The Ascension of the Lord.

Liturgically, this time of the year, from Palm Sunday up to Pentecost is rich with spiritual insights, leading hopefully to spiritual awakenings within ourselves.

Last week in my blog, I focused on the word Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus, which is a form of invite for the Lord to touch us deeply with his loving presence.

The standout word this weekend is Emmanuel. Matthew’s gospel ends with a phrase found also in the first chapter of the same gospel in which we read about an angel saying to Joseph in a dream,

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

And his name shall be called

Emmanuel

                            Mt: 1 23

In the final line of the same Gospel, the meaning associated with the word is repeated,

Remember, I am with you always,

To the end of the age

                                                                    Mt 28:20


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Last week, I quoted Thomas Keating echoing these same sentiments about the presence of the Lord, when he said, ‘we don’t have to invite the Lord, to come to us, because he is ever present.’ What is required is ‘letting go of ourselves’ and entrusting ourselves into the Lord. The Prayer of Abandonment scripted by St Charles de Foucauld speaks of this same capacity:

Father,

I abandon myself into your hands;

do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:

I am ready for all, I accept all.

 Let only your will be done in me,

and in all your creatures –

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

 Into your hands I commend my soul:

I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,

for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,

to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,

and with boundless confidence,

for you are my Father.

Amen. 

 

 Within the Christian tradition we speak of the Real Presence. This term suggests a tangible connection between myself and my God. I’m not referring to a happening within my head. We are speaking of mattes concerning the heart

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;

what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.

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It’s the difference between Belief and Faith.

In the creed every Sunday we pray:

I believe in God, the Father almighty….

Yet one might leave the church after Mass and, over a cuppa with a friend, say, ‘I wonder if there’s anything up there at all!!’’ On the other hand, the person with faith, will speak of the mystery & joys of being in relationship with the Lord.

 

The parable of the Pharisee and Publican is a good illustration of this difference between the two. The Pharisee on entering they synagogue, goes up to the Holy of Holies and actually spends his time there praising himself and all the goes he does. What’s happening here is that ‘using God’ if that is possible in order to bolster his own self-image.

The Publican, on the other hand, aware of his deep need to repent, kneels at the front door, and prays earnestly for forgiveness. We’re told that the Pharisee leave the place of prayer discontented, on the other hand the Publican feels that his burden is lightened as a result of his precious encounter.

 

The feast of the Ascension highlights a strong link between Absence and Presence. In the 1st reading from Acts, as the writer briefly recounts the public ministry of Christ, it seems that the time he spends with his followers, instructing them and leading by example, didn’t fully succeed. We read,

‘When they had come together, they asked him,

Lord, is this the time

when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?”

 

After his departure, they are now plunged into a new awareness of presence, described so well in another scripture passage, the Emmaus story, when after the risen Lord leaves them, the two disciples say,

Did not our hearts burn within us while

He walked with us along the road

While he opened to us the scriptures.

Luke 24:32.



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The creation of a physical distance has a real value as explained by Ron Rolheiser,

 

‘The Ascension names and highlights a paradox that lies deep at the center of life, namely, that we all reach a point in life in which we can give our presence deeply only by going away 

so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits’


Some parents know only too well the pain of letting go their young adult child for the first time, be it to college, or worse still, abroad.  

To refuse to let go without giving a blessing could truncate life of the other and cause misery for self. Young people leaving mammy and daddy, have to fend for themselves and in the process hopefully find themselves and also discover a renewed appreciation of parents.  

In a radically different context, the sadness and loss that comes with death, can be so difficult, until the grieving person lets the loved one go with their blessing and in the process discovers a new sense of presence with the absent one.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And, when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

“For Grief” by John O Donohue Benedictus


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During these times of social distancing, we are also discovering a renewed sense of respect of others, even strangers who pass our way. I notice in passing people on the way down to Silver strand, a nod of the head with strangers, a fleeting meeting of eye contact, or just a smile, even an awareness of the other person without any noticeable contact is a precious acknowledgement that we share a common humanity.
 

Thinking about it; the Ascension could be classed as a most appropriate feast for present times. We are asked repeatedly to create a physical distance between ourselves and others. After many weeks attempting to do so, we are discovering a greater sense of community.

Emmanuel

God is with us.