The Ascension of the Lord

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

Ephesians 1:17-23

Matthew 28:16-20


Somehow, somewhere, during early religious formation, most of us got the idea that to doubt matters of faith is sinful. Perhaps we bring our doubt(s) to sacramental confession, or at least regret them in friendly conversation. “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I can’t help thinking …”

A patient discussion of doubt as part and parcel of our human search for meaning was penned by a young German theologian, respected today as a world-class scholar, retired Professor Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

His “Introduction to Christianity,” available from Ignatius Press, is admittedly heavy, but a worthwhile read to better understand the unavoidable tension during our lifetime, back and forth, between belief and unbelief. Whether we’re in church or at the local bar, we’re trying to figure out what it’s all about.

Pope Benedict cites St. Therese of Lisieux (d. 1897), who shared the wrenching pain of her final weeks dying from tuberculosis: “I am assailed by the worst temptations of atheism.” A sister-Carmelite tried to console her as she neared her end, “You must be happy that soon you’ll see Jesus.” The Little Flower’s response, “All I see is darkness.” (“Herder Correspondence,” 7, 1962)

She stayed open to the mystery and thereby persevered, thank the Lord. She had grown up in a totally Catholic environment. Her parents are now canonized saints. She received papal permission to enter a cloistered monastery as a teenager. Often, she struggled with gnawing doubts, but her faith only deepened because she never despaired.

No need for us to ignore either side of the same coin. On the one hand, how can a loving God allow the ravaging pandemic afflicting today’s world? Yet, why did God’s Son endure the horror of the cross? Where was the Higher Power when the devoted father of Packers recruit Jordan Love committed suicide, taking the wrong medicine? Yet, how many signs tell us our loved ones are still with us after they die?

Just when we agree “you only go around once; eat, drink and be merry,” a tug inside pulls us to walk in the woods and wonder anew.

Luke addresses his Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus, “friend of God,” a title fitting any hearer of the Word open to Jesus’ final instruction and the awesome developments that followed. Matthew’s short Gospel mentions “those” among the 11 “who had entertained doubts” falling down now to worship the Risen Christ.

How confused they were understandably. Their dashed hopes during the Lord’s passion, the flight they shamefully took, the atrocity of his crucifixion, the fear they felt being associated with such a failure, and wow, the astounding shock of Easter Sunday.

Confirming good news continued with the post-resurrection appearances. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Then Jesus summoned them to a mountain, a traditional place for special revelation. They must’ve been psyched up, but they still didn’t get the essence of his mission. Their first and burning question when he appeared: Would he restore Israel’s political sovereignty? So much for his kingdom “not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Ever patient with those characters as with us, our friend and teacher directed them to wait for the Holy Spirit who would soon empower them to carry out his Great Commission to evangelize “all the nations.”

That commission still challenges the entire Body of Christ and each one of us members, an unfinished work in progress, wounded by sin. The School Sisters of Notre Dame titled an earlier document, “You Are Sent.” You and I, baptized with Christ’s indelible seal at the core of our person, have an appointed Gospel mission to fulfill.

Albert Einstein (d. 1955) was asked to what extent Christianity had influenced him. “As a child, I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.” (“Time” review of “Einstein and Faith,” 2007)

Pray with the Ascension readings. Where is Jesus sending you?