We have a seminarian working in the parish for the summer. Although he's older than I am, he has much more energy, so I wasn't surprised that he wasn't home when I headed to bed on Friday night.
But I sure was surprised when I went downstairs at six on Saturday morning to get the paper, and found Larry coming in the door! Doing my best to look stern and fatherly, I said "Young man, you have some explaining to do!"
Larry--rather flustered--said "Oh no! I'm not coming in, I'm going out." It seems he was heading downtown for an early errand and had popped back to the house for something he'd forgotten.
The moral of the story isn't just "don't jump to conclusions." It's also that sometimes coming in and going out look much the same.
And that's a key point as we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. It looks like he's going, but it's all about his coming back.
The disciples are staring up in the sky thinking about the Lord's departure. But angelic messengers tell them to shift their gaze--and their thinking--from the past (what they've just seen) to the future (what is still to come).
What they've watched seems to be a loss: Christ is taken from their sight. But what they await is the greatest gain of all: a new intimacy with him that outdoes even the joy of his physical presence and proximity.
I wonder if at the time of the Ascension the Apostles recalled what Jesus said to them at the Last Supper. "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Advocate"--the Holy Spirit--"will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (Jn 16:7)
These words change the Lord's departure from something deeply sorrowful into a moment of the greatest hope and joy. His going is all about his coming again, first through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and then at the end of the ages.
Let's stop and think what this means. Imagine what it was like to walk and talk with Jesus--"like breathing pure mountain air," one of my seminary professors used to say. His company had to be better than the best of best friends; his words must have sparkled; his understanding would have made your heart pound with sheer joy.
And after three years of that companionship, he's gone. Left you alone. Can you imagine a greater loss?
And yet, he tells us, it's all gain. Losing him physically means a whole new life together in his Spirit. Jesus will no longer live beside his friends, but within them, dwelling in their very souls.
The Apostles seemed to have got this message fairly quickly, even if "some doubted." They don't argue with the angels, and they get to work immediately, making disciples and spreading the good news.
But what about us? Does the gift of the Spirit seem a match for the privilege of walking and talking with Christ himself? I suspect that most of us would trade in our Confirmation for an hour-long conversation with the Lord.
We would, of course, have struck a bad bargain! And we're only tempted because we haven't fully understood how completely Christ has kept his promise to be with us always.
He has kept his promise in the Eucharist, where the whole Christ--body, blood, soul and divinity--is received in Holy Communion. This is where he keeps his promise to those who keep his word: "my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (Jn 14:23)
He has kept his promise, of course, by sending the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost, which we will recall next Sunday, but also by the continuous outpouring of that Spirit--an example of which we read about last Sunday, when Peter and John lay their hands on new converts that they too might receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has done his part; although he has passed from our sight, he has kept his promise "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you." (Jn. 18) If we are living like orphans, lacking comfort and consolation, it is our responsibility, not his.
How do we do our part? At our beautiful First Communion celebration yesterday, I offered the children a one-word homily (although, naturally, I talked longer than that). The word was "listen."
It's probably a good summary of today's homily as well. What might change in our lives if we listened more--if we return to our pews after receiving Communion and ask the Lord if he has anything to say?
How much better life could be if we developed a greater awareness of Christ dwelling in us through the Spirit, with us always whether we're joyful, afraid, calm or confused?
Christ has kept his promises. All we need to do is come to know him better by allowing his great power to work in us.
we are less dynamic or joyful than those Christians who walked and
talked with Jesus, it's time to readjust our sights--to stop staring
into the sky and start looking into our hearts, where the Lord dwells,
where he will speak with us, strengthen us, and encourage us with "the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe."