The Sixth Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 15:1-222-29 + Revelation 21:10-14,22-23 + John 14:23-29
May 1, 2016
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit… will teach you everything….”
It’s not enough in life to have a good idea. It takes time and energy to translate a good idea into reality. But when all is said and done, our entire life on this earth is short. That’s why the virtue of prudence is so important: because we need to use the time and energy God has given us to accomplish not just any old good things, but rather, the good things that God wants us to accomplish, which are the best things for us, because the ideas come from God Himself! In a sense, that’s what the Season of Easter is helping us to see.
God Himself shows us prudence in the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit from Heaven. Jesus could have remained in Jerusalem instead of ascending to Heaven. Through His divine power, He could have kept His resurrected, glorified body from ever aging, so that even today, He would still be just 33 years old. From Jerusalem He would be ruling the earth in 2016: settling disputes, and working miracles to dispel hunger and disease.
“Would not that have been a better world?”, we might ask. Why, instead, did Jesus ascend to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven, and establish in His stead a Church whose members have demonstrated in every century a lack of living the Gospel in mind and will? The Church teaches us that there are at least three reasons why Jesus departed from our midst. These reasons direct us to the divine virtues of faith, hope and charity.
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“Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, [by which] He withdrew… from us, was more profitable for us” because it can “increase our faith, which is of things unseen.” St. Thomas the Apostle stands as a contrast to this faith. Doubting Thomas would not believe until he saw the Risen Jesus. Although Thomas’ faith was real when he saw the Risen Jesus and cried, “My Lord and my God!”, Jesus asks for more from you and me. He explains this when He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
“Christ’s Ascension into Heaven… was [also] more profitable for us” because it can “uplift our hope”. We might like to imagine that the earth would be a perfect place had Jesus never ascended, remaining to guide us through this world. But it’s not for this world that Jesus became incarnate by the Virgin Mary, was crucified and rose again. Two of Jesus’ miracles in particular—the raising of Lazarus and the multiplication of the loaves—remind us where Jesus wants us to direct our hope.
Lazarus was “raised” from the dead. He wasn’t resurrected as Jesus was. Lazarus didn’t have a glorified body after Jesus raised him. Lazarus could not walk through solid doors. Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he later died again. Jesus did not raise Lazarus in order to give him immortal life in this world, because God did not create Lazarus for this world, but for the next. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was not finally about Lazarus. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was about Jesus, to reveal the power Jesus has over sin and death. Jesus does not use that power to grant people unending life on earth, but to inspire hope in us for immortal life in Heaven.
Out of the many times that Jesus miraculously multiplied loaves of bread, it’s in the sixth chapter of John that this miracle most powerfully moves us to hope for Heaven. After Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, “when [the disciples] had eaten their fill,” the people responded by saying, “ ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Perceiving then that they were about… by force to make Him [their] king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills”. The next day, when the people found Jesus, He said to them, “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’ ”. Jesus multiplying the loaves was not about eradicating physical hunger on earth. This miracle is about Jesus offering Himself as a way to recognize and satisfy the spiritual hunger we have for Heaven.
If Jesus had remained until this day on earth, it would be more tempting for people to see Jesus as an earthly Messiah, as many of His apostles did right up through Holy Week. His miracles—such as the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, and satisfying physical hunger—would be more likely perceived as ends in themselves, rather than as signposts by which Jesus raises our eyes to Heaven. His Ascension, then, raises our eyes as we follow Him, and increases in us the virtue of hope: that where He has gone, we may follow.
“Christ’s Ascension into Heaven… was [also] more profitable for us” because it can “direct the fervor of our charity to heavenly things.” In other words, we need Heaven to focus all the many different forms that virtue can take. Every virtue is meant to culminate in the virtue of charity, and all charity is meant to culminate in sharing God’s life in Heaven eternally. But here below, in our own day, each of the virtues often wanders alone. One of the greatest apologists of the 20th century, the English convert and journalist G. K. Chesterton, put it this way:
“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. … The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.”
In 2016 we also see the virtues isolated from each other. For example: there are scientists who would like to clone human beings, or even make hybrids between humans and lower animals. This search for discovery is divorced from the need for ethics: specifically, from the need to respect the unique dignity of human nature. Also, there are strict federal laws in our nation protecting the eggs of certain birds that are endangered species, and yet this desire to have compassion for an innocent unborn bird is divorced from the need to have compassion for an innocent unborn human being, a creature of infinitely greater worth. In each of these examples—as different as they are—a desire to pursue a good is divorced from the larger picture, and leaves a more important virtue out in the cold. Looking to God—the Maker of all creatures and the origin of all Truth—focuses human efforts to do good, and helps us neither to do bad, nor to do good inconsistently.
Looking up to Christ’s Ascension, then, directs all the virtues towards Heaven. Christ ascended to Heaven so that each of us could carry out our own part within His Mystical Body, the Church. You and I and all the rest of the members of His Body may not carry out Jesus’ mission as well as He would, had He remained, but even in our attempting to do so, we can grow in all the virtues, and open our selves more fully to the life of God the Holy Spirit.
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The Holy Spirit, by His Power, can move your life. We like the idea of “power”, for example, when we hear of a Mustang with 1000 horsepower. That’s a lot of giddy-up. We’d like to be behind the wheel of that Mustang. Of course, the unspoken assumption is that we would be in control of the car. But imagine, instead, if that Mustang were an elaborate remote-control car in which the steering wheel, foot feed and brake pedal were not actually connected to anything, and the car was controlled by someone else: we probably would not want to be in that vehicle.
Power interests us when we can control it, and the greater such power, the more it interests us. Conversely, power can cause fear when we’re not in control of it, and the greater that power, the greater our fear.
Here is one of the great ironies of the Christian spiritual life. There is no power greater than the Power of the Holy Spirit. But there is no way to control God. Yet sometimes we act as if we could. As an antidote to such a temptation, and to prepare yourself to celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, look at our Blessed Mother, whom we honor especially in this month of May.
The best way that you can “use” your life on earth is to hand your life over to God’s Power, like Mary. This doesn’t mean becoming a puppet, or a remote-controlled car. Look at Mary’s life as the first and best disciple of Jesus Christ. When you pray the Rosary on the Mondays of this month, you’ll pray the Joyful Mysteries, the first of which is the Annunciation. When St. Gabriel announced to Mary God’s plan for her life, he did not give her a set of blueprints, or a set of maps outlining where her life was going to take her. God instead gave her the Power of the Holy Spirit. The Power of the Holy Spirit works in and through the heart, mind and soul of the faithful disciple, giving greater freedom and control to that disciple who lives in Christ, and in whom Christ lives.
Ask Mary, by her prayers, to help you take your eyes off this world, and instead to raise your gaze to Heaven. With Mary as your Mother, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ will live in you as a member of His Mystical Body, the Church. Imitating Mary, open your life not just to doing good, but to allowing God to help you choose the best in this life. Be open and hospitable to the Holy Spirit.
 See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, 57, a.1, reply 3.
 John 20:28,29.
 See John 6:12-27.
 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. I (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 233.