On Christ’s Ascension

A reflection by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

In John 15 and 16, Jesus tells his apostles that He is about to return to His Father – I can imagine there was a great heaviness in His voice due to His imminent passion and death, but then it seems that a light breaks through the darkness when He speaks of the coming of the Paraclete.  He tells his apostles to actually get excited, because He is about to send them the Holy Spirit.  And we should be excited, too.  We should feel the excitement of this time leading up to Pentecost.  Jesus has died for you.  Jesus has risen for you.  Heaven has been opened for you.  And Jesus continues to pour out His Holy Spirit on you.  What a glory.  What a joy!

Some lovely “Ascension clouds” over the Abbey of St. Walburga

Luke tells us of Jesus’ Ascension in his Gospel: “Then he led them [out] as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them.  As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.  They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:50-53).  Let us do the same as the apostles – let us go to church, full of excitement for what’s coming, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Let us imitate the zeal of the apostles in the early Church, who lived as though Jesus would return any minute.

We also hear a description of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles: “When they had gathered together they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He answered them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’  When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.  While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11).  So, I encourage you, every once in a while, remember to look up at the sky.  Is He there?  One day, He really will come, whether it is in our lifetime or not.  The fact that it’s going to happen is glorious –  And we will be taken up to meet Him in the clouds (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17).  Think about this!  We should be excited to hear about these things and ponder them, and respond by living full of expectation for His coming.  I hope we can all live with the spark of joy that this news brings, because the world needs the joy of God.

“The departing Jesus does not make his way to some distant star.  He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space… Because Jesus is with the Father, he has not gone away but remains close to us.  Now he is no longer in one particular place in the world as he had been before the ‘Ascension’: now, through his power over space, he is present and accessible to all—throughout history and in every place… ‘We have come to know a threefold coming of the Lord.  The third coming takes place between the other two…his first coming was in the flesh and in weakness, this intermediary coming is in the spirit and in power, the last coming will be in glory and majesty’ (In Adventu Domini [by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux]).”

Pope Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week”

The Gift of the Spirit

A reflection on Pentecost Sunday by Mother Maria Michael Newe, OSB

In Eden, after the Fall, the focus of Adam and Eve that was once directed toward God and eternal things was drawn to earth like a magnet. Love was twisted from being centered on God to being centered on self, and this is the great tragedy of our fallen state. But Pentecost changes everything for us. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to strive to love rightly again. The gift of the Spirit prompts us to hate the weeds (our sins) that keep trying to take root in our souls. Our goal should be to return to Eden in our souls; and we do this through contrition and Reconciliation, responding to the Spirit’s promptings to continually uproot our vices by sorrowing over them and seeking the loving mercy of the Father. Remember the parable that Jesus Himself uses to teach us about the love of our Father in Luke 15, and let us never tire of running to the One who receives us as the loving father receives his prodigal son.

Not only does the Spirit grant us the grace of conversion; various virtues and gifts are given as well. In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, we read her beautiful insight into how the Lord deigned that we each receive different virtues in order to build each other up, to build up the Body of Christ for the good of the world. The Lord said to her, “Why do I give this person one virtue and that person another, rather than giving them all to one person? It is true that all the virtues are bound together, and it is impossible to have one without having them all. But I give them in different ways so that one virtue might be, as it were, the source of all the others. So to one person I give charity as the primary virtue, to another justice, to another humility, to another a lively faith or prudence or temperance or patience, and to still another courage. … I have distributed them all in such a way that no one has all of them. Thus have I given you reason—necessity, in fact—to practice mutual charity. For I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me” (click here for full text of The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena). How very cunning of the Lord to make us need one another. Do you know what your primary virtue is? Ask! Ask! I need your gifts. The Church needs your gifts. Strive eagerly to know our virtues so that we can serve each other well. Remember that without the virtue of love, all the virtues count for nothing. Yes, above all, we must strive to love as God does, first of all by allowing ourselves to be loved by God. Then we will restore Eden in our souls, and in this way bring the Kingdom of God to earth. May we all do this, and may He bring us all together to life everlasting!