God’s house.
Faith in the union between Jesus and the Father. One of the ways to avert the potential emotional state that comes from daily troubles is union with God. Jesus was inviting them into union with him and the Father; a connection, a relationship and not a location. The issue is to grasp all this through faith and allow that faith to direct their lives. This is the sacred union from which flows the work of salvation.
Jesus is the revelation of god – the selfless love he reflected in himself and shared with the world. He is calling us to a union through which we will carry on that very same work of revealing God to the world. Understood this way, when we ask where Jesus is when we pray for a medical cure, we find him in the medical workers, who perform wonders in our midst. When we ask where Jesus is in the natural disasters that occur, we find him in the loving care of emergency workers and in friends and neighbors who come to our aid. It is about a relationship. It is about falling in love with God through Jesus who is the reflection of God. It is about opening one’s heart to be informed by the selfless love of the father in Jesus Christ. This is the way to reveal the Father to the world.
All of this is an attempt to express the unity that exists between Jesus and the Father in the work of salvation. The Lord Jesus, through his victory on the cross and his resurrection, has opened the way for each one of us to live in peace and friendship with our heavenly Father. So, the Good News today is that this exhortation has given us the confidence to walk in the way of Jesus, and to count on his truth to shape our own lives. Let us then be confident that whenever we apply his truth to whatever we do, we can never be wrong, or live our life according to the pattern of his commandment, we will never regret, or walk by his Spirit and will never stumble until at last we get to live with him in eternity.
4th Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020
My Sheep Hear My Voice and Listen
As we celebrate today the Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus presents himself in the Gospel as a saving Shepherd who is opposed to the bad shepherds who come to steal, kill and destroy. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus tells his followers, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life.” This shepherd-sheep relationship with God reveals to us two respective points of God’s responsibility to his people and that of the people to their God.
It is the responsibility of God as a shepherd to know his people individually and shepherd them to enjoy life from here through eternity. As a Shepherd who takes care of his flock, God has absolute knowledge of his people: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jer. 1:5); and …..“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine” (Is 43:1). There is nothing that motivates faith as to know that God knows each one of us individually. The awareness that God knows us individually does not only provoke trust within us to God but assures us that he knows our plight and understands our cravings.
Hearing and listening to the voice of the master is the first responsibility demanded of the sheep in our text. Dogs and cats hear their owners more than any other person no matter their dispositions. They can be silent to the voice of an outsider but the moment they hear the voice of their owner, they jump up. This kind of reaction is proper to the relationship of a father or mother and child. The same is true as Jesus tells us in the Gospel of our relationship with him as our Shepherd.
Our duty then is how to distinguish between the two voices: the voice of God in his agents and the voice of the devil in his own agent in the world. Unfortunately, the problem with us is that we like the voice of the world more than that of God, and we pay attention to these other voices than the voice of God. We can listen and believe the weather forecaster, the astronomer, the medical doctor and the economist, but when God speaks, we take it for granted. Look at the ease with which we make reference to the speeches of historians and politicians but pay little or no attention to the spoken words of God in the Bible or when taught by the Church.
Learning the voice of Jesus takes reflection, time and confrontation with our egoistic voices. This is important because our attention to something is determined by our desire. If our desire is to have peace, we will listen and understand the language of peace. Our desire determines which voice that will appeal to us. Again, we need knowledge and transformation to make a connection to hear not only the word but the interior voice (Mt 15:8). Yes, we need intimate relationship with God to be able to distinguish his voice from the many voices that urge us to follow them; that try to influence our values and behaviors with their voices.
This brings us to the second thing demanded of the sheep in the Gospel reading today, namely, following the Lord. The sheep does not only listen to its shepherd but follows him and his instructions. The problem with Christianity today is that on Sunday so many people come to Mass to listen to the voice of God but when the Mass is over, they go home and follow their own conscience, opinions and ways of life. No one who believes in God does things his own way but follows the way of the Lord.
So, it is in listening to God that we allow him to lead us, and in following him we prove that he is our Shepherd. As such, believing in him is not enough if it cannot lead us to follow him. Today we pray and ask God to give us the grace to listen and follow his voice in the teachings of our priests; and to give us holy and dedicated priests; priests who love and care for the needs and well-being of the people more than their own; priests who can sacrifice their personal joy for the salvation of the people, priests who are shepherds after the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Therefore, let us all endeavor always to listen to God, believe in him and follow him.
3rd Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2020
Recognizing the Risen Lord
Right from his resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus has busied himself with appearing before his disciples to confirm the truth of his resurrection. Today’s Gospel presents us with his appearance to the two disciples travelling on their way to Emmaus who failed to recognize him. The first appearance was to Mary Magdalene near the empty tomb, but she too did not recognize Jesus. While these two men thought that Jesus was a stranger whom they met on the way to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener.
Why did the disciples fail to recognize Jesus is a question that has been on the mind of every Christian? This puzzle is intensified when we recall that Jesus’ disciples knew their master personally and heard him say that he would die, and after three days, he would be raised. One of the reasons some scholars advanced is that the disciples did not recognize the risen Lord because Jesus’ death shattered their hopes and dreams and threw them into confusion. They saw the cross as a defeat and could not comprehend the empty tomb until the Lord Jesus appeared to them and gave them understanding. Others say that the disciples thought that Jesus was dead which left them with only memories of death. They did not think he could be physically alive except as a ghost. Still others say that it might be the result of the phenomenon of seeing someone entirely outside the context in which they used to see him. But once one overcomes what blocks his perception, then the unfamiliar becomes familiar.
Like the disciples, when our relationship with the Lord is based on what he does than on who he is, we have a hard time recognizing he is among us when things do not work our ways. This was the case with the disciples. Despite the number of years they spent with Jesus, the disciples built their love on the things he was doing and related to him as disciples to a great teacher. As a matter of fact, self-sacrificing love was lacking. This is the new thing Jesus set out to teach them by lavishing them with love after his resurrection to prove to them that His love was not exhausted on the Cross of Calvary but endures to the end of time. Despite their lack of love and faith, Jesus continued to appear to them.
The Church is telling us today to remember that Jesus still walks with us when we are walking our own ways through life. If the road to Emmaus is the path of sorrow, confusion, fear, disappointment and uncertainty, the road to Emmaus is here with us. We have all travelled the road to Emmaus at one time or the other we had our hopes dashed. Even now, we are travelling the path of a most difficult moment in history caused by the COVID-19 episode.
So, it is important to note that as Jesus appeared to them over and again to the disciples during their moments of need, so he appears to us this troubled and uncertain period. But it is one thing to appear to us and another thing for us to be able to recognize him. He does not just appear but uses our circumstances to talk to us. As he challenged the ignorance of the two disciples to Emmaus concerning the biblical implications of their experience, today he challenges how we are using the wisdom of the Scriptures to interpret our experience of the Covid-19.
In fact, at any time we are able to realize that the risen Lord accompanies us, our eyes are opened to a new way of looking at reality by the word of God. We would realize that Jesus is not just present, but transforms us, renews us, recreates us just as he restored hope and joy once again to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. So, Emmaus message reveals to us not only something about who Jesus is, but also how Jesus opens our eyes to see him for who he truly is, and about how we can come to know him, and master our challenging situations with courage.
Today, the Good News in these appearances is that Jesus is risen to be encountered and interacted with in a real personal relationship. He now freely reveals himself to each one of us as we listen to his voice in the Scriptures. We do not need to go to Israel to encounter him at the sea of Tiberias, or the road to Emmaus, the garden outside the empty tomb or to the Upper room. There are many ways in which we can encounter him now in the privacy of our room, office place, marketplace, school, prayer meetings, the Church, Retreat Centers, Adoration grounds or in the pages of the Bible. He is now unstoppable from reaching us either by race and language or by time and space. He is not far from your reach, look out for him, look around and look within you. He is there with you!
2nd Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020
The Call to Share Divine Mercy
On this final day of the Octave of Easter, the eight-day celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, the Church celebrates the Divine Mercy Sunday. In today’s Gospel, Jesus commissioned the disciples and sent them out as his Father had sent him. The first reading tells us how the disciples took to prayer after the resurrection and benefited one another with their possessions.
When the reports about the resurrection of Jesus reached the disciples, they were filled with joy but later they started to entertain some fear and guilt. Then a week after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to them to strengthen them. In this appearance, he did not discuss with them about the event of the Good Friday or indict them for abandoning him or for their fears and doubts. The first thing he did was to say: “Peace be with you” – a greeting which the disciples needed most. You will recall how the disciples left him alone and fled his presence on Good Friday. If God had built his kingdom on the standards of tit-for-tat, Jesus would have spelt his anger and revenge on them in this Upper Room encounter. Instead, he offered words of peace as a sign of reconciliation to the disciples who had turned away from him. With this he forgave them without asking for any apologies.
In this encounter, Jesus did something which only love, and trust can do. Despite every disappointment, he gave them peace (shalom), not recrimination, and showed them mercy, not retribution. He did not want to define them by their failures but believed that the human person is much more than his or her failures. As if this was not enough, he gave them the Holy Spirit and sent them out to bring God’s merciful forgiveness to the world. What a love, what a mercy!
Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus wanted the story of the mercy of Good Friday to be told with the message of his resurrection. We do not only see it in how he forgave his disciples but how he handled the faithless speech of Thomas. The attitude of Thomas calls for judgment and blame, but Jesus corrected him with love and treated his wrong approach to the resurrection with understanding and compassion.
So, the message behind the Upper Room appearance is that Jesus wants the disciples to know that his Church is founded on mercy and has a mission to bring about forgiveness and peace. This message of love, peace and mercy calls for urgent attention. There is no peace today because the world lacks true love, true mercy and true forgiveness. Therefore, leaders of Nations have constantly failed in their peace plans. As a result, the world today is full of hate, unforgiveness and revenge. We see it in racial discrimination, in the parade of terrorists and their attacks, in the onslaught of gangsters in our schools and communities, in children’s abduction, in brothers and sisters not talking to each other, and in the rate of divorce in marriage.
Jesus wants us to know that the human person is so weak, and if we measure his activities with justice alone, he will never know peace or be saved. This is where the Lord’s message of mercy to Sr. Faustina reminds us of the need for mercy. It also reminds us that Jesus is not only the God of justice but of mercy (Lam 3:21-23). Jesus does not count our sins and treat us as we deserve but tampers the just demand of our sins with mercy. He wants us to learn from him how to forgive without counting the insult. Let us then heed Paul’s admonitions to the Romans: “Bless those who persecute you and do not curse them. Repay no one evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14,17,19,21). It is our duty then to open our hearts to let in his peace and our minds to receive his instructions, and finally to share the divine mercy of Good Friday with friends, relations and those who come in contact with us by the way we live, talk and relate.
April 12, 2020
Jesus Brought New Life Out of Death
The Gospel just read does not proclaim Jesus’ presence but His absence; yet despite that absence, belief begins to bloom and blossom. Why? What did the disciples and Mary Magdalene see? Did they have any other evidence beyond what their eyes saw? May be a belief! Was it a belief without foundation, belief that came from impulse, belief that is reliant on enthusiasm, or belief as abject surrender to God’s inscrutable will? It was certainly not a dead body that they saw! The dead body of Jesus would have disproved the resurrection and made his death a tragic conclusion to a glorious mission of a great teacher and miracle worker. On the contrary, our scripture readings today are all from the New Testament and they all testify to the resurrection of Jesus.
What was it like for the disciples who had stood at the Cross of Jesus and then laid him in a tomb on Good Friday, to come back three days later and discover that the sealed tomb was now empty? It certainly did not settle down well. In John’s account, Mary of Magdala instinctively concluded, as the authorities had warned Pilate, that someone has removed Jesus’ body. For her the empty tomb does not “prove” that Jesus is risen, only that his body is missing. When Peter entered the tomb he saw not Jesus, but only what Jesus left behind: signs of death that are not yet, for Peter, signs of new life. When John entered, “he saw and believed,” but not clearly, for the Gospel concludes, “they did not yet understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (Jn 20:8-9). As it were, Easter morning’s Gospel does not proclaim Jesus’ presence but Jesus’ absence; yet despite that absence, belief begins to blossom.
It is surprising how John saw in the empty tomb the resurrection of Jesus. What Mary Magdalen saw and believed was the action of thieves, John saw and believed it was the Lord’s resurrection (John 20:8). What did John see in the tomb that led him to believe in the resurrection of Jesus – was it a belief without foundation, belief that came from impulse, belief that is reliant on enthusiasm, or belief as abject surrender to God’s inscrutable will? It was certainly not a dead body. The dead body of Jesus would have disproved the resurrection and made his death a tragic conclusion to a glorious career as a great teacher and miracle worker.
All one can say is that although John had not understood the Scripture concerning the resurrection, what he saw convinced him that Jesus had supernaturally risen from the dead and was gone. So, when he entered the tomb, and saw the grave clothes folded, what unfolded in him was an affirmation. He had no doubt that God had acted. He must have recalled Jesus' prophecy that he would rise again after three days (Mk 10:32-34). So, the tomb was not empty because the body of Jesus had been stolen but because Jesus returned to life on the third day, proving Himself as the Messiah. He did not come back to life for a while but lives forever.
This, however, calls for faith. Although the Gospels report that the risen Lord was seen by numerous witnesses, the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection remain for us a matter of faith. It is only through faith that we can declare today, “He is risen.” And if faith, is progressive, and it begins with attraction to Jesus’ “sign” as one who comes from God, the resurrection then invites us to move beyond sign faith to recognition of Jesus as Messiah. In other words, faith based on what we have seen and heard must move beyond signs to acceptance of Jesus, particularly in the gift of his death for us. This will be clearer if we recall that the Gospel of John tells the story of the resurrection in the context of Jesus’ relationship with the so-called “beloved disciple.” Here, the disciple lets us know that faith is easier for those who are open to a close relationship with God. It takes faith and personal relationship with the Lord to accept and believe the new dimension of death as revealed in his resurrection.
In this way, our celebration is not about futility and loss of life but the enduring presence of God in the human person. The empty tomb provides a kind of symbolic symmetry with the notion of resurrection. Even if death is truly the annihilation of the total self, our faith leads us to believe that this “emptiness” brought by death can be transformed by God into the fullness of new life. The one unforgettable thing Jesus’ resurrection left us with to hold on is the faith that God in Jesus brought new life out of death. Like the agonizing death Jesus underwent, it does require a belief that God will seize our emptiness and fill it up with something new.
The Easter message then is the rumor that there is more within us than we dare to believe. This is why we say that the resurrection is beyond what the eyes can see, beyond human imagination and beyond science. The grave, as we all know, is the abode of death. As such, the grave is the hole which swallows the human person and life ceases to be. To be put in the grave is to become finally gone from this life. To be buried then is to be lost and forgotten as there is no coming back to life. Contrary to this popular belief, Easter Sunday celebrates the life of Jesus who died, was buried and after three days came back from the grave to life. In his life and resurrection, death is no longer the end but a door to the beyond.
Thus, we see the resurrection of Jesus as our own not only because it is the assurance of our salvation but the assurance that new life is possible (2 Cor. 5:17). It is in this new life that life in abundance subsists (Jn 10:10). God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him (Eph 2:6-7). In our baptism the victory of Jesus becomes our victory; his rising from the dead becomes our rising from sin and its enslavement. He has lifted us from our fallen human nature to his divine nature. As Peter puts it, we are now partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) because we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
If we truly want to experience the new life which Jesus offers, then the outer shell of our old, fallen nature, must be broken and put to death. This process of death to the “old fallen self” is both a one-time event, such as baptism, and a daily, on-going cycle in which God buries us more deeply into Jesus’ death to sin so we might rise anew and bear fruit for God. The paradox here is that death leads to life. When we "die" to ourselves, we "rise" to new life in Jesus Christ. To “die” to oneself is to put to death what is sinful. This is achieved when a person willingly cooperates with the grace of God to stop entertaining one’s appetite for sin to the extent that such a sin becomes dead in that person’s life – powerless and resistible. All one can do today to be raised with Christ is to leave this Mass dead to the world that he used to live in, dead to his fear for death, dead to self, dead to superstitious life, dead to living for Satan and begin to live for Jesus in all things.
It is in this resurrection experience that the fear of the prevailing coronavirus ceases to dominate us. It is then we begin to realize that Jesus did not only die but was raised and now lives with the Father and with us (Matt 28:19). By his resurrection he has caused us to live in hope of resurrection (1 Pet 1:3) and God’s abiding presence. Now he lives forever. In our suffering he suffers with us, in death he dies with us and lives on in glory with us. Now we do not let our hearts be troubled (Jn 14:1) because our hopes are not broken but fulfilled. Our future is not destroyed but perfected. Our life is not in danger but secured for all eternity. This way we live in hope that is not vague, in a hope that gives certainty and courage to face the future. This makes tolerable the sufferings of the present moment, which are not comparable to future glory (Rom 8:18). May you have a most blessed Easter!
6th Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
Make the Paraclete Your Coach
Last Sunday we read how the deacons were appointed to help with the daily distribution of food to the poor and widows. This week the first reading tells us how one of the deacons, Philip, took the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus to the Samaritans who did not see eye to with the Jews. In the second reading, Peter tells us how we must live as baptized and confirmed disciples of Jesus. In the Gospel passage, filled with concern for the disciples that he was going to leave behind, Jesus said to them: “I will not leave you orphan. I will give you another Advocate” (John 14:16-18).
The Greek rendering of the word “advocate” in John 14:16 is Parakleton, meaning Paraclete. Paraclete is a Greek legal term meaning a defense attorney. Some words used to translate it into English are spokesman, advocate, mediator, intercessor, comforter, helper or counselor. The English word that most nearly captures the meaning of Paraclete is the word “coach.” The Paraclete is our coach, who is always by our side. He is someone who stands alongside to protect and sustain the one assisted.
The Acts of the Apostles tell us how the Paraclete mediated the ministry of the disciples from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world. In the first reading we see how the Paraclete enabled Philip to break the barriers of hostility and proclaim the Good News of Jesus where it had not been preached before. Aided by the Paraclete, the people responded, were baptized and confirmed, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that the town was bursting with joy and that a fever of joy came over everyone.
Today we have legal attorneys and counselors. Do we still need the assistance of the Paraclete? Yes, no matter how good sports people are, they need coaches. Even Tiger Woods and Serena Williams have a coach. We are so weak and prone to mistakes and errors that if left on our own without a couch, we cannot do much. In a world where there are so many problems, we need the Holy Spirit by our side to enlighten and instruct us in our ignorance, to correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we could, to defend us and fight for our rights when evils assail and or the judges are unfair to us.
So, in this promise, Jesus assures us as he did to his Apostles that he is always at our side. The main reason we do not see or recognize the Spirit in our own personal lives is because we tend to compartmentalize our spiritual lives as something that comes from outside or up there somewhere. But the Jewish Talmud says, “No place is empty of God.” This calls for openness and docility of the mind and heart to let God’s will prevail if we truly need God’s help. If no place is “empty of God”, it is then wrong to equate the lockdown of the sacred places of worship to a lockdown of faith. It is then important to know that as we struggle to maintain our identity as believers in Jesus Christ, we must know that Jesus is ever at our side through the Spirit living within us.
How then do we receive or renew this all-important Spirit Helper? We are to do the same thing the Apostles did and preached, namely, repentance and prayer. Firstly, we are to repent from the sins that have shaped our lifestyles. In the second reading Peter called for repentance and clear conscience. In the Gospel, Jesus said that knowing the commandment is not enough, and as such called for love expressed by keeping the Commandments. As a matter of fact, true worshippers of God will be known by their observance of a faithful life. We cannot fool God by ritual acts, tithes and pious looks. The one who sees into the human hearts knows if our love is lip service or real passion. Therefore, let in love, and you would provide a place for the Spirit of God because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5:5).
Secondly, after the Ascension of our Lord, the disciples together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus went to the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). Next Thursday is the solemnity of the Ascension. Between Ascension and Pentecost, the Church invites all her children to a period of Novena and waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Novena to the Holy Spirit is our own Upper room waiting prayer for the Paraclete. Through this Novena, invite and make the Paraclete your Coach.
7th Sunday of Easter
May 24, 2020
Departed and Still With Us
In today’s Gospel, the appearance of Jesus took place in Galilee. This was the first encounter the disciples of Jesus had with him since his resurrection. Interestingly enough, their response to seeing him was one of mix feelings. On the one hand, they worshiped him, but on the other hand, they doubted. The human condition was not erased even when coming face-to-face with the risen Jesus. They showed that they were still people of little faith. This human condition is confirmed by Luke in the first reading. According to him, before the ascension, the apostles still struggled to understand the kingdom. They wondered if the Lord was about to restore the kingdom of Israel. Their thinking was still limited to the realm of the earth. But Jesus restored Israel in an ideal way by awakening humanity to all the advantages gained from living for the kingdom for God.
One of the ways to understand and cherish Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom is to take a journey into his earthly ministry with the disciples. Jesus lived and worked with them for three years during which he taught them that the reign of God was in their midst. He touched those sick and in need to bring them healing. He travelled, continually staying on the move when others wanted him to settle down and become an earthly ruler. Through his passion, Jesus taught the ultimate lesson on the humility and love of God. Through his resurrection he taught about God’s power, and with his resurrection appearances, he announced God’s willingness to forgive our sins and betrayals. With his ascension, Jesus announced God’s kingdom of glory and the dramatic change in what it means to be with him and in our role as his disciples. In fact, Jesus restored the kingdom of power and humility; the kingdom of peace and justice, the kingdom of love and selfless service, the kingdom of joy and wellness.
In this appearance, therefore, Jesus is not going to restore the kingdom but to transfer his mission to the disciples. In this regard we see the question of the two angels in white robes to the Apostles - why do you look up in the sky - as being valid for us too. Jesus wants us to preoccupy ourselves with continuing his work. The mandate of the master to evangelize is an imperative and very empowering. The implication of the question is that we should get back to work, to be worshiping in the temples and bearing witness in the world. Even when our personal resources are not equal to that challenge, it is heartwarming to hear Paul tell the Ephesian believers that as living members of Jesus’ body, the Church, our share in Jesus’ victory is guaranteed. It does not matter how much education we have, the Spirit of power in each one of us will do it.
Today we recall that this celebration is part of our preparation to take up the work of witnessing. Like the disciples of the time of Jesus, we are near graduation from the Lent-Easter refresher course given to us by the Church. With the anniversary of the descent of the Holy Spirit next Sunday, Jesus announces that from now on, we must be the ones to teach others that the reign of God is in our midst. We must be the ones to touch the lives of others with the healing power of God’s presence. We must be the ones to travel about, sharing this Good News and “making disciples of all nations.”
Though like the early community we may worship and yet doubt, Jesus tells us in the today’s Gospel, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” With this blessed assurance, we heed the words of the “two men in white” by turning our eyes from distant skies that beckon us toward heavenly rest and focusing instead on this world’s messy streets. For there, as Jesus teaches in the gospel, we must “see” and serve Jesus in the hungry and thirsty, those lacking clothing and shelter, those sick and imprisoned, the least whom we must love the most if we would continue to build God’s kingdom and inherit Jesus’ kingdom.
So, the Ascension is not to be seen as our primary focus of the disciple but secondary. We are first to be witnesses before becoming beneficiaries of the glory of the Ascension. This does not rule out the importance of the Ascension in our witnessing. The mystery of his ascension lies in the fact that though Jesus left to the Father, yet he is still with us – he has not departed from us. It does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He does not occupy a specific place in the world but lives in every place and time, and present to all of us. He is with us to help us do his work properly.
So, before the day when we will be called home to the house of God through the passage of the body, we are reminded today to make it happen every day with the heart. This passage of the heart towards God does not divert us from the historical duties we have in the world. All we need do is to go from this world and not go with the world. “To go from this world” and “not to go with this world,” as Saint Augustine said, we must work on ourselves so that every day our hearts can go toward what is eternal. We must look, not to the sky, the atmospheric one, but beyond it to God whom our hearts long for. As Paul put it: “But our Citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). In other words, the sky of the Christian life is ultimately a person: it is the risen Christ to whom we are incorporated and with whom we are called to the life after life. Therefore, to celebrate and to live out the Ascension is to feed on the holy desire of God to be with Christ now and hereafter.