by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
The feast of Jesus’s Ascension to His Father’s side at the end of His time on earth comes across as an interesting but entirely otherworldly celebration. This is especially the case in Mark’s one line version of the event: “Then the Lord Jesus… was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19). At first glance we see very little practicality here – just a glorious conclusion to Jesus’s life, preaching, death and especially his resurrection. (This year, Ascension is May 18, with most dioceses celebrating it on Sunday, May 21.)
Drilling deeper, however, find New Testament details directly relevant to our lives, 21 centuries after the event.
The Acts of the Apostles begins with Jesus’s directive to the disciples just before his departure “not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.” (Acts 1:4) Luke’s Gospel similarly reports: “Behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) A great lesson for the need to wait on the Holy Spirit especially in times of uncertainty.
Again, in the Acts, at that same moment of Jesus’s leave-taking he says: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) With the clear hindsight of 21 centuries, that mandate applies to all of us who have come to believe in Jesus and recognize the vocation to continue his mission.
Finally, at the moment when Jesus faded from the sight of his disciples “two men in white garments stood beside them”; they said “men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” (Acts 1:11) No doubt that this was a challenge for those first followers of Jesus, and for all called to the same discipleship: come back to reality and get on with the task He has left in your hands.
And that task in a word means pointing out and promoting God’s reign inaugurated by the Lord, and destined for all places and all times.
The good news of this Ascension Day message is that it has become an ongoing reality. The Good News has reached every corner of the earth. The fact that in so many areas it has not been received in no way minimizes this incredible accomplishment: the message of this person who left this world after what might on the surface seemed a failed mission but which has been preached everywhere. The fact that He left his work unfinished should console us as we try to carry it on. In the telling words in “Oscar Romero’s prayer,” written by Bishop Ken Untener: “We are prophets of a future not our own” just as Jesus was.
In the last century the Holy Spirit has inspired a Gospel understanding of the new contours which efforts on behalf of God’s reign present. Along with growing awareness of living in a globalized world, Catholic Social Teaching guides us in following Jesus’s Ascension Day mandate. The task has become not only that of personal salvation, but one of evangelizing structures and systems which govern every level of society. The call now is to affirm every aspect of organized human activity: politics, law, government, including the institutional Church, which promote authentic human development. It also means denouncing any such structures which diminish the human person.
This “new grace of the Holy Spirit” is more demanding that any former evangelizing challenge in the course of salvation history. But it is ours. Gratefully we are not alone in meeting it. Pax Christi and all similarly authentic efforts to proclaim and live into Christ’s message in our times gives us the courage and companionship to be the Lord’s witnesses today “in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.
2 thoughts on “Jesus’s Ascension Day mandate”
Fr Joe’s lines that stood out for me were: “Along with growing awareness of living in a globalized world, Catholic Social Teaching guides us in following Jesus’s Ascension Day mandate. The task has become not only that of personal salvation, but one of evangelizing structures and systems which govern every level of society.”
It would be very good if Assisi House, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker and Pax Christi would urge all people of faith or no religion to be at American University on Saturday, June 10th. It was on this day, 60 years ago that John F Kennedy made what many believe his most important speech. It was a call for global disarmament starting with the US. Catholics could help educate our globalized world today to follow what JFK urged in 1963.
His call to use diplomatic tools and not tools to kill may have led to his assassination. The world needs to know of JFK’s message. Let’s work together to make it happen.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament
Yes, “Let’s work together to make it happen.” However, we may have to set the example in order to see real progress. Even the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral according to Pope Francis. So, let’s start nuclear disarmament unilaterally.