PLEASE NOTE: In some dioceses, the Ascension is celebrated on the Thursday that is the fortieth day of Eastertide instead of being celebrated on the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This year’s reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter is found HERE.
The Ascension of the Lord [A]
Acts 1:1-11 + Ephesians 1:17-23 + Matthew 28:16-20
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
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Eager Christians sometimes ask for spiritual direction. But a common stumbling block to such direction going anywhere is the directee not being willing to practice authentic detachment.
Detachment is one of the chief truths to which the Lord’s Ascension points our attention: detaching ourselves from everything except God. Of course, this detachment is not an end in itself, but a means to something greater. In terms of the detachment that Jesus demanded at His Ascension, that detachment was a means to the goal of Jesus preparing a place for them in Heaven with God the Father.
For the Christian who wants to practice detachment more seriously, the first step is to detach oneself from all things which one puts in place of God. Secondly, one has to “cling” to God alone.
Being detached from all created things does not necessarily mean that we remove them from our lives. Rather, being detached from created things means recognizing that the happiness that any created thing can bring us is less than we imagine.
We can detach ourselves from created things in several ways. We might in fact need to remove certain created things from our lives altogether, especially if they prey on individual faults that we have. We can also detach ourselves from created things through simple penance, or what the Church calls mortification.
We also have to detach ourselves from other human beings. This, of course, is much more difficult. Sooner or later we are, irrevocably, detached from others by death. Often, the most difficult such detachment comes when two spouses who have been married for many years are separated by death. At such a time, a spouse can feel as if the world has come to an end. The mixture of faith and doubt in the lives of the apostles that we hear about in today’s Gospel Reading is similar to the faith and doubt that one faces upon separation from a loved one.
Perhaps the apostles asked after the Ascension of Our Lord: “Whom are we to cling to now?” This question would be answered in two ways. First, the apostles had to wait for another divine Person to enter their lives. God the Son was leaving them, but He promised that He and God the Father would send them God the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit to whom the apostles would have to cling.
The difficulty with this, of course, is that the Holy Spirit is “no more” than a Spirit: He is the “Holy Ghost”, without flesh and blood like God the Son made man. How can anyone cling, then, to a Spirit? Grace is something that we can only cling to “in spirit”. This means that only by our souls can we cling to the Holy Spirit. If we live according to the flesh—according to material pleasure—then only what we can see and taste, touch and purchase can bring us joy. But if we regularly practice penance—not only the Sacrament of Penance, but also giving up and denying ourselves things on a weekly basis, especially Fridays—we can continually detach ourselves from material things and thereby have a soul that seeks nothing other than God’s sheer grace.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, we hear of the apostles gathered together in that Upper Room, waiting in faith and in doubt. When God the Father and God the Son sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles received the Spirit of Jesus not so that they could remember Jesus more fondly, but so that they might put that Spirit to work, to begin building the Church here on earth. In whatever way God calls us, may we be ready and willing to serve our God by putting ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters here on earth, and so for God’s glory.