The scripture scholar, Fr. David Stanley, S.J., used to point out that the Ascension is the true feast of Christ the King. Today Jesus takes his place “at the right hand of the Father.” As our Psalm says,
The second reading describes Jesus as a ruler who effortlessly puts “all things beneath his feet.” (Eph. 1:22) Jesus, ascending into heaven, claims incalculable authority. For some this authoritarian image of Christ can be an obstacle. We are comfortable with Jesus as our brother or friend, but not as ruler or King.
Back in the seventies a priest-friend told me he was leaving the ministry. I was heartbroken because I liked him so much. He was a “free spirit,” who, not wanting to be confined by clerical dress, usually wore jeans and sweatshirt. He had a thick beard and a full head of hair, which he let grow to his shoulders. I envied his hair, but Archbishop Connolly hated it – tho he could do nothing about it. I asked him why he was leaving the priesthood. He replied, “I just feel too restricted. All the rules, you know. I want to be my own person.”
A couple of years later I ran into him on the streets of Seattle. At first I did not recognize him without his beard. Also he had a close haircut and was wearing a business suit. He told me about his job with an insurance company, even offered to help me set up a plan. “No thanks,” I said, “but how about a cup of coffee?”
He looked at his watch. “Not now,” he said, “my wife is expecting me home.”
You smile because, like me, you noticed my friend rejected one type authority for another which turned out to be even more encompassing. For sure, yielding control of our lives to a boss or a spouse is not a bad thing. But the point is that people can reject the authority of Christ and his Church, only to replace it with another which is more controlling.* Maybe it is what they desire all along.
Jesus’ rule presents a paradox. On one hand he will never violate our freedom. He wants us to become not slaves, but sons. At the same time he will not rest with anything short of total submission. Nor will we.
Sometimes people ask me why they have to suffer such horrible things. I often hedge from telling the full truth. But Saint Paul had no such reticence, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) The kingdom of God simply means his rule, not just for one hour on Sunday, but every minute. God permits setbacks, contradictions, and terrible losses – all because of his mercy. He wishes to give an opportunity for a greater grace – submission to him. “Thy will be done.”
Our bishops, with approval of the Vatican, have shifted the celebration of the Ascension to Sunday so more people would participate in this important feast. However, this adaptation should not make us forget the origin of the novena – nine days – of prayer. Jesus ascended into heaven on the fortieth day after Easter and sent his Holy Spirit on the fiftieth. The apostles spent those nine days waiting to receive “power from on high.” We recognize that if Jesus is to rule, it cannot be because of our own wit and strength. We’ve tried it – and fallen flat. It can only happen if we open ourselves to the Pentecost gift.
*Current example: Catholic Universities
From the Archives (Ascension Homilies):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
C.S. Lewis' explanation of the Ascension
Bulletin (Catholic Physicians' Conference)
Interview on Birth Control
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
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