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Tossing us the keys to His Kingdom

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | May 30, 2022

The term “American wake” originated in Ireland in the mid-1800s during the potato famine, when emigration to America over the Atlantic was a dangerous one-way ticket. An American wake is similar to a funeral wake, giving relatives and friends the chance to grieve the permanent departure of loved ones. The family would never again see those destined for American shores.

Why isn’t the departure of Jesus in the Ascension also a cause for sorrow? Let us count the ways.

The Ascension completes the mission of Jesus.

Jesus’ Ascension into heaven fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah: “…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is 55:11) Jesus accomplished His mission of redemption. We need the Ascension of the risen Jesus to bring us into eternity in loving union with Him.

The Ascension honors our freedom.

The disciples misunderstood the mission of Jesus even up until the Ascension. They asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) If the resurrected Lord walked among us until the end of time with the disciples, we also would expect Jesus to wield messianic political power and set all things aright—by force, if necessary. Jesus would be a miracle worker, the “bread king,” the “go-to” man in troubled times, wielding a sword of justice. The fear that suppresses our freedom to choose evil would replace love as our motive to choose the morally good. Created in God’s image, our freedom is essential.

The Ascension establishes faith as the central component of our relationship with Jesus because God honors the freedom He gives us.

Post-Ascension faith reconciles time and eternity.

Faith is universal and heavenly. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) Time or space no longer binds His Incarnational presence. Henceforth, we encounter Him in faith in His Word and—above all—in His glorified body under the appearance of bread and wine in Holy Communion.

Just as the Incarnation reconciles God and sinful man, our God-given faith in Jesus after His Ascension reconciles time and eternity within us. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1)

Our faith is that of the Church.

We can easily abuse personal encounters with Jesus. James and John lobbied the Lord for most-favored-disciple status: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mk. 10:37) At the Last Supper: “a dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (Lk. 22:24)

After the Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in faith, we realize we all have our indispensable complementary roles as members of His Mystical Body, the Church. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12-13)

God gives us the dignity to continue His work according to our state of life as members of His Church.

The purpose of faith is the love that keeps the Commandments.

The love that Jesus asks of us goes beyond the intimacies of personal relationships and even affection. He teaches: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15) The resolve to keep His commandments requires faith in Him and hope for eternal glory.

As members of His Mystical Body, we seek a dialogue with Jesus that is not primarily a matter of pious affection, as rewarding as that can be. The Ascension reinforces the inner need to listen to His Word, speak with Him, walk day-by-day in union with Him, be obedient to His will, trusting that His heavenly graces will mysteriously and certainly guide us on our pilgrim way.

Jesus, through the Sacraments, sustains our faith and love.

Our faith needs continual fortification. After the Ascension, His presence is changed, not ended. Our “personal relationship” gives way to a relationship rooted in faith, giving us confidence in His assurance: “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

The rivers of the Sacraments refresh us. We hear the Word of God and respond in obedience: “Do this in memory of me.” We encounter the risen Lord in Holy Communion. The Mass sends us forth into the world. We live our lives as members of His Mystical Body, striving to remain faithful to Him. We manifest our love for Jesus by our love for others, a love purified and directed by our confidence in Him, with a faith that is only possible after the Ascension.

With His grace and our faithful response, human sentiment and tenderness find true meaning. “For now we see [by faith] in a mirror dimly, but then [in heaven] face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:12-13)

As members of His Mystical Body, we represent His face to others with human-—and divine-—love and affection: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn. 13:34)

Here’s the gist: During the Ascension, Jesus tosses us the keys to His Kingdom, revealing our dignity, duties, and destiny. The Ascension is a one-way ticket to glory and a cause for great joy. Drive safely.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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