Why The Ascension Matters


Ascension[1]The celebration of the Ascension used to leave me a bit flat.  It was clear what Good Friday did for me.  And Easter Sunday’s benefits were indisputable.  But as for the Ascension, what’s in it for me?

Christianity is about a kind of love we call agape or charity.  It is love that looks away from itself to another and gives itself away for another.  The Divine Word did not become man or endure the cross because something was in it for Him.

Charity shares in the beloved’s joys and sorrows (Jn 14:28).  The first thing to remember about the Ascension is that it is about sharing in Jesus’ joy.  It is about celebrating his return to the heavenly glory to which he refused to cling (Phil 2:6-11).  It is about rejoicing that his crown of thorns has been replaced with the kingly crown, that the mocking crowd at Calvary has been replaced with myriads of adoring angels.  The Ascension is about Jesus’s triumph and glorification. If we get our attention off ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit’s love of the Son to animate our souls, we’ll experience greater joy than when we see our child hit a home run or graduate from college.

But the Ascension is not just about charity.  It is also a feast of hope.  Yes, there is something in it for us.  He goes to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:2).  We will also one day wear crowns made of gold instead of thorns.

For us to endure until that blessed moment, we need divine power.  That’s another reason we ought to rejoice in his Ascension.  He takes his place at God’s right hand so that he can pour out the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, upon his disciples (Eph 4:10).

As he ascends, he tells the disciples to wait for this power.  But notice that he does not tell them to wait passively for the rapture.  He does not instruct them to pour over Bible prophecies, debating about how and when he will return.  In fact in Acts 1:11, after the Lord ascends out of their sight, the angels ask why the disciples just stand there, staring into space.

The waiting is not to be a squandering of precious time.  It is waiting for a purpose, nine days of prayer (the first novena!) leading to empowerment.  Why empowerment?  Because they have challenging work to do.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”   (Matt 28: 16-20).

We used to think that evangelization was something that happened in mission countries far away, carried out by priests and religious.  But the Second Vatican Council told us that our own neighborhoods are mission territory, and that every single Catholic is called to be an evangelist.  Pope John Paul II proclaimed this as the “New Evangelization” because the place is new–right next door–and the missionaries are new since they include all us all.

I’m really not sure that St. Francis of Assisi ever said “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.”  But if he did, note this–Francis often thought it very necessary to use words.  His words could be heard in marketplaces, on street-corners, in Churches, wherever there were people.  Of course, preaching without an authentic witness of life is certainly counterproductive.  But forget about the idea that just the witness of our lives is enough.  It is not.  You may not called to preach on street corners, but Vatican II and subsequent popes, echoing 1 Pet 3:15, say that we all must be ready  to articulate what Jesus has done for us, what he means to us, and why he is the answer to the world’s problems.

Feel inadequate to the task?  You’re in good company. Benedict XVI’s first public statement was an admission of his inadequacy.  Do as he did–pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move in and through you, and take the time to keep learning more about your faith so that you can share it with ever greater confidence.


About Author

Grew up in Providence RI. BA at Providence college, Ph.D. in historical theology from Catholic University of America. Former professional musician and theology professor at Loyola College in Maryland and the University of Dallas. Currently owner of Wellness Business Ventures LLC and director of CrossroadsInitiative.com. Father of five.

  • Lamont

    There are those skeptics and modernists who claim that the resurrection
    is a story told by the early Christians to communicate the way in which
    they experienced Jesus as alive in their hearts and still present in the
    community of believers after the crucifixion. Despite the fact that
    many highly educated people think that this is what really happened,
    there is one thing that simply does not fit. That is the ascension.

    If the disciples were so caught up in their emotions and imagination
    that they experienced Jesus as still being present with them, where does
    this story about Jesus being taken up into heaven only 40 days after
    the resurrection come from? Psychologically it makes no sense. If the
    memory of Jesus was so strong that it empowered the apostles to go out
    and preach the gospel to the whole world, that memory would have lasted
    far longer than 40 days. In fact the New Testament should be full of
    stories reporting how Jesus appeared wherever the apostles went. But
    that is not what we find.

    What we do find is that the resurrection was followed by the ascension
    which itself was a bridge to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
    As fantastic as that may seem to some, it makes perfect sense if that is
    what actually happened. As a story that is supposed to tells us about
    what the disciples were feeling, but is not an accurate account of the
    actual historical events, it makes no sense at all.

    I personally find the attempt to explain away the most important events
    recorded in the New Testament to be incoherent and unbelievable