A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
Saint Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, tells us here that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So, is this the actual historical day when Jesus ascended to heaven? Maybe, but this same Luke writes in his Gospel, and John writes in his Gospel, that Jesus ascended on the day of the Resurrection. We do not know the exact day. What is much more important for us is that Jesus told his disciples that “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you.”
With respect to his bodily presence, Jesus is leaving, but he is sending his Holy Spirit to be with the Church and with each one of us. We all have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but we need to accept this most precious gift, the very presence of God in us. It is possible to turn away from the gift or even turn against the gift of the Holy Spirit. What is more likely, it is possible to simply forget about the gift of the Spirit or believe that it does not apply to us, or to give up on the Spirit when we fall into hard times and the Spirit seems absent or at least silent. Yet, the Holy Spirit of God never leaves us and becomes present to us in sometimes unexpected and amazing ways. Let this be our prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit.”
(Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20)
“Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” Where is there joy in your life now? How are you thanking God for whatever or whoever is giving you joy, even amidst sorrow and frustration?
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians
This is a beautifully poetic description of the power of the resurrected Christ. “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Remember, Paul is speaking to a people who knew power, a fierce, often unjust and unloving power, the most powerful force in the world, the Roman Empire. They lived in constant fear and with few real rights, a poor beaten people. In the face of this, Paul talks of “the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” Take that, Roman emperor! We have a different kind of power that you can find only in Jesus Christ. It is an eternal power from the man you killed but who defied death, rose again, and lives forever in the presence of God and in his Mystical Body on earth, the Church, which survives your empire.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
The author of the Gospel makes a stunning remark, that even after seeing Jesus alive, knowing that he had been crucified and buried, the eleven apostles “doubted.” Did Jesus rebuke them or reject them for their doubt. No. According to the author, Jesus told them to go out and preach the gospel to all nations, and they overcame their doubt and did as he had asked. Doubt is a nearly universal experience for Christians. Exemplars of our faith, including St. Teresa of Calcutta and Thomas Merton have experienced it. But Jesus understands our limitations, embraces us as his followers and friends, and encourages us to carry on his mission on earth. When we doubt, we must remember his promise: “I will be with you always.”
Painting: Part of Rembrandt van Rijn's Passion Cycle for Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange (1636). Public Domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.