Today we celebrate the feast of Ascension, though it should have occured last Thursday because, as it is written in the Acts, that is the 40th day after Jesus’ resurrection. However, the Church moves the feast to this Sunday not only for our convenience but because of the weight of its importance: the Ascension is the last event of the Paschal Mystery of our Lord. The previous events include His passion, death, resurrection and today, we celebrate His glorification or ascension.
We call these events the Paschal Mystery because nobody can fully comprehend the events that happened in Jesus’ life. For example, the passion, why did Jesus, God the Son, have to suffer? Why did He not use power to prove His divinity instead of dying painfully and shamefully on the cross? Likewise, in the resurrection, why did the disciples only see Jesus’ emptied tomb instead of witnessing that He came out of it as in the case of Lazarus? The ascension is also described very simply in the Bible. As we hear in today’s first reading, after speaking to the disciples, probably a group of twenty or thirty people, Jesus was “lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.” That’s it! No fanfare, no cheers, no other explanation!
We are living in the 21st century with media minded and the advances in science/technology, so we are not satisfied with such simple descriptions of very mysterious events. We want to know more about the Paschal Mystery; we want to understand every detail of Jesus’ life. Moreover, we want to prove to the world that we are right about our faith, after all.
Unfortunately, we do not have that kind of information in the Bible. Only because it is not a book of history or science in today’s understanding. We do not open the Bible to calculate the precise time in history. We do not look for science in the Bible because it is developed many decades later. Instead, we read the Bible to know who God is and what He wants to communicate to us.
Returning to the Paschal Mystery, as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus every year, the Church encourages us to live our own “paschal mystery”, figuratively that is. We are invited to give up anything that hinders us to become a better person in light of the Gospel. We are invited to die from our old self to become a new person – a “resurrected person” – day by day, and that cycle must continue until our last breath. So today, I will try to share an approach to live the Paschal Mystery in our daily lives.
First, we must clearly acknowledge that the Passion of Jesus does not mean a contemptuous to our flesh. In the past, out of piety, the mortification of the flesh was understood in literal meaning to repent our sins by wearing a sackcloth, as well as self-flagellation, to share in Jesus’ Passion. That idea has changed. God creates us with body and soul, and the commandment “You shall not kill” also means we must take good care of our body. We need to be healthy to live appropriately to our dignity and to contribute to our society.
In modern day interpretation, mortification of the flesh means to control our behaviors and desires by doing things that are very simple and tangible daily. For example, exercising or completing chores within the household. For our bodies’ benefit, we should exercise regularly, or try to control our appetite by abstaining from foods that are not healthy for us. The same applies to doing chores; these repitious acts help us to overcome our laziness and to strengthen us spiritually. Many small successes will lead to a bigger one and that will result in the avoidance of sin. Instead of “mortification of the flesh”, we mortify our bad habits.
Second, from Jesus’ suffering on the cross, I learned that true love involves sacrifice. In my opinion, the greatest but hardest sacrifice is one’s ego. Just as Jesus forgot His ego in order to obey His Father till His last breath, we too should not put ourselves above others - not even our own children. Everyone, no matter younger or older, naïve or wiser, demands respect. There are many troubles within families and communities that stem from the lack of respect. Like Jesus, we should humble ourselves and recognize that we have something to give and gain from one another. We need to be open and listen to each other to correct ourselves as well as help one another to achieve salvation easier.
Third, about our faith in God. Living in modern society, a successful event should be well organized, well-advertised to draw a big crowd. This may be true in politics, economics or entertainment areas, but in faith there is a difference – a vast difference. Jesus’ quiet resurrection was really victory over death and only those is in love with Jesus will recognize that. Love will lead to faith. When we are in love, we will accept everything, and try to understand its meaning despite failure. And that is faith. Faith in God does not guarantee that He will help us succeed all the time. We recognize that God has His own way, and often that is hard for us to accept. We want the easy route, but Jesus said that will lead us to destruction (see Mt 7:13). We want riches, fame, power, but God shows us the way to Calvary. So then, what is the benefit of believing in God? The benefit for us in modern society, here and now.
Believing in God helped me recognize the real meaning of life. We try hard to have a degree in education, a good job in our profession, or even a good standing in society to prove to ourselves and to enjoy our life. Yet we are not satisfied. We still thirst for value; we still hunger for something until we look at Jesus on the cross when He had nothing left, yet it was then that His life was full of value because He emptied himself fully to serve God and us.
Jesus shows us that what matters most in our life is to serve, not to be served. He did not mind washing His disciples’ feet because in doing so, He proved to them that services make us valuable. And so, our life finds its meaning when we serve. A mother or father is valuable because they serve their families. The value of a person is not dependent on their degree or possessions or position, but the work done for others. When we serve, we see the meaning of life and that gives us peace – a peace that the world cannot give.
Finally, the quiet resurrection of Jesus tells us that a real peaceful person has no need for worldly recognition. That is the peace we are seeking. The peace of being conformed to Jesus, similar to the ascension: we are glorified by abiding in God.
Living our paschal mystery is a way of bearing witness to Jesus, just as He commanded the disciples. We do not rely on power to evangelize the world, but we try to live our vocation fully – the vocation that is inspired by the love of God and others.
The Ascension of Jesus does not mean now He stays away from us in heaven. Jesus did not leave us alone. If heaven is where Jesus is, we can be with Jesus in prayer, in communion, in receiving the sacraments and especially in doing good works for others.