“By sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes our advocate.”
Tomorrow is Ascension Sunday. In the Gospel reading Jesus said to his disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
In one of his reflections on Ascension Sunday, Pope Francis observed that in all stages of Jesus’ life, he prays. Thus, in the last hours of his life, he prays, in the sorrowful moments, as he prepares to take leave of his disciples and this world, Jesus prays for his friends. This even as he bears all the sins of the world, the Holy Father said.
By praying, Jesus is keeping the faith. Even in the last moments of his earthly life, as he is to ascend to heaven to the Father, he keeps his faith by praying. This is also what he is telling his disciples who, knowing that he is leaving, must be feeling disheartened and dejected. Yet, as the Holy Father observes, Jesus, in every moment looks up to heaven to pray.
Jesus’ ascension also teaches that even as he is to go to heaven, he never really abandons his disciples. He remains with them as he promises to send the Holy Spirit who showers the faithful with the plenitude of spiritual gifts, gifts that will sanctify, strengthen and make him yearn more and desire more intensely the love of God. It is for this reason that the fear, anxiety, grief, and gloominess of his leaving is transformed into profound hope, hope that someday, they will be together with God in paradise.
As already said, Jesus returns to the Father. But he promises to send an Advocate that will endow his Mystical Body with sanctifying gifts. This very same promise turns the disciples’ trepidation into joyful hope knowing that Jesus’ leaving is not a form of abandonment, but the ultimate manifestation of His divinity. “They worshipped him.” The Scriptures say. By his ascension, the physical Body of Jesus disappears from view so that, by sending the Holy Spirit, his Mystical Body appears to us. Ascension is therefore a loss as it transforms into joyful hope.
By sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes our advocate. As the Holy Father once reflected:
“We have One who always defends us, who defends us from the snares of the devil, who defends us from ourselves and from our sins,” said Pope Francis. He added “Let us not be afraid to turn to him to ask forgiveness, to ask for a blessing, to ask for mercy! He always pardons us, he is our Advocate: he always defends us! Don’t forget this! The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us with this deeply consoling reality on our journey: in Christ, true God, and true man, our humanity was taken to God. Christ opened the path to us. He is like a roped guide climbing a mountain who, on reaching the summit, pulls us up to him and leads us to God. If we entrust our life to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands, in the hands of our Saviour, of our Advocate.”
Then the pontiff continued “ . . . Ascension does not point to Jesus’ absence, but tells us that he is alive in our midst in a new way. He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us. In our life we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us, who defends us. We are never alone: the Crucified and Risen Lord guides us.”
In a world where there is much chaos, destruction, and utter disregard for the value of human life much like what we are witnessing in Ukraine, in the mass killing of children in the United States and so many other places, uncertainty, and insecurity with the drums of war getting louder, there is much need to look up to heaven, pray for strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit. For without the invisible support of God’s spirit, we will easily fall prey to evil, and give in to despair and hopelessness. As in John 15:4-5. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
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