This week we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. All three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe this event in essentially the same way. In this moment, there are two things that occur: Jesus gives instructions and Jesus takes His place. These two things have practical implications for us today, which we will examine here.
We find in Matthew, what the Church calls, the Great Commission: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Here, Jesus gives the disciples, and by extension, His whole Church, very specific instructions. These final instructions of Jesus are, essentially, a summary of how we go about being an intentional disciple.
First, He tells us to make disciples of all nations. In other words, He only came to a select group of people at a specific point in time, but His saving work was intended for all people, for all of time. Therefore, His message needed to spread outside of Israel and into the rest of the world. The Catechism affirms this telling us, “Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations…” (CCC #54). Derived from the Latin catholicus and the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos) the word “catholic” means “universal.” Therefore, we are an all-inclusive and all-welcoming Church, desiring the salvation of souls of all people. Jesus makes this mission very clear as He directs the disciples to take His message out into the world. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that Catholics and other denominations of Christians are often perceived as not inclusive. However, we can be assured that official Church teaching is exactly the opposite. We should deeply desire that all people know and love Jesus as much as we do, for their own sake.
Next, Jesus tells us how to make disciples. Yes, we baptize them, but it does not end there. He instructs us to “teach” others what He has commanded. Jesus uses a strong and active verb here intentionally. Our faith is not a passive one. It is an active one that compels us to proclaim it to others. It is not enough to simply love and accept Jesus as your own personal savior, because He gives us the instruction to go out into the world, teaching others about Him. However, in order to do this, we must have a command over our own faith. We must know our faith if we intend to communicate it to other people. The Church and her teaching through the Magisterium are protected by the Holy Spirit (we’ll talk more about that next week), so we are provided with all the tools necessary for knowing the faith through her. We can investigate official Church teaching on any facet of the faith by using trusted magisterial resources such as the Catechism, the Code of Canon Law, and papal documents, which can all be found easily online. These days, we also have easy access to resources such as Relevant Radio (1310 AM), EWTN, and the writings of past great saints who knew their faith well.
It might be true that teaching is not your strongest charism, so large scope teaching is not something you are called to do. That’s okay! Your primary vocation is always to evangelize those closest to you, which may just be your children, your spouse, or your good friends. Even our actions can teach another person something about Jesus. So, regardless of your particular circumstances, you can heed Jesus’ instructions in some way if you are intentional about doing it.
After giving His instructions, the second thing to happen is Jesus takes His place: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). We believe the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is eternal and has existed for all of time. Jesus’ time here on earth was a specific time as the Incarnate Word of God; therefore, He was always intended to return to His Father in heaven. “Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: “By ‘the Father’s right hand’ we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified” (CCC #663). What the Catechism is telling us here is, that by ascending in His incarnate flesh, Jesus’ divinity and relationship to the Father is made clear to us. The Father’s right hand is indeed the proper place for Jesus Christ, our Savior.
What are the practical implications for us today regarding Jesus’ glorified flesh ascending to sit at the right hand of the Father? Through this act, Jesus is established as the head of the Church and we are established as His mystical body here on earth. The Catechism tells us, “Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him forever” (CCC #666). As members of His body, if we do as He commands and strive to be intentional disciples, we can live in the hope of our own entrance into heaven to participate in the Trinitarian life. Furthermore, after the final judgement, we can look forward to the resurrection of our own flesh, where our own bodies will be glorified. Just as Jesus’ wounds were glorified, so too will all our wounds be healed. Jesus shows us the perfection that awaits us for our bodies in heaven. By contrast, at the final judgement, those bound for hell will also be resurrected in the flesh, which will be another source of torment for those souls. Therefore, by taking His rightful place, Jesus calls our attention to our ultimate goal. We want to take on the ambitious task of being as much like Him as we possibly can by obeying His commands and imitating Him through word and deed.
Pray to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to reveal what the Ascension means to you personally. Read the three accounts of the Ascension and meditate on them. Allow God to show you how you might be more intentional in your discipleship so that you may teach others and better serve Him for the sake of your soul.
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