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A Scripture Reflection for the Ascension of the Lord

by Robin Ryan, C.P. | May 12, 2018

A Scripture Reflection for the Ascension of the Lord

May 13, 2018


First Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 42: 2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Second Reading: Ephesians 1: 17-23 or Ephesians 4: 1-13

Gospel: Mark 16: 15-20



When I was a kid, my family often watched the television show Mission Impossible on Saturday evenings. A movie version of this show was made in 1996, starring Tom Cruise and Jon Voight. I always liked the way in which the television show began. Viewers saw Peter Graves, as Mr. Phelps, on his way to some secluded location where he would discover a hidden tape recorder. The extremely serious voice on this recorder spelled out the mission that Mr. Phelps and his intrepid MI team were being asked to assume. It would say, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is ..." Viewers heard just enough of the message to get a sense of the mission, which usually involved thwarting some dastardly plot that would ruin civilization or blow up the world. At the end of the recording, the somber voice would tell us that the tape recorder was going to self-destruct in five seconds. And, sure enough, we would hear a "puff" and see smoke billowing out from the recorder (I always liked that part!). Then we would see a series of snapshots of the Mission Impossible team springing into action as they prepared for their cosmos-saving endeavor.

The genius of Mission Impossible was that it involved the viewer from the very beginning. Seeing Mr. Phelps listen intently to the tape recorder, hearing at least part of the all-important message, and seeing the "team" spring into action made you feel part of the team. This was your mission as well and, by golly, you were going to watch this show to the end in order to make sure that the mission was successfully completed and civilization was saved from the diabolical powers of evil!

The Scripture readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension (celebrated on Sunday in most dioceses throughout the United States) feature the mission of Jesus' disciples. At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that the disciples ask the risen Jesus about when the fulfillment of the kingdom of God will take place. Jesus had spoken about the in-breaking of the reign of God in his earthly ministry, and he had made that kingdom present in his words and actions. He had also promised the establishment of the fullness of this reign of God at the end of time. So the disciples understandably wonder when this will take place. But in his answer the risen Christ instructs his followers not to focus on speculations about the end of time. Rather, they are to commit themselves to the work of furthering Jesus' mission in the present, in the here and now: "... you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." The gift of the Holy Spirit will empower and guide them in this work of proclaiming the good news of the crucified and risen Jesus.

The gospel reading also highlights the mission of Jesus' followers. The risen Christ commands them to "go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." At the conclusion of this passage, we are told that the disciples "went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs." Jesus' first followers hear the message and accept the mission; they come to understand how important they are in spreading the message of God's saving love in Christ.

We may tend to associate the word "missionary" with lay persons, religious, and priests who travel to distant lands to evangelize. And certainly such missionaries have played a pivotal role in the history of the church. But each of us, wherever we live and whatever our vocation, has a missionary calling as a Catholic Christian. Pope Francis has emphasized this in his writings and various talks, stressing that every Christian is called to be a "missionary disciple." We may or may not preach; we may or may not catechize others; and maybe we do not even feel very comfortable talking with others about matters of faith. But Jesus says to each one of us who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation, "You will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth." Every single one of us is called to offer testimony to our faith in Christ and to reflect the presence of Christ to others. And the risen Jesus wants to make his presence known to people and situations in unique ways through each one of us.

The feast of the Ascension does not memorialize the absence of Christ. It does not suggest that Christ has been taken away from us. Rather, Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension make it possible for him to be present to us in an entirely new way - present to each of us in all of the particularities of our lives. He is so much a part of our lives, and we are so much a part of him, that Saint Paul can speak of believers as forming the body of Christ in the world. The closeness of Christ in our lives means that he finds ways to work through us to touch the lives of other people. It may happen through the words we speak about him, or it may take place without words in the compassion we show to others. We need to trust that we play an essential role in continuing the mission of Christ in the world today and that his Spirit is alive and active in us and through us.

As we come to the table of the Lord this Sunday, may we be grateful for the priceless gift of Christ's presence in our lives. And may we renew our commitment to make his presence known to others by our words and actions.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Robin Ryan, C.P.

Robin Ryan is a Passionist priest and theologian who serves as Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Catholic Theological Union. He received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Catholic University of America. He is the author of numerous articles and recordings on theological and spiritual topics. He edited and contributed to the book Catholics on Call: Discerning a Life of Service in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2010). He is the author of God and the Mystery of Human Suffering: A Theological Conversation Across the Ages (Paulist Press, 2011). He is the author of the forthcoming book Jesus and Salvation (Liturgical Press). He is also a contributor to and English-language editor of the forthcoming Diccionario de la Pasión (Madrid, San Pablo) and the founding director of Catholics on Call.

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