Weekly Reflection (16 May 2021)

The Ascension Of The Lord, Year B

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 4:1-13
Mark 16:15-20

Christian living in the secular world.

On Thursday this week, we commemorated the Ascension of our Lord Jesus to heaven. In some parts of the world, like Australia, the Ascension of The Lord is celebrated this Sunday, replacing the 7th Sunday of the Easter Season.

What does the Ascension of Jesus tell us how we should live as Christians? For many believers, Christian living is merely something we do on Sundays and special occasions like Christmas and Easter. We come to church, sing a few songs, say a few prayers, and the job is done. Outside that hour or so we spent in church each week, we are no different from the rest of the world. After church, we go back to living our secular life – we live, behave and speak just like anybody else. We do not read or contemplate on the Bible regularly; we do not pray regularly; and most importantly, we do not emit Christian joy in our daily living. In truth, if Christianity is merely what we do for an hour each Sunday, we are just nominal Christians.

Why is our faith lukewarm? There are many reasons. Firstly, some of us had our faith passed on to us from our parents. As a child, we would do what our parents do, say what they say, but often blindly. As we grew up, we never really reflected on the meaning of our beliefs and our practices. Consequently, our faith has not matured into an adult faith. Secondly, as we enter into adulthood, we were seduced by the glitters of life – by materialism, egoism and secularism. All of a sudden, God, who have never been close to us in our hearts, has become even more remote. Thirdly, even if God remained a presence in our heart (albeit a distanced one), in a highly secularised and relativistic world, it is often easier to not show our faith and be seen as a believer. We do not want our faith to attract attention, which are often negative attention. Consequently, we are reluctant to speak about our faith or our Christian values, lest we attract the wrath of the secular society.

But Jesus teaches us otherwise. Christianity is not what we do, Christianity is who we are. He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) The Ascension of Lord brings this promise to fruition. If we think it is hard being a modern-day Christian, have no doubt, it was not any easier in Jesus’ day. While Jesus walked on earth, He was often challenged, undermined and ultimately, He was put to an unjust death. But such is His love for humanity. Jesus does not just love his disciples and followers; he loves his enemies and would do anything to win over their hardened hearts. And it is only through His silent submission to injustice that He could (and in fact did) win over many hardened hearts. Indeed, as He gave up His spirit, the Roman soldiers who crucified Him exclaimed, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mt 27:54)

Hence, before Jesus can ascend, He must first descend. It is through His descend that He set free the captives – you, I and our hardened hearts. As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.” (verse 9-10) Jesus invites us to follow in his footsteps, to take up our individual crosses and follow Him (Mt 16:24). Only when we are prepared to descend with Him that we may ascend with Him. But to do this, we must first be freed. We must be prepared to contemplate the significance of the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross, and open our hearts to His grace. Only then can we free ourselves from the captivity of materialism, egoism and secularism. As St Paul said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (verse 8)

But this is not easy. For most of us, like the proverbial frog boiling in the pot, we are comfortable in our sins. Stepping out of that comfort zone of sin and into the light of Jesus calls for sacrifice. Two weeks ago, we reflected on how St Paul suffered much for his conversion. The Jews and Hellenists wanted to kill him and the disciples would not accept him as they were still suspicious of him. (Acts 9:25-29) Christian living is to live in this world but yet do not belong to it. Hence, rejection by the world, as St Paul experienced, is inevitable for a Christian. As Jesus prayed to the Father in the Gospel for the 7th Sunday of Easter, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (Jn 17:14-15)

In a week’s time, we will celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended in the disciples. Jesus promised in this week’s First Reading, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (verse 8) When we received the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation, He gifted us with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These are the gifts we need, not just to hold steadfast to our faith in this hostile world, but to live out our calling. St Paul said in the Second Reading, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (verse 1-3) And further on, he said, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (verse 11-13)

My brothers and sisters, in truth, if we truly open our hearts to Him, we will be like the prophet Jeremiah who said, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” With the zest of Jeremiah, Jesus commanded us in the Gospel, “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (verse 15). This is exactly how the disciples felt after witnessing Jesus’ Ascension. In the Gospel of Mark we read this week, it describes the enthusiasm of the disciples, “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.” (verse 20)

My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: what about me? I too have been baptised in the Lord. I too have received the gifts from the same Holy Spirit. Am I ready to forego my reservation, go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ? And let us do so “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Second Reading, verse 2-3) Let us go forth. Amen.

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