Sunday: Jesus Is Not in the Sky

TheAscension“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”

That’s what the angels ask the apostles at the Ascension, and that’s what they ask us, too.

This Sunday is Ascension Sunday (Year C) in most of the United States — Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha celebrate Ascension Thursday.

Why are they looking up at the sky? They left everything to follow Jesus, they worried when he died, were dazzled by his Resurrection appearances and have just witnessed his last amazing act, as he disappeared into the sky.

They have been lulled into a kind of stasis by it.

They are supposed to “The promise of the Father” and “be baptized with the Holy Spirit” or “clothed with power from on high.” after that, they are to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This is a huge, difficult transition for them.

The Master had directed their lives throughout his public ministry. Their job was simple: Do what Jesus says. Now he won’t be there in the same way for them.

It would be like this if an airplane pilot-instructor ending a training session by strapping on a parachute, telling his crew that they now have to finish the flight — and then leaping out of the plane.

It is, in fact, exactly the situation new organizations find themselves whenever visionary founders who built up an exciting company leave. Those who remain are left to wonder, “What now?”

It is also the transition that the Church has to make in our time. The Second Vatican Council saw the Church facing the modern world and called for a particular emphasis: The laity had to step up their participation in the Church’s mission. There followed years of misunderstanding as the Church figured out how to follow this new direction.

Pope John Paul II led the way, promoting the mission of the laity through encyclicals, the World Youth Days and the Jubilee. Pope Benedict XVI embraced that emphasis in the Synod on the New Evangelization. Pope Francis has promoted it throughout his pontificate, as well.

Suddenly, like the apostles on the hill of Galilee, we might become aware that we are standing, dazzled by it all. We might feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.

We shouldn’t be. The instructions are the same and the means are the same: God doesn’t expect us to do the impossible for him, he expects to do the miraculous through us.

St. Paul sums it up: the Father has raised Christ up and “put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body.”

Christ isn’t in the sky. He is here, among us: In the tabernacle, we have access to his very life, and in his Church, we have access to his truth.

The thing to do is to look to Pentecost and invite the Holy Spirit to come and change us, as it changed the apostles, from a lost and bewildered flock staring at the place he left into the body of Christ, looking for the next place he can go.

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.