This article was originally published by Instituto Humanitas Unisinos, as part of the Ministry of the Word in the Voice of Women project
We are in the 7th Week of Easter and this Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.
When I was little, I remember my maternal grandmother singing “Up, up, up to heaven I go!” and I kept imagining people ascending into heaven in the same way I imagined Jesus ascending into heaven when I listened to the account of the ascension in the Acts of the Apostles. And I felt a mixture of weirdness, contemplation, and joy. Based on these three dimensions, I would like to propose some reflections for this solemnity this year.
Let’s start with the weirdness. In the first reading, the disciples ask: “Lord, has the time come for you to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) It is interesting to see how, even after everything they had already experienced and witnessed of Jesus’ way of living and being, the disciples were still attached to the Jewish messianic expectation of a liberation that is at once social, religious, and political. Jesus does not deny the expectations of his disciples but challenges them even further with an answer that requires a lot of patience: “It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). The way Jesus lived, was, interacted and communicated with others, and revealed himself as the Son of God made his disciples feel strange. Jesus did not establish the liberation that the disciples expected, but revealed the liberation of love that puts itself at service, the love that reveals itself through the power of sharing the bread, the power of communal relationships, the power of humanity’s relational capacity, the love that consequently creates processes for social, religious, and political liberation. The Father’s authority that Jesus mentions does not fit within the human logic of an imposing authority. By the way Jesus reveals himself, he reveals that the authority of the Father is an authority of love and communion. Pope Francis would later say: “time greater than space” (Evangelii Gaudium 222). Jesus initiates the process of integral liberation of humanity which, by the power of the Holy Spirit we have received, can be witness to the earth’s remotest ends (see Acts 1:8).
Still with that feeling of weirdness, let’s move on to contemplation. Jesus’ answers to his disciples and the ascension that follows demand from us today this movement from the mind to the heart: to pause, to breathe, and to reflect. What does it mean to be Christ’s witnesses to the earth’s remotest ends? (see Acts 1:8) The disciples felt a bit lost and “were still staring into the sky as he went” (Acts 1:10). At the same time, they could no longer see anything because a cloud took him from their sight (Acts 1:9). And in that brief moment of looking upwards, the disciples could hear the question: “Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11). So a new challenge arises for the disciples: to look at the Earth again, but this time with a renewed gaze that will be empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that even today it is still difficult for us to really look towards the Earth. Not only because of our tendency to relate to God as if he were far above us, but also because of the pain and angst we feel when we look at our Earth and see how far it is from being a place of love, justice, and communion. We live in a time of socio-environmental crisis, a complex crisis that connects to all spheres of humanity as it is concerned with the way we use natural resources and distribute them, the way we think and create our public and private spaces. It is a crisis that is rooted into the selfishness and self-centeredness of human beings. And in the face of this crisis, Pope Francis tells us that “the best antidote against this misuse of our common home is contemplation” (General Audience, September 16, 2020). Contemplation leads to a caring attitude–an attitude that needs to be nourished and exercised the same way we exercise our muscles when we are weak. It takes time and patience to recognize, each and every day, the beauty of God’s creation on this earth and among all his creatures. As we cultivate and exercise this contemplative gaze, we learn to love and, as the Brazilian saying goes, “when we love, we care”.
Let us now go into the feeling of joy. In the midst of this infinite cosmos of a universe whose proportions we don’t yet know, we, tiny creatures of this Earth, have the ability to contemplate not only creation itself but also the good news that is for all creation: for us humans and our common home. This is why we can acclaim with the psalmist: “Clap your hands, all peoples, acclaim God with shouts of joy” (Ps 46(47):2). Jesus promises his disciples the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Ruah that empowers us to be witnesses to the earth’s remotest ends and which is also what sustains the greenness of life, the vital force or viriditas, as Saint Hildegard of Bingen would call it. We therefore ask, borrowing Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians, that the Divine Ruah “may enlighten the eyes of your mind so that [we] can see what hope her call holds for [us]” (Eph 1:18).
This year, the Solemnity of the Ascension will be celebrated on the same day Laudato Si’ Week begins, a week in which each year we celebrate the anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care for our common home. And the theme for Laudato Si’ Week this year is “Hope for the Earth. Hope for Humanity”. In this great event of the Ascension, when the Son returns to the Father’s lap, Jesus takes in his own lap his communion with creation as a human being. He, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (see Mt 28:18), inserts the mystery of creation into the mystery of the Holy Trinity as it is through him and in him that all things are and exist. Could there be greater joy and hope?
In this Solemnity of the Ascension, may we truly feast and celebrate Easter, the certainty of life’s victory over death, and proclaim the good news to all creation to the earth’s remotest ends; the good news of liberation processes for new times of love, justice, and communion, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And thus may we also sing like my grandmother used to sing: “Up, up, up to heaven I go!”
Laudato Si’! Praise be to God!