16 May 2010

Ascension and Communication

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 1:17-23; Lk 24:46-53

Both the First and Gospel Readings narrate the Ascension event. Jesus ascended to heaven not to become “once more” a distant God. For that is how the people in His time thought of God, a concept shared by some world religions, and, at times, even by individual Christians then and now. God is almighty and all-loving but He is far from us. He lives in unreachable light.

The history of salvation tells a different story. It is in fact the story of how the Father gradually dispels the notion of a distant God. He not only intervenes in history but sent His Son to be one of us. Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwells among us; God with us. St. Paul in Col 1,15 exclaims: “He is the image of the invisible God!”.

And Jesus is not about to change that. Rather, by His ascension, He reveals further that He is not just the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews, He is the savior of all humanity. He makes known the universal nature of His mission.

Eph 1,22-23 (from the Second Reading) says: “(The Father) put all things beneath His feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

In order to make known to all His universal lordship and spread His saving message to all the nations, He sends His disciples as witnesses.

Acts 1,8 (from the First Reading) says: “You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Lk 24,48 (from the Gospel Reading) says: “You are witnesses of these things.”

What doe is it mean to be a witness? For a Christian a witness is
1. one who has a profound experience of God; and
2. one who provides testimony about the Faith.

1. A profound experience of God. The first disciples are witnesses of how Christ lived. They experience the privilege of having Jesus share meals, wisdom, and presence with them. Yet even those who are not able to “see as they see, and hear as they hear” are not at all bereft of experiences of God. For God reveals Himself to us in so many ways.

A profound experience of God is an overwhelming realization of God’s love for us. Or it may be a quiet sense of peace in the midst of a crisis or period of sorrow. Or an inspired insight on how everything works for the good to those who trust in His faithfulness.

It is important that we experience firsthand God’s love. Otherwise, how would we testify to it? The seeming lack of evangelistic fervor among many Christians, especially Catholics, may be indicative of a lack of an experience of God’s love as well.

2. Providing testimony about one’s faith. The ascension event is always associated with the “great commission”. God’s love is not something meant to be kept by individual Christians or guarded like some esoteric secret by Christian communities, it is meant to be shared to everyone.

a. Media

It is thus no coincidence that the World Communications Day is celebrated on Ascension Sunday. The Good News is spread through the various media of communication. Through centuries the Church has employed every means available to spread the faith: missionary preaching, writing the gospels and epistles, copying manuscripts, the printing press, radio, TV, the internet etc.

In his message for the 44th World Communications Day, Pope Benedict recognizes the need of the Church, the clergy in particular, to do pastoral ministry in the digital media.

To illustrate the power of digital media: do you know how long it took for radio to reach 50 million users? 38 years. It took TV 13 years to reach that audience. The internet, a mere 4 years. And the Ipod, 3 years.

That is why our diocese maintains a radio station (Veritas Legazpi), a printing press (Ave Maria Press), and a publication (An Bangraw). Our neighboring Diocese of Sorsogon has a TV station. We are also currently putting up again our website. We even have a page on Facebook. And there are still so much more that can be done using the digital media for evangelization.

b. Message

However, more important than the media is the message. It is called the Good News not so much because it reports of a happy event, but because it is about a saving event, a life-changing event, an epochal event.

Lk 24,47 (from the Gospel Reading) describes the Good News as a call to “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, (to) be preached in His name to all the nations”.

During his visit to Fatima in Portugal this May 13, Pope Benedict delivered a message in his audience with the Portuguese bishops. I would like to share a brief quote from his message:

“In truth, the times in which we live demand a new missionary vigor on the part of Christians, who are called to form a mature laity, identified with the Church and sensitive to the complex transformations taking place in our world. Authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ are needed, above all in those human situations where the silence of the faith is most widely and deeply felt: among politicians, intellectuals, communications professionals who profess and who promote a monocultural ideal, with disdain for the religious and contemplative dimension of life.”

It is a great challenge to preach to a world that does not want to be reminded of its sins, that selectively chooses the conveniences of freedom while attempting to shut out its inescapable consequences. Yet there is no other way for the Gospel to be preached but to talk about repentance and conversion, for without them there is no forgiveness of sins. And it is only through the remission of sins that Grace may enter and take hold of our lives.

c. and the Messenger

We are messengers of the Good News to the world, tasked to witness to the love of God working in our lives. How are we in terms of becoming, what Pope Benedict XVI calls, “authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ”? How is our witnessing during the recent elections?

For most of us here who voted, some of our candidates won, others didn’t. What about God: Did God win in the elections? Or have we also lost our witnessing at the sight of a few hundred peso bribe from candidates?

As Filipinos we dream of building a better country. However, as Christians, we dream bigger, we dream of building the Kingdom of God. The campaign period is over for the candidates. Our campaign to win people for Christ continues. This is the mission of Ascension Sunday.

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