Fr. Bryan Howard
Ascension of the Lord – Year B – 13 May 2018
In the Bible the number 40 represents a time of preparation. In the time of Noah, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, preparing the earth for renewal, and preparing Noah to receive God’s covenant, Moses spent 40 days fasting on Mt. Sinai preparing to receive the Law and the 10 Commandments, Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan, preparing to begin his public ministry, and on the 40th day after his resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven, but he spent those 40 days preparing His disciples to receive the great gift of the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to ascend to heaven? Why couldn’t he just stay and run the Church himself instead of entrusting it to the Apostles and their successors? Jesus even said, “It is better for you if I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” So Jesus went to heaven to send us the Holy Spirit, but couldn’t He have stayed with us and still called the Holy Spirit? There are a few reasons why He didn’t do that, and, while I’m hesitant to speak for Jesus, I think it’s safe to say that his physical presence would distract us from a far more profound way that He is present with us. If Jesus Christ was here in this Church in His human body, that is what we would focus on; how many questions we would have for Him, the things we would ask Him to do for us, and the praises that we would heap upon Him. As amazing as that would be, we have to realize that baptism is a far greater blessing. In our baptisms, through the Holy Spirit, God comes to dwell in our souls. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, makes His home within us. This is the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made to us, that it’s better for us if he goes, and that He would send the Holy Spirit.
If this is true, then why do most Catholics, and indeed most Christians, live basically the same way that everyone else lives? It’s because, though we believe in Jesus, most of us haven’t taken the time to examine our faith and internalize it. For the most part, when we make all of the decisions that come our way, we think about them in the same way that everyone else thinks about them, and come to the same conclusions. If God is real, and He really became man to reveal Himself to us, and He really dwells in our souls through the power of the Holy Spirit, that changes everything. We must not take our faith for granted, but take the time to learn it, to understand it, and to live it. Even the Apostles needed to prepare to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; they spent three years with Him before His crucifixion, and then 40 days after His resurrection. We have to do the work of preparing ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit every day, so we can live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We may well ask, “What difference does it make? Why should I practice self-denial and self-discipline and sacrifice? I’ll live my life my way.” If I rely only on myself, my own strength, knowledge and ingenuity, well, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll eventually fall. That my own strength isn’t sufficient for the trials ahead of me. Therefore, I make a leap of faith and decide to trust in the Lord even more than I trust in myself. If I entrust myself to Him, then I know that He’ll give me the grace I need. Even if I go through dark times, I trust that He is guiding me back into the light.
How can I trust God if I don’t know Him and how He is working in my life? There are at least three things you can do to get to know God better and to be a better disciple of Christ. First, the morning offering. Every morning when you wake up, the first thing you should do is make your Morning Offering. Personally, my brain doesn’t work well enough when I first wake up to pray spontaneously, so I have it on a card on my bedside table. I’ve posted a good one on the parish website: olol-church.com. This way, you learn to start every day by offering everything you do that day to God and asking for His help. Second, when you pray, think about how God has worked in your life in the past. How has He guided you, either directly or through other people? How has He comforted you, encouraged you, or challenged you? This will help you to recognize these things in the future and respond to them better. Third, read the Bible. Learn the history of salvation, which teaches us how God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. Our Spring Bible Study is just about to close, we have one more meeting on May 24 at 6:30 in the PCC before breaking for the summer. We’ll start again in the Fall, so look out for announcements on that. We’ll be going through the second half of Genesis. St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” and when you read the lives of the saints you realize that they all loved the Bible. It contains everything that we need to know for salvation. Whether you go to a Bible Study or not, everyone should read the Bible a couple of times each week, perhaps by reading the readings for the next Sunday’s Mass ahead of time.
The whole point of the feast of the Ascension is that Christ ascended into heaven so we can join Him there one day, but we have to trust Him and follow Him in order to get there.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.