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Ascension and Mission

Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, May 12, 2024. VII Sunday of Easter. 

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Mons. Francesco Follo

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 08.05.2024).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, May 12, 2024. VII Sunday of Easter.

Certainty and joy.

In the Creed we recite: “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father”. Which means that we believe in the fact that the humanity of Christ has entered the heart of the divinity and where there is God there is heaven, and love is heaven on earth. Therefore “ the Ascension does not indicate the absence of Jesus, but tells us that He is alive among us in a new way; he is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension; now it is in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each of us.” (Pope Francis, General Audience , 17 April 2013).

It is therefore correct to say that one of the teachings that come to us from the fact of the Ascension is that we too can rise high, but only if we remain tied to Jesus. If we entrust our life to Him, if we let ourselves be guided by Him, we are certain of being in safe hands, in the hands of our savior, of our defense lawyer. “In our life we are never alone: we have this lawyer waiting for us, who defends us” ( Ibid .).

Another teaching is that we must be clear that entering the glory of God requires daily fidelity to his will, even when this requires sacrifice and accepting our daily cross, because : «the elevation on the cross signifies and announces the elevation of the ascension into heaven” ( Catechism of the Catholic Church , n. 661). In this ascent “the crucified and risen Lord guides us; with us there are many brothers and sisters who in silence and in hiding, in their family and work life, in their problems and difficulties, in their joys and hopes, live the faith every day and bring, together with us, to the world lordship of the love of God, in the risen Christ Jesus, who ascended into Heaven» (Pope Francis, General Audience , 17 April 2013)

A third teaching comes to us from the first reading of today’s Mass, which proposes the fact of the Ascension as told by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. It concerns how to have within us the joy of the Apostles, caused by the certainty of the constant presence of the risen Jesus in personal and community life.

This certainty and this joy can be ours if with a sincere mind and heart we ask for the blessing that Jesus gave to the Apostles as he ascended to Heaven.

In this way we too, like the Apostles, will experience the fact of the ascension of the Risen One not as a detachment, a permanent absence of the Lord.

In this way we too will have confirmed and increased the certainty that the Risen Crucifix is alive and that in Him the doors of God, the doors of eternal life, have forever been opened to humanity.

In this way, on the day of the Ascension, we too can have in our hearts the pain of leaving, but also the certainty and joy of the constant closeness of Christ, even if in a different way compared to his earthly life. “He, who two thousand years ago was a single man in history, still continues to live in history today as the soul of the Church” (HU von Balthasar).

  Ascension and Mission.

In the short story (third reading this Sunday) that Saint Mark gives of the Ascension, we see that, more than on the fact of the Ascension, the risen Jesus invites us to draw the consequences of his ascension to the Father: the Apostles and with them all Christians of all times we are his mandates, his missionaries sent to bring the Gospel throughout the world: » Then they set out and preached [1]everywhere, while the Lord worked together with them and confirmed the Word with the wonders that accompanied them» ( Mk 16, 20). Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples go into the world. But Jesus’ departure is not a true absence, but rather another mode of presence: «The Lord worked together with them and gave foundation to the Word» (see ibid. ). “ Ascension is not a cosmic geographical path but it is the navigation of the heart that leads you from closure within yourself to the love that embraces the universe” (Benedict XVI, 10 March 2010).

This invitation of Christ to embrace the universe, announcing the Gospel to all men: «Go into all the world» ( Mk 16, 15), was not perceived as madness, but as a mandate of charity to bring salvation to everyone.

With ascension there is a turning point in the path of redemption. From Jerusalem where the mission of Christ was accomplished, who on the Cross said: «It is finished», the redemptive mission entrusted to the apostles expands into a universal dimension. The until then compact group dissolves physically speaking, but not emotionally. While the Redeemer «departs» towards heaven, the apostles each depart in a different direction from a geographical point of view, but deeply in communion with each other and with Christ. Tradition specifies what each person’s destination would have been: for Peter Antioch and Rome, for Matthew Ethiopia, for Thomas India and so on. But our thoughts go in particular to the apostle about whom we are informed with a wealth of detail, Paul of Tarsus, the tireless traveler who brought the gospel to present-day Turkey, Greece and Rome. And after him we thank the innumerable group of missionaries who for twenty centuries, with the heroism often expressed by martyrdom, continued and continue the work of the apostles, to make as many people as possible participate in the good, holy, true life and happy that the Gospel of Jesus has been announcing and realizing for two millennia. Like them, we become missionaries of joy, announcing to the world that God is a communion of eternal love, it is infinite joy that does not remain closed in itself, but expands in those whom He loves and who love Him.

It is truly miraculous that from eleven men it was possible to develop an «organism», the Mystical Body, in which millions and millions of believers found themselves and continue to find themselves. Humanly impossible; the explanation lies in the words reported: “The Lord acted together with them”. And with a very specific purpose. The compact group, made up of Jesus with the first apostles, did not dissolve, it spread throughout the world. They have not dispersed: they are united in faith, love and hope. The hope, in particular, of recomposing ourselves in unity, in the presence of Him who has preceded us all to His Father and our Father.

The verbs used by Christ to send him on a mission maintain their relevance:

– ‘go’ indicates the dynamism and courage to immerse yourself in ever-new situations in the world;

– ‘proclaim the Gospel’ , so that people become followers not so much of a doctrine, but of a Person;

– ‘believe’ in the announcement of a faith, which certainly includes a knowledge of its truths and the events of salvation, but which above all is born from a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ, from loving him, from trusting in him, so that all life is involved.

– ‘baptize’ indicates the sacrament that transforms and inserts people into Trinitarian and ecclesial life. Baptism, the sacrament that gives us the Holy Spirit, making us become children of God in Christ, and marks entry into the community of faith, into the Church: one does not believe on its own, without the prevention of the grace of the Spirit; and you don’t believe alone, but together with your brothers. “With Baptism, we are immersed in that inexhaustible source of life which is the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love in all of history; and thanks to this love we can live a new life, no longer at the mercy of evil, sin and death, but in communion with God and with our brothers» (Pope Francis, General Audience , 8 January 2014).

The missionary nature of Virginity.

It is beautiful to reflect on the last words of Jesus, as he sends His people to preach in the midst of this world which, even if it does not appear, needs the infinite, the truth, the love, the hope, the joy that Heaven is and has.

It is a task that makes us tremble today, it is so big.

It is a task that seems not for poor human beings such as we are, but for Angels, which is why Jesus ensures His Presence «by working with us and confirming His Word with the miracles that accompany it» (see Mc 16,20) .

It is a task for all the baptized, because thanks to Baptism all Christians become missionary disciples and are called to bring the Gospel to the world.

But what is the missionary modality of the consecrated Virgins in the world?

It is that of being icons, living images of the virgin, poor and obedient Christ (see Second Vatican Council, Decree on the renewal of religious life, Perfectae Caritatis , 1) before the ecclesial and human community.

And how can I not «paint» Christ alive?

Through a communion with God and with our brothers and sisters in humanity, which is not diminished but increased by the solitude in which they are called to live. Virgins are such and are missionaries if they «use» their affection and their body as Christ used it: not to possess or be possessed, but to give communion to all those they encounter.

In short, the singular vocation of consecrated virgins in the world indicates a clear mission: to exalt the dignity of women by bearing witness, in the life of the world in which they remain immersed, to the full sense of the love they have received from Christ Jesus to give it to their brothers and sisters in humanity.

[1] The task is to «preach», a term that deserves an explanation. It does not simply mean giving an instruction or an exhortation or an edifying sermon. The verb «preach» indicates the announcement of an event, of news, not of a doctrine. This is decisive news: it is not just information, but an appeal. The Gospel preached becomes credible and visible from the signs that the disciple performs. But these must be signs that reveal the power of God, not that of man.

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