Spirituality of the Readings
He Is Really Gone?
(For Ascension Sunday)
A while back I heard a homily that touched me. It might shed some light on the Ascension for you as well.
The school-year was ending. The University would soon be vacant. A school is like a small town (or in our case a large one), with patterns of life, friends, cohorts, revolving relationships, all in an irregularly regular rhythm of life.
The fabric of school life is like the cushion behind my back that is starting to come to pieces, disbursing its fillings abroad. School life and presence seems to do the same thing. It comes to pieces.
Our presider said with a beautiful poignancy how much he missed the students when they scattered. You could hear it in his voice: a network of life flew away each year. I can remember the same thing from my own college days. Empty halls and rooms; broad and unnaturally undisturbed yards of grass.
I think this is how the disciples felt, and especially the women who had loved Jesus so well. His suffering was the worst part, but then suddenly Jesus was alive again in their midst. He had truly died, and now he truly was back, with the real nail-holes still in his body. If you looked closely, though, or—just think of it—if you if you put your hand into his wounds as Thomas was invited to, you would have noticed that these wounds were somehow different. They had been burnished, had become beautiful, had been made lovely by love.
Jesus now was more real than before.
But he could not stay here as he probably wanted to. He had already traveled out of this world, through the narrow passageway of death. Out of sheer love he had given everything to the Father and now he was taking humanity with him to the heart of that dynamic, swirling, Trinitarian circle of love from which he had come in the first place. He had lingered after the Resurrection only in order to tell us about it, to comfort us, to ease the loss.
This is confusing. Which was it? Take us with him to the Trinity, or somehow let his presence stay with us after he went?
He told them to wait for “the promise of the Father” (Ascension, First Reading) rather than departing from Jerusalem. They were not going to be abandoned but were called. In a wonderful metaphor, Paul prays, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call” (Ascension, Second Reading).
Do you understand how Jesus could leave them but still be with them? The Gospel from the Seventh Sunday puts it in the following way, in Jesus’ words to God the Father:
I made known to them your name
and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them.
Jesus was to be within us. His Spirit was going to be within you and me, the fullest possible presence of Christ, the very love with which the Father loved Jesus!
How could this happen?
Answer: the Trinity. Because of the immense act of modest love that was the resurrection. Loss and absence turned into real loving presence. Our lives can now be a quiet immersion in the Trinitarian reality of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University