The first time I left my parents and my siblings to be away for up to three months was when I went to the Minor (High School) Seminary at about the age of twelve. As a twelve-year-old, leaving home for the first time, it was tough for me. A part of me was excited about the new experience ahead, but another part of me was missing home very seriously. I was in tears when it was time to begin the journey of about two to three hours by car. Seeing how I was weeping, my mom came up to me, held me and said, “My son, I know it is tough for you; it is also not easy for us to see you go. But you need to go to add value to yourself. If you don’t go, you will not grow. You need to go for your good; for the good of the family, and the good of the world. See you in three months, then you would have made new friends and learned many new things.” Those words gave me the determination to begin the journey; those words also kept me while I was away from home.
More than two decades after I heard those words from my mom, they continue to motivate me whenever I am away from home. At the end of one of my recent vacations in Nigeria, it was another emotional moment for me. As soon as I was set to go, we gathered for family prayer. While the prayer was going on, it dawned on me that I was about to begin another long journey, I almost broke down in tears because I was already missing home (but priests don’t cry). After exchanging farewell hugs, I entered the car (my friend, Fr Ernest was giving me the ride to the airport), and I could no longer fight the tears (yes, priests also cry). So I immediately went for my sunglasses, not to keep the sun rays away but to conceal my tears. In the course of the drive to the airport, I kept replaying the over two-decade-old words, “…you need to go to add value…you need to go to grow…”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. We celebrate it today as a joyful event. But if we consider all that the Apostles passed through, we can imagine how challenging it was for them to see Jesus go ‘again.’ I can imagine an apostle complaining, “Why do you toy with our emotions, Lord? Master, why are you playing games with our feelings?”
Remember that the Apostles were just on their own, minding their business when Jesus came into their lives. Some of them were fishermen when Jesus called them, promising them a new life of catching human beings and no longer fish. They believed they had found a more stable life in Jesus. This new life for them had lots of promises. It was a big blow on them to see their Great Master submit himself to a shameful death. Such an end was not why they abandoned their families and businesses.
In order not to lose from both ends, they started planning to return to what they were doing before Jesus “interrupted” them. They were already trying to heal and return to fishing when suddenly, the Master they thought had gone forever came back to life gloriously. Some of the apostles might have exclaimed, “I knew it! I was certain that there was more to it! I knew that our Master would take back the kingdom from the Romans.” It was amid this jubilation that Jesus came with the news, “Now, I am ascending to my Father and your Father; to my God and your God.” Imagine the disappointment in the Apostles. They must have thought, “Wait…What? So this is not the end? So he is out to break our hearts again? What kind of Father is he talking about here? If he had no plans to stay with us, why did he have to come to us after rising from the dead? Now, he has interrupted our healing process and refreshed the wound.”
Then at this point, I imagine Jesus, just like my mom over two decades ago telling his apostles, “My children, I know it is tough for you, but I need to go to add value. I need to go for your good and the good of the whole world. If I do not go, you will not grow.” Before his ascension, Jesus made it clear to them that he was not going to distance himself from them, but that he was going so that the Holy Spirit might come to lead them to the complete truth. Even though he was ascending to heaven, he promised to remain with them in a more special way until the end of time.
Indeed, Jesus is gone for good. Because he went, the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles. These apostles, who were timid, became very bold and courageous in proclaiming the gospel, even defiling the threat of death. Because he went, he is now present with us through the Word and the Sacraments. He is now present even in our neighbors, for as he said, “Whatsoever you do the least of my brethren; that you do unto to me” (Matthew 25: 40). It was necessary for the Apostles to let go of Jesus in the flesh to gain him in the spirit. He is gone for good! In the ascension, Jesus did not lay aside the flesh; His human nature would be the pattern of the future glory of other human natures, which would be incorporated to him through a sharing of His life. He ascended into heaven so that He might plead in heaven to His Father with a human nature common to the rest of human beings. As Jesus ascends to heaven today, may he ascend with our prayers, and may the descent of the Holy Spirit bring answers to our prayers, through Christ our Lord. Amen.