The Ascension of the Lord
Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
Members remain standing while the Gospel is read. After the Gospel is read, members kiss the Gospel and are seated. After an appropriate period of reflection, members are invited to share their own lights from the Holy Spirit in relation to this Gospel passage. The secretary synthesizes reflections into a brief summary for the team.
(30 minutes) See monthly schedule
The Better Part
Consider privately reflecting on the corresponding chapter from The Better Part by Fr. John Bartunek, LC, ThD during the week.
Unit #148 – “Sent to Conquer” – Mark 16:9-20
Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary of Magdala from whom he had cast out seven devils. She then went to those who had been his companions, and who were mourning and in tears, and told them. But they did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him. After this, he showed himself under another form to two of them as they were on their way into the country. These went back and told the others, who did not believe them either. Lastly, he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’ And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.
“… That missionary responsibility must once again become strong within us: if our faith makes us glad, let us feel bound to speak of it to others. The extent to which people will be able to accept it will then be in God’s hands.” Pope Benedict XVI
Christ the Lord
With the resurrection, Christ completed his mission on earth. All that remains is for him to enter into the eternal Tabernacle of heaven, clearing the final stretch of the path he wants us to follow. On the cross, Jesus made himself into mankind’s definitive offering to God, the sacrifice that reconciles our rebellious human family with God, our creator and the source of our true meaning. By ascending bodily into heaven, Christ shows that this offering – himself – is truly acceptable to God. No longer do we need to question whether or not God is pleased with us, whether or not he has forgiven us, whether or not we can live in the communion with him that our hearts long for: if we remain in Christ (through baptism and an active life of prayer, virtue, and sacramental grace) we can be certain that our lives are already linked to heaven. As St Paul put it, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Jesus Christ, victim of our sin, has now taken his place “at the right hand of God,” which simply means that he has received all power and authority over heaven and earth. If we are faithful followers of such a Lord, we will soon take our own places at his side.
Christ the Teacher
Christ came to conquer. Before he ascends into heaven, Jesus commissions his Apostles (the “Eleven” now, instead of the “Twelve,”) to proclaim the gospel (meaning literally, the “good news”) to the entire world. He promises that whoever believes their proclamation and is baptized will be saved. He assures them that “signs” will accompany their work, to indicate to the world that God is with them.
In these few lines, St Mark summarizes the whole history the Church. Jesus Christ is the Commander-in-Chief of an army of faithful followers on earth. His Apostles are his generals (among whom Peter is the Chief of Staff), carrying out his orders to defend and extend the Kingdom of God’s truth and grace to every corner of the earth. Since Christ himself commissions his generals, we can be assured that he will work through them; in fact, for the soul who really wants to discover the newness of life in Christ, the only sure way to do so is by believing in the Apostolic preaching and receiving the sacraments through the Apostolic succession. The Church, which the Holy Spirit guides through the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, is the visible presence of Christ in time and space: as he ascends into the heavenly realm, the Apostles in turn bring him (through their mission of preaching and baptizing, and the guaranteed authority and sacramental system that fulfilling such a mission presupposes) into the hearts of men on earth. As baptized Catholics ourselves, we ought not only to give due thanks to God for having reached out to our own souls through the ministry of the Church, but also eagerly fulfill our duty to take an active part in the Church’s perennial mission.
Christ the Friend
Jesus knows that at times it will be hard for us to carry out this mission – just as it was hard for the Apostles to believe in the Resurrection. So he promises to accompany our faith with signs that will “confirm” the gospel that we hear and pass on. These signs have never been lacking in the Church at large, and even in our own lives. Every age has boasted of its saints, those men and women who have generously heeded God’s call and filled the world with miracles both visible and invisible. The Church itself has steadily increased in extension, in vitality, and in beauty, and it is still the world’s most vibrant spiritual and moral force.
In our own lives too, we have experienced the presence of God in countless ways, not the least of which is the consistent and dependable sacred signs of the sacraments. So many quiet, refreshing moments in front of the tabernacle, so much strength and consolation from Holy Communion, such deep and liberating peace after every confession… Our own experience of the Risen Lord, the Friend who never fails us, should move us to bring others closer to him, just as the Apostles were moved.
Christ has been a faithful friend who fulfills his promise; the “signs” have not waned. But have we really learned to read them?
Christ in my Life
I believe that you are enthroned and reigning even now in heaven. From there, you are working tirelessly to extend your Kingdom on earth. You are present in your Church, in every Christian, drawing each person closer to you in every moment. Your love continues to flow out upon this fallen world. You are with us; you are with me. You will never abandon me. I believe in you, Lord…
I believe in your Church, Lord. I want to stay close to you and be faithful to you, I want to do things your way, not my way, and thus I cling to your Church. You have given me a role in the Church’s mission. What a mysterious, yet marvelous reality. I have my own mission within the Church’s mission, and only I can fulfill it. Thank you for giving it to me. Help me to accomplish it with love…
I know you fill our lives with signs of your love and power and forgiveness. You have given me so many signs in my life! How you must love me! Why do you care so much about me? O Lord, make my entire life a sign of your goodness and truth. Teach me to do your will, always with docility…
Questions for Discussion
What struck you most in this passage? What did you notice that you hadn’t noticed before?
How much should the thought of Christ’s victorious presence in heaven encourage our fidelity to him here on earth?
Why do you think Christ chose to administer salvation through a Church made of normal (and therefore imperfect) human beings?
What can we do in order to become more aware of and be more positively influenced by the many signs that God uses to confirm us in the faith?