Saturday, 23 May 2020

Ascension Year A 2020

Have you watched Ratatouille? An animated movie that glorified a rather simple vegetarian dish. The title plays on the word “rat”. It is about a rodent with an acute sense of taste and smell, named Remy, who desired to be a cook. In one sequential scene, he nibbled a piece of cheese, sampled a bite of strawberry, and finally savoured both together, with each action animated in musical flurry that felt like a firework exploding in the oral cavity.

You would be wondering why this little description. If a rodent can be depicted to have such a pleasurable experience, you can imagine how magnified, many times over, sensual experiences will be for human beings. Presently, we have been asked to socially distance. A more appropriate term to describe this organisation of our social space is physical distancing because a huge facet of our life is physicality. We are not just souls but body and soul. Thus, a full life for us is a bodily life in which after our rising and assumption into heaven, and there, through our body, we will experience heavenly life in a more intense and profound manner.

Today, as the Gospel ends, the 1st Reading takes off. There, we catch a glimpse of where Jesus was heading to. The Ascension is a reminder of this possibility because it is at the same time, a celebration of our future. When the Lord ascended into heaven, He did not leave behind His human nature. He brought with Him, the very nature He shared with us. Literally, our experiences in heaven will be way beyond the phrase “out of this world”.

In itself, the Resurrection was definitely an unimaginable event. Certainly, it would be headline grabbing. Anywhere and anytime, a dead person coming back to life is newsworthy. However, we also remember that Lazarus came back to life. Or, the son of the widow of Nain. Or, Jairus’ daughter. Yet, the narratives of these three miracles of coming back to life left out a critical element—they all died again. Thus, the Ascension is the crucial difference between a resuscitation of a corpse and the resurrection of a body. Still bearing the wounds of His Passion in His glorified body, the risen Christ has ascended and is now seated at the right hand of the Father

As the previous translation of the preface suggests, Christ, the mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where He has gone, we hope to follow.[1]

From this we can gather that, risen and ascended, He has indeed opened the gates of heaven for His brothers and sisters. We have a future with Him that is not merely spiritual but also bodily. Secondly, whilst labouring on earth, we are not bereft of His presence. It is not as if He ascended and that is the end of the story. Yes, He left the Disciples but no, He did not abandon them and us.

Therefore, as the Disciples returned to Jerusalem, they were filled with joy because He departed promising the presence of His Holy Spirit. Accordingly, He will be with them through the Spirit. And we know how powerful the Spirit is acting in the Church and in the world.

However, the coming of the Holy Spirit might give us a fleeting feel that “physicality” is no longer involved in the sense that like the wind, the “spirit blows where it wants”—spontaneous and unencumbered. This image blends in with our notion of “freedom”. At times, it is even hinted that there exists a division between the Church and the Holy Spirit. The Church is regarded as too rigid whereas the Spirit is described as liberating.

Listen to what the Catechism has to say of the Church and the Holy Spirit and how they are related. The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:- in the Scriptures He inspired; in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses; in the Church's Magisterium, which He assists; in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ; in prayer, wherein He intercedes for us; in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up; in the signs of apostolic and missionary life; in the witness of saints through whom He manifests His holiness and continues the work of salvation. (CCC688)

Can the presence of the Holy Spirit be more tangibly conventional than this listing? It is not a wishy-washy Bohemian presence in which doing what we want is the highlight. For example, with regard to the Sacraments, as Pope St Leo the Great reminds us, “What was visible in the Redeemer has now passed into the Sacraments”. Every Sacrament we celebrate, it is Christ who, through the Spirit acting in the Church, is Himself celebrating it. So, whilst Christ is no longer with us in a physical way, still His presence is physical in a way because He makes Himself available to us through the Sacraments.

This perhaps explains why people are hungering for the sacraments especially the Sacrament of His True Presence. So many are asking for the churches to be reopened because they desperately need the assurance of His True Presence especially in this time of the pandemic.

Finally, if all creation came to be through Him, then the Ascension marks His return in which He brings with Him, not just our human nature, but the entirety of creation. In Him, the creation’s groanings find an answer. Yes, we still have the pandemic to contend with, but we are not living in hopelessness because, no matter how bad things are, He has established His Kingdom. In the Ascension, He showed us His dominion over all creation. All authority has been given Him. Even in this time where we feel defeated. Our hope is with Him because He has prevailed. He ascended, seated at the Father’s right hand, He pleads our case. If blood is thicker than water, heaven is certainly thicker than earth. Our lowly nature is glorified in Him. So, we have a future and we can do no better than to entrust our present plight to Him.


[1] The new translation reads like this: For the Lord Jesus, the King of glory, conqueror of sin and death ascended today to the highest heavens, as the Angels gazed in wonder. Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, He ascended, not to distance Himself from our lowly state but that we, His members, might be confident of following where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.