Pastoral Message – May 21, 2023
About seven or eight years ago, my Dad was volunteering as an English tutor to non-native speakers. Most of the folks my Dad tutored were Japanese or Korean folks around his own age – my Dad was in his 80s at the time. So having a chat, I asked him what he found interesting in tutoring these folks. He told me it was fascinating for him to try to explain things he took for granted – language, culture, American stuff really. He had to think more deeply about what things meant so he could explain concepts to them.
To illustrate his point, he asked me “What’s the difference between ‘good-bye’, ‘farewell’, ‘so long’, ‘see ya later’, ‘bye bye’, ‘take it easy’, or ‘good night’”? Well, they all mean the same thing. But some phrases are formal. Others are casual. Some indicate a type of relationship. Some indicate familiarity (i.e. “Don’t be a stranger” or “Toodle oo”). Some show a mood or emotion. Some indicate a long separation. Others anticipate a short time apart. That was how the chat went.
Now while I don’t remember the conversation verbatim, I do remember my Dad ending the conversation, saying – “As Christians, maybe we should say ‘Adios’. That literally means “to God”. (My dear ol’ Dad liked to show off a little bit by speaking the 14 or 15 words he knew in Spanish. Words he remembered from his High School Spanish classes at Westport High School in Kansas City, circa 1945. What my Dad might not have known, but what I found on the internet today – “goodbye” is thought to be a contraction from 15th Century English – Godbwye – or “God be with ye”. So in saying Goodbye, we’re commending folks to God.)
Think of today’s feast, the Ascension of the Lord, it might seem that Jesus is saying, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye”. But there’s more to this event than a simple “peace y’all, I’m outta here.” Think more deeply about it. What does it mean? And how would you explain Jesus’ Ascension to someone you might tutor in our Catholic faith?
First, Jesus is leaving the planet but at the same time He isn’t leaving us. In our 1st reading today, Jesus ascended into heaven, but in our Gospel reading He is also quoted saying, “behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” It’s a paradox y’all! Another example that our Christian faith is chocked full of paradoxes.
Next, the physical separation of Jesus Christ from his Church on planet earth isn’t typical at all. The way Jesus ascends to heaven is very much a singular and miraculous parting. Physical bodies don’t ascend. But a glorified, resurrected body of the Son of God obviously ascends very well. Might that not give us hope for our earthly, not yet glorified, but constantly being broken down bodies? And might not that give our souls ever more weight and importance?
Finally, Jesus’ ascension is a whole lot less a separation, and very much more of a revelation. Once again, God reveals who God is by way of a paradox. Jesus Christ is ascended to God the Father into heaven and the Holy Spirit is descended to us – individually, communally as Church, and to the world for the sake of existence. The anticipation of the Holy Spirit’s descent is at the center of the theology of this feast.
So even though the Apostles who witnessed Jesus ascending were utterly amazed and flummoxed, if we were there, knowing what we now know, we’d have no problem saying “adios” to Jesus. He is going to God the Father. And at the same time we could also shout out a heart-felt “Goodbye” to Jesus because we know that God is with me and ye. We can embrace, holding tightly, the paradox of grace, revelation and salvation. And we would then, and still now, wait with joyful hope for the fullness of God’s Spirit to fall on us. So let’s implore the Lord both now and always, “Come, Holy Spirit, (descend on us). Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”