Awaiting The Promise Of The Father
The Apostles watch intently as Jesus gives them a parting blessing, while a cloud veils His ascension to heaven. These men have spent three years in close companionship with Jesus. They have endured the trauma of losing Him through a shameful and torturous death, the fear of suffering the same, and the immeasurable joy of receiving Him again, alive with a life that can never end. He has appeared to them, eaten with, spoken to, taught and formed them during the past forty days. And suddenly, He is gone. He has returned to the Father. The Apostles, do they walk back to the city brokenhearted? One might be tempted to think so. But St. Luke tells us, “They...returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk. 24:52).
What was on their minds as they walked back toward the city?
I imagine they want to linger and look at the place where Jesus disappeared from sight, the way you might watch a star fade in the morning light, trying to hold on to the vision as long as possible. Two angels interrupt their reverie and point them to their next task. There is no need to hold onto this place or live in the past, for Jesus has promised to remain with them always, wherever they are. Jesus has been training them to see Him in a new way and preparing them for the Gift that He and the Father will send. Recalling Jesus’ instructions “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father’” (Acts 1:4), Peter turns his steps toward the city, the other Apostles following his lead. They are “a Sabbath day’s journey away” (Acts 1:12), so there is time to be lost in thought, joyful beyond the power of expression, pondering all they have just seen and experienced. There is leisure, too, for discussion, for together beginning to plumb the depths of the events of the past forty days. They can rejoice in Jesus’ victory. It is true and complete, for He has taken His seat at the right hand of the Father. He is, beyond all shadow of a doubt, the King of Kings, immortal, all-powerful, triumphant over death.
All the same, the Apostles are about to enter another time of waiting, and they don’t know how long it will last or what lies ahead.
“Well, Peter, now what?” James asks as they draw near to the place they are staying, the house with the Upper Room.
“Now we wait, just as Jesus said to do. We will stay together and pray. …How shall we pray, John?”
“Let us gather with our Mother,” John replies. “She can show us how to pray and wait in hope.”
Well, it is just my imagination, but I could see the prince of the Apostles asking the mystic among them for advice on prayer. And surely this mystic who has Mary in his care will look to her for guidance. She has passed through two advents already: the one awaiting Jesus’ birth and the one between His death and Resurrection, when she alone kept the faith and hope of the Church alive in her soul. Yes, she could teach the Apostles and disciples about her experience of the power of the Holy Spirit, about persevering prayer, about trust in the Lord.
“All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 2:14). They waited and prayed in joyful hope, not knowing exactly when the Holy Spirit would come, but sure that He would. Jesus had promised, and God is faithful. He fulfills His promises.
On this Solemnity of the Ascension, we may not feel as joyful as the Apostles. But we do know, as surely as they, that God fulfills His promises. “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus said (Jn. 14:18). The gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption that makes us children of God, is already given—to each one of the baptized. And He wants to remain with us, with the Father and the Son, even in, perhaps especially during, this pandemic. Not only does the Lord give us the security of being with Him, but He wants to be at work in us as we navigate these difficult times. The Lord has more for us, always more. More grace—to help us grow in our ability to “see” Him and respond to His working in our lives. Tempting as it may be to remain in sadness, to hold on to the past, with either its joys or hurts, the Lord and giver of life invites us forward. As we wait for the Solemnity of Pentecost and still wait for the end of this crisis, let us ask the Holy Spirit to come upon us anew, stir up His gifts within, and teach us to be docile to His every movement. Let us, like the first disciples, come to Our Blessed Mother, that she may show us how to wait in joyful hope, persevering in prayer and trusting in the Lord. For He is faithful, and He fulfills His promises.
Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR