Ascension (Acts 1:1-11)




            The Ascension is a celebration of Jesus the Missionary, active, through his Spirit, in the believing community. It is a celebration of the Church sent to the world. The Church is essentially missionary, and, like Jesus, we are the servants of all to whom we are sent.


            In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus says: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).


            There is something special about the power that Christians receive from the Risen Lord. It is not a power to manipulate or to dominate people. Jesus warned us about that when he said: "You know that among the pagans ... their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant" (Mk 10:42-43).


            So the power we receive from the risen Lord is the power to serve people. The value that we place on every human being is based on the Christian experience of God’s becoming man, living, dying and rising to eternal life.


            The Son of God willingly accepted the human condition in all its imperfections, except for personal sin. Jesus accepted even rejection, torture, and wounds resulting in bodily death, and he rose above it all to live with God in his human body. His life, death, and rising give priceless value to every human life. Consequently, my life is worthwhile. Every person’s life has value.


            In the account of the Ascension that we read in Acts, we have the power-hungry friends of Jesus asking, even in their last moments spent with him, "Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Their level of thinking is no higher than that of the pagans, whose leaders "make their authority felt". Jesus doesn't attempt to correct their thinking or to answer their question. That will be the work of the Holy Spirit. That sort of power is not for them, but the Holy Spirit will give them power to be his witnesses.


            This is the sort of power that enabled Mother Teresa to do what she did for the dying and abandoned people of Calcutta. It's an extraordinary power of unselfishness, a heroic power to serve derelicts when others can't stand the sight or stench of them. Their life has value in view of the life, death, and rising of Jesus.


            This was the same kind of power that enabled St Francis to care for the lepers outside Assisi. Furthermore, he cited his encounter with lepers as the determining factor in his conversion to a penitential way of life: “The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world” (Testament, 1-2).


            The power conferred by the Risen Lord turns the bitterness of repugnant and painful experiences into the sweetness of spiritual elation and even into the lightening of bodily burdens. This has been the experience of Christians, including the followers of St Francis, both religious and secular. They have gladly taken the roads that led to the lepers of their day, while remaining “simple and subject to all” (Testament, 19).


            Secular Franciscans, “in the spirit of minority, should opt for relationships which give preference to the poor and to those on the fringe of society, whether these be individuals or categories of persons or an entire people” (General Constitutions, 19). “Let them exercise their responsibilities competently in the Christian spirit of service” (Rule 14).


            Francis had his missionary vocation confirmed by the advice of Sylvester and Clare: “The venerable priest and the virgin dedicated to God came to the same conclusion: that it was the divine good will that the herald of Christ should preach” (Major Legend, Chapter Twelve, 2.).


            Secular Franciscans, "mindful that the Holy Spirit is the source of their vocation and the animator of fraternal life and mission, should seek to imitate the faithfulness of Francis to His inspiration. They should listen to the exhortation of the Saint to desire above all things, "the Spirit of God at work within them'" (General Constitutions, 11).


            The Church is essentially missionary. Every member of the Church is sent to the world to serve the world. Every one of us can rely on the promise of the risen Lord, that we will receive power from the Holy Spirit to snap out of our selfishness and to serve the needs of people, especially those who can’t repay us.