Our Blessed Lord, appearing to the eleven gathered together in Jerusalem, summarized His own life’s mission and work with these few words:
Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.
And indeed, shortly before that meeting in Jerusalem, He had appeared to two disciples walking to Emmaus and -- although not recognized by them -- joining in their conversation had said:
Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25-26)
These two statements give us, without any doubt, the essential elements of Jesus’ mission and work: to suffer and to rise from the dead to glory. Making mention neither of His miracles nor of His preaching, He speaks exclusively of His suffering and death on the Cross followed by His rising on the third day.
Why is this so? Because of the totality of love with which He undertook and embraced His mission by the Father and the work for our salvation. Such love which could only be expressed by exhausitng the full compliment of His divinely-human capabilities, powers, and possibilities:
That the world may know that I love the Father; rise let us go from here (the Upper Room of the Last Supper). No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 14:31; 15:13.)
And this He made manifest to all when, immediately before His Passion and Death, He prayed to His Father saying:
I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began. (John 17: 4-5)
Speaking of His rising from the dead, He had previously promised His apostles:
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. (John 14:18-20)
Jesus is now in glory at the right hand of His Father, and still the marks of suffering are on His Body precisely because they are signs of His love, memorials -- in His flesh -- of how divine life and love triumphed in Him, God-made-man, over our Satan-spawned sins and death.
As God, so with Jesus, to live means to love, for God is Love; and because Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, consequently, for disciples of Jesus, he who loves most is most intensely alive, and the one who hopes for life eternal must aspire, long, and learn to love supremely. That is why St. Paul showed himself to be a truly sublime disciple of Christ when he expressed his own spiritual aspirations and aims in this passage from his letter to the Philippians:
I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (3:8-11)
Constant, far-flung preaching, detailed organizational care and unceasing solicitude, great learning and epistolary ability, miracles, personal mystical gifts ... all these were his experiences, his duties and obligations, his ever-present and ever-pressing needs, and yet his one personal aim in life, his deepest desire was to be conformed to His (Jesus’) death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
As Doctor of the Nations he would encourage his beloved Philippians to walk in this same way:
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Philippians 1:29)
Likewise, his doctrinal letter to the Romans, where he sets out his divinely authorized proclamation of the Gospel, also emphasizes the same teaching:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (8:16-17)
When speaking to the Eleven in Jerusalem after His Resurrection and before He was taken up into heaven, Jesus had promised them the special Gift of the Holy Spirit Who would enable them to carry out the commission He would soon entrust to them:
Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and remission of sins would be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.
Let us, therefore, who also aspire to become true disciples of Jesus -- both suffering and glorious -- learn from St. Paul and indeed all the Apostles how to appreciate, respond to, and appropriate, the glorious mystery of Our Blessed Lord’s Ascension now being joyfully proclamed to all nations by Mother Church.
First, and most fundamental of all for us weak human beings, we must learn to make our own the Christian ethos of joy as we respond to the Good News of Jesus:
They did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising God.
For us, that means we should be ever joyful in Jesus (our Temple) as we continually praise God for His own great majesty and power, wondrous beauty and truth, and for His ever-enduring, unfailing, goodness to us in Mother Church and in our individual lives: a paean of praise and thanksgiving!
St. Paul, however, as the apostle specially chosen for us former Gentiles, has more detailed help to offer us in today’s second reading:
May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call; what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones; and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might, which He worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens.
That is how Paul himself gradually learned to die to himself in order to grow in the love and service of his Lord and Master; let us retrace his steps:
‘Know what is the hope that belongs to His call’ … each of you has been called, drawn, to Jesus by the Father. Think on what that means. Why did the Father call you personally? Why does He still draw you? Surely, because He loves you! What did He call you for, what has He in mind for you? … Surely something wonderfully fulfilling and good!
St. Paul thought about ‘the hope belonging to his own call’ and he tells us (Romans 5:2) that:
We boast in hope of (seeing and sharing in) the glory of God!
Advising us to know ‘What are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the the saints’… Paul subsequently prayed on our behalf that we might:
Be strengthened with might through the (Holy) Spirit in the inner man!
Give thanks to the Father Who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. (Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:12)
A paean of high hope and humble gratitude, confidence and peace!!
A paean of high hope and humble gratitude, confidence and peace!!
And finally, urging us to ‘ Know What is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe’ … St. Paul’s abiding thoughts and prayers on this led him to write these astounding words (Ephesians 2:4-7):
God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
And so, St. Paul preaches still to us what he himself practised so whole-heartedly, and his prayer and meditation on the message and ministry of Christ has won Mother Church wonderful letters of instruction and guidance to help her and her children to know, love, and serve Jesus with all our heart. What he did under the special apostolic Gift of the Holy Spirit from Jesus, we too are able and are encouraged to imitate, thanks to Jesus’ Gift to Mother Church in His Eucharist Sacrifice and Presence.
Jesus’ Ascension into heaven inaugurated a outpouring of joy, praise, and thanksgiving: first kindled, as you heard, among the Apostles in Jerusalem, still nurtured by faithful souls all over the world, and triumphantly ascending with all the saints to resound eternally among the blessed in heaven. Rejoice, therefore, in Jesus’ eternal glory, exult in all His mighty works, and meditate on His saving words, for He is your Lord, your Saviour and your Brother, and He is preparing a place for you in your Father’s house!