To us who celebrate it every year the Ascension of Jesus seems to naturally follow the initial celebration of his Resurrection.
However I imagine it was an earth shattering surprise to his followers that he would be leaving them yet again.
When I reflect on this event as part of the rosary the virtue I link to the Ascension is detachment as I see him beautifully disappear before the eyes of his followers as “a cloud removed him from their sight.”
The family of believers had to let go of their expectations that Jesus as they knew him would permanently remain to walk and talk with them. Again they had to face that Jesus was not about to get rid of the Roman occupiers either. There would be no restoration of the Davidic Kingdom in the literal way they had thought of it. And the One they loved was going to withdraw from them yet again. They must have felt as if they were back from the defining experience of their lives with nothing to show for it, as if they were just a rag tag group of people standing on a mountainside for no particular reason. They were shocked and bereft. They didn’t understand what Jesus meant about him having to leave that the Holy Spirit could come to them. How could they?
When the angel said that Jesus would be back they must have shaken their heads. Jesus had said for them to go and baptize, to take his message to the world. This must have seemed like too much for them, an overwhelming task, especially on their own.
They had to greatly expand their understanding of God even past the miraculous three years they had left everything for and deeply identified with now.
They had to let go so they could be filled and receive Jesus in a whole new way, by his presence in their hearts, and to come to know the Holy Spirit who was new to them.
How can we receive the Spirit without detachment, self emptying, without freedom of heart?
“Love- the way God wants to be loved, and leave off your own way of acting,” said St. John of the Cross.
Or, as Jesus said to St. Angela of Foligno, “Make of yourself a capacity and I will make myself a torrent.”
Jesus said that if his friends loved him they would be happy he was going to the Father. (Jon.14:28) Is there something more to that than being happy for him? Yes, because he says, “for the Father is greater than I.” Maybe it also means that we have to let our current perhaps more comfortable understanding go to make room for the immensity he has for us. We can be happy he is going to the Father because then, in letting him go as we thought we had him, he then is truly closer than our breath, more accessible than ever. Detachment is hard. We feel that we are losing our Treasure.
St. Faustina said of Mary’s experience of the Ascension that she deeply grieved as any mother would that her Son was leaving but that, “her heart could not want what God did not want.”
In seeking a pure heart for God and a Marian detachment; a detachment with great love, a detachment even from the way we thought Jesus would be present to us, we open ourselves to what is even greater, beyond what we could ever have thought of ourselves. But first we let go.
“Bend my heart according to your will, O God.” (Ps. 119:36)
“I shall run in your paths for You will enlarge my heart.” (Psalm 119:32)
In this is peace that comes from open-ness to God and freedom of heart.
These verses are a perfect prayer to cultivate holy detachment as the disciples struggled to do this, standing there on the Mount of Olives, not knowing what to do with themselves.
Fortunately we don’t have to rely on our own strength in this and neither did they.
Jesus had said to wait in Jerusalem and to pray. They did. They trusted in simplicity. And prayer continually purified theirattachments and intentions as disciples, transforming their dismay into receptivity.
They still longed for Jesus; his voice, his hug, the sound of his footsteps, “like a deer that longs for running streams in a dry weary land without water,” (Ps. 42:2) However they soon found that once emptied, their muddled and broken hearts were then open to the new gift of God’s presence; the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling them past overflowing, their thirst for God more than quenched. “Your torrents and all your waves swept over me.” (Ps. 42: 8)
Come, Holy Spirit, come.