Q: Archbishop J, the Paschal mystery: how does it relate to family life? (Pt 7)
You know how hard it is when your children go away for an extended time, when one goes off to university, for example. Feelings of inadequacy and worry set in. Did you do enough for this child? Does he have the proper foundation? Will she be able to stand on her own two feet? What if he messes up and does something really stupid? These are just some of the anxieties parents can have when a child leaves for university.
The time of separation is often filled with great apprehension. Much of the parents’ dread is often about how the child’s actions might affect the family. As we say in Trini— “How it go look?”.
If they mess up it will show the family as inadequate and reflect badly on the parents. But this time of separation is also a time of great anxiety for the child as well. All the bravado dissipates into nervousness around making friends, being part of a group that accepts you, being able to succeed, and making all the great decisions required for success. This is a moment of great anxiety.
Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes now. His disciples had failed by every standard imaginable. They denied Him, they ran away from the cross leaving Him all alone. They showed neither character nor spine during the Passion. This is after three years of intense formation that Jesus gave them. They messed up big.
He told them they would, but Peter told Him it would not be so, “Not me!”. They proved to be utterly untrustworthy. From this perspective, what Jesus does in the Ascension makes no human sense. He places complete trust in a group of men who had let Him down, over and over again.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we learn of Jesus’ earthly ministry for 40 days before the Ascension. St Luke says: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). See also 1 Corinthians 15: 3–8.
From all accounts, the Resurrection appearances were phenomenal. Jesus had their attention. He reinterpreted Scripture for them, showed them that the Christ was to suffer and die. He also showed them that all of Scripture pointed to Him.
Jesus during these 40 days did a really great job in getting the apostles’ attention, opening their eyes, breathing new courage in them, and redirecting them to the Kingdom of God.
So why did Jesus leave the disciples after 40 days? When He left, they were still locked up in the upper room in fear. Why did He leave? If it were me, I would have stayed around for another 2000 years doing the super-appearance thing, sitting with them and opening humanity’s mind to the truth, settling the disputes, making the will of God abundantly clear, and ensuring each vital figure knew their path.
There would have been no Atlantic slave trade—He would have sorted that out. There would have been no forced missions where people converted or died. No Hitler or Jewish holocaust.
Popes, priests and religious who felt lost would have received an appearance and been put right. The terrible dark legacy of the Church would not have been. So, why did He leave?
Growing us up
One important reason, I believe is connected to the reason we must separate from children when they reach young adult status. It is important for them to grow up. As long as you are there to pick up the pieces and sort out the mess, they will not take ultimate responsibility.
There are many young people who were never given the opportunity to grow up. They continue to live with parents who do everything for them, clean their room, cook their food, and pick up after them. Even when they work, they do not contribute to the house, so they have more disposable income than the parents.
The Ascension is an essential lesson for families. There is a moment when children must stand on their two feet—and grow up. And you must withdraw and allow them to take up their lives. This is what Jesus did for us.
In His Ascension, we see God’s complete trust in humanity. He does not have a plan B—in case we fail. The mission that the Father entrusted into Jesus’ hands is now completely entrusted into our hands. If we fail, it fails. God fails. This measure of trust and confidence is worthy of deep contemplation.
Unity in His Body
The Catechism identifies another reason for the Ascension. We are drawn into the Holy Trinity.
The Father’s power “raised up” Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity. Jesus is conclusively revealed as “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead”. St Paul insists on the manifestation of God’s power through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus’ dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship (CCC 648).
This mystical connection between Christ and His body, the Church, means that through His ascending, we too have ascended with Him. We too partake in the grace of the Trinity. He said He was going to prepare a place for us in Heaven (Jn 14:1–3).
Further, Colossians states: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him (Christ) to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (1:20).
Where the head is, there, too, the members are destined to go. Jesus has opened a way for each of us and our families to participate in the divine life of grace while here on earth. This is more precious than His sticking around to sort us out. But also, we are now destined for Heaven. We need to learn to live in and through this reality.
The Ascension is God’s invitation to grow up and to participate in the Holy Trinity.
Contemplate the trust and affirmation that God has put in us and the invitation to participate in Him.
Acts 1: 1–11