Dear fellow pilgrims,
Today in Mass, I continued to ponder the answer to the Lord’s assertion that “it is better for you that I go” amidst a day of celebrating my completed PhD at NYU in Developmental Psychology (AMDG—all glory to God, y’all). I had never thought of the answer within a view of my own discipline…thinking about us as children, and having the disciples, the Church, needing to learn what it’s like to not always have Jesus, their ultimate caregiver, around. After all, in the development of a child’s life, they eventually have to be able to function without the constant help of a caregiver as they get older and more responsibilities are given to them.
In other words, it’s easier to have faith in Jesus when He is in front of you doing miracles and you are physically encountering Him than it is when you are believing without seeing. (But, just for the record, even believing when He was on earth was still a challenge!) And what is Jesus constantly about in our lives? Seeing that we grow further and further into deeper trust and faith in Him. While Jesus was on earth, He subjected himself to being in one place at one time, and in a way, gave up the ability to be present to everyone everywhere in the same way that He can be now, post-Ascension and post-Pentecost.
He left us because you can’t have a deep faith without embracing a space of unknowing. Thomas rejected that space, demanded concrete evidence, and even though our Lord was gracious to meet him where he was, He also acknowledged the superiority of “believing without seeing” over believing because you saw.
Thinking about this dynamic more, I realized that the way I typically have thought of the Ascension (i.e. Jesus itching to ascend and FINALLY get back home, just waving bye-bye to the disciples as they all stare as He ascends slooooowly up towards the clouds) might not have been so one-sided on the angst part. Being a parent and learning to let go is HARD (and my kid is only 15 months old!), so it occurred to me today that Jesus was probably not so unaffected by the disciples pleading. The tone of “it is better for you that I go,” is one straight from a loving Father’s mouth, trying to show that He is doing something that upsets his children only because it is ultimately for their good they could not find from following another way. Saying goodbye to His disciples was probably very challenging, even though He was also intensely joyful to return to Heaven!
The priest today at Mass recalled the words of some saints who have mentioned similar pleas to their loved ones on their deathbeds: It is better for me to intercede for you in Heaven than it is for me to be with you here. Getting to Heaven means joining with the Source of all life and love and holiness, and the Holy Spirit is like the electrical current that flows from that source (going with Grace’s power analogy from Tuesday). It’s like Jesus had to draw the circuit board of salvation history in order to reconnect humans to God, only He could pave the way or connections between Heaven and earth, and He could only truly connect Heaven to earth in the way originally intended in His mission if He returned to Heaven.
But…there is still the waiting after the Ascension. There is still this gap, an empty channel soon to be filled, but the disciples did not know exactly when the Holy Spirit would come! It has never occurred to me that the days after the Ascension were probably filled with similar angst among the disciples as were the days post-crucifixion. “Ok…so He told us to wait in Jerusalem…but not for how long…and what exactly did He say would come to us, again?”. The Lord has left them “for good,” or so it seems like, and they have directions to follow but are uncertain as to the specifics of expectations.
I invite us all to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes after the Ascension—what would you do if you were in their place? How would you feel after you lost sight of Jesus arising farther and farther into the sky…when He turned from a speck in the air to unable to be seen…maybe it was a foggy day and they lost sight quickly…insert yourself into the scene, and reread passages from different Gospels, praying through instincts that arise when you dig deep into what it would be like to be there. Take note of your responses and what it says about how you could pray for deepening your faith.