Lessons of the Ascension
This column comes to you on Ascension Thursday, as we celebrate the return of Jesus to heaven 40 days after His resurrection from the dead that first Easter.
This is an event full of meaning: Jesus Christ, although no longer with us physically, is indeed still alive, present, powerful, and still personally with us. He is Lord; He has dominion over time and space. "I am with you always," He assures us as He ascends.
We can also learn a lot from what happened in those days immediately following our Lord's Ascension. Recall, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, what the apostles did upon Christ's return to His father in heaven: they stayed together in constant prayer awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Think about the lessons here . . .
For one, they stayed together. Jesus had just given them a challenging, precise mandate as He ascended to heaven: "Go out to the whole world and teach . . ."
The apostles could have then bade each other farewell and taken off on their own to follow the command of Jesus. No—they stayed together, and the Church is born. We are in this together, they tell us; our lives will never be the same after Jesus, and now we are profoundly united as a spiritual family in the Church.
The Ascension teaches us that the Church is essential.
Two, they prayed. Jesus had charged them to "go out," to teach, to evangelize, to introduce Him to the world. And, of course, they will. But, He also had taught them "first-things-first," so they inaugurate the mission with intense prayer.
The Ascension teaches us prayer before action.
Three, for how long did they pray? A couple of minutes? An hour? A day?
They prayed for nine days! (The Latin word for nine is nove—this is the first novena). In the Bible, nine means "a long time." Patience and perseverance are essential to productive prayer.
The Ascension reminds us that our prayer must be patient.
Four, for what did they pray? Actually, they didn't pray for something; they prayed for the gift of someone: they begged for the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. And, after nine days of prayer, they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the answer to all of our prayer.
The Ascension teaches us that one of the best prayers we can utter is simply, Come, Holy Spirit!
Finally, with whom did the apostles pray in that intense novena between the Ascension and Pentecost?
The Acts of the Apostles tell us they asked Mary, the Mother of Jesus—who had also become their spiritual mother—to unite with them in prayer.
Thus, from day one, the Church has sought her powerful, perpetual help. She was there at Bethlehem, at Cana, at the Cross, at Pentecost. She is with us now. We can never go wrong in asking her, our blessed Mother, to pray with and for us, a message we savor particularly during this month of May.
The Ascension teaches us to pray with Mary.
There you have it:
The apostles stuck together as the Church after the Ascension;
They started with prayer;
That prayer was persevering—it lasted nine days;
That prayer was simple: "Come, Holy Spirit!"
That prayer was powerful because Mary was with them.
Something to think about these nine days between Ascension and Pentecost.