The Ascension: a tremendous transition for us all

Beloved in Christ!

With what tenderness must have Jesus looked upon his apostles and disciples gathered on Mount Olivet…

Those final moments when they were alone, forty days after he rose from the dead…

With what joy did he look into each of their eyes that last time he saw them in his human body on this earth, flooding his heart with their face and the dearest memories of who they were, their characteristics, their love for him, their potential, their spiritual growth in the previous three years. Memories of conversations, struggles and victories, secrets of their heart…

These beloved friends who had been such a part of his life and mission and paschal mystery (yes, even in their failure, for their betrayals and fleeing from the cross have given us hope in our own fears and disloyalty)…

As he blessed them…  And withdrew from them… Here still in his blessing… Taken from their sight…

“When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).

The ascension was a moment of tremendous transition for Jesus, for Mary, for the Apostles and disciples, for Mary Magdalene and the women who had faithfully tended to their needs. Yes, clearly Jesus had gone and, as the angels said, would return one day. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Spirit. (And what a transition that was for these fearful and self-centered novices of the Lord who became the fearless messengers of the risen Jesus who had loved them, filling the world with his holy Name!)

But there is another hidden transition that affects you and I as well. Today. Right now. And how we need to hear this good news!

If Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, we are as well.

We dwell not only here on earth, looking forward to the happiness of heaven in an eternity beyond time, but now… right now… you and I… as members of the body of Christ who is our Head… as children of God… as inheritors of the kingdom of heaven… We dwell eternally in glory even now.

Ascension is not just about Jesus, his destiny, his glory…. It’s not like we peer into a heaven to see the Lamb seated on the Throne while we trudge through our lives on this earth alone… The ascension is about our present reality… here… now… today….

Benjamin West (1738-1820) The Ascension; Berger Collection

The truth is, “Jesus is not glorified in his own Person only. His Apostles had fed upon him [and so have we], had his body within them, by virtue of the Holy Eucharist…. Now upon his Ascension, His body in them is glorified instantaneously with the glorifying of his body at the right hand of God. Like an electric flash the glory of the Spirit shines out in the fires of Pentecost. The body of Christ, however veiled in our flesh, in our sinful persons, nevertheless cannot but have the glory of the Spirit of holy fire burning and resting upon it. We do not, I think, dwell as we ought to dwell upon the present glorification of our nature in our own persons, as members of the glorified body of Christ” (Benson, Richard Meux Further Letters, pages 268-269).

If Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, we are as well, as members of his body.

So, friends, look to the glory.

As Paul reminds us, “and all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Mass is a remembrance of Christ’s passion and pledge of future glory. In the Eucharistic liturgy the Ascension is celebrated again and again by us, in via, on the way. It is the holy banquet in which Christ is received. “Here heaven and earth meet, constellated around the ascended Christ who brings humanity into the very heart of the Godhead…. We need to rekindle the Catholic eschatological imagination: to realize anew Jesus Christ’s ascension as inaugurating the transfiguration of humanity and to envision boldly the cosmic scope and implications of that decisive and ongoing event” (Fr Robert Imbelli, Ongoing Ascension, May 10, 2018).

So, friends, may this year’s celebration of the Ascension and Pentecost be a moment of transition for you. We are invited in each Mass to lift up our hearts and we exclaim, “We have lifted them up to the Lord!” Raise your eyes from this earth. Upwards! Lift up your hearts! Dwell already where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:2).

Image Credit: Benjamin West, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now heaven is present on the earth

The Solemnity of the Ascension can be eclipsed for most of us by the Resurrection, Good Friday, and Christmas. For me, the Ascension is a liturgical feast that draws me inward and upward. Pope Benedict stated in his homily for the Ascension in 2013: “Christ’s Ascension means that he no longer belongs to the world of corruption and death that conditions our life. It means that he belongs entirely to God. He, the Eternal Son, led our human existence into God’s presence, taking with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form.”

My human existence led into God’s presence as Jesus took with him flesh and blood in a transfigured form….

My human existence led into God’s presence…

My human existence…

St. Augustine said that although Jesus ascended to the Father alone, “we also ascend, because we are in him by grace.”

We are led by Christ into the new world of the resurrection, where all the members of his body are drawn upwards to the Father in heaven.

The apostles, in the reading today, were still wondering when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. His answer to them is that they “would receive power” when the Holy Spirit was given to them:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

In other words, Jesus directs their attention to this “new world of his resurrection.” After being brought to the life by the Spirit, they were to set their minds and hearts on things above where Christ is, not on earthly things (cf. Col 3:1-2).

In the early Church the Christians placed the Christ of the Ascension in the dome of their Churches to remind them that Christ ascended to his Father in heaven and that he was returning.

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

In a world of turmoil and crisis in which so many are suffering unjustly and needlessly, we can pray daily, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Perhaps we feel that we cannot effect the change the world so needs, but we can be that change. With our faith in Jesus Christ who is real, the strength of our belief in the kingdom present and among us in Christ who is close to us in our every need, we can experience how we are changed, how heaven is present on the earth and every sorrow, every closed door, every crisis is but a window to his drawing us with him to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Sauber, <a href="http://CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You have been called with a purpose

Here at the end of the beautiful month of May and near the end if the Easter Season, the difficult and heart-wrenching days of the paschal triduum and the suffering and betrayal of the Lord are in the mists of my memory. This reading, however, brings me back with joy to those sorrowful days.

At the Last Supper we got a snapshot of the spiritual state of the apostles before the passion and death of their Master…before their dismal failure to stand with the One who was their Life. Peter boldly proclaimed at that Passover supper that he would die with Jesus, only a few hours later to declare he didn’t even know him. All of the Twelve wanted to be sure that they weren’t the one who would betray the Lord. “Is it I, Lord?” they each asked.

As Jesus walked into the mystery of his salvific death, alone, abandoned by his chosen Twelve, they each learned what they were capable of doing without their Lord and Master. Nothing. They each in some way abandoned Jesus. Before, they had fought with each other to see who would be the greatest, who was the most important, and Peter had tried to convince Jesus that the cross and death in Jerusalem was really not a good idea for the Messiah. In those dark and fear-filled days after Jesus died on the cross something happened to each of them.

The Apostles learned existentially that they were completely dependent on Jesus. They needed him for absolutely everything. Without him they were nothing, like branches cut from the vine. For each of them it was a crisis, a turning point, a transformation as they painfully emerged into who they were truly to be in the Kingdom: the foundation stones of the holy city Jerusalem in heaven.

“The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).

Moments of failure, of change, of challenge…we all have them. They are stages in our life in which we are still who-we-were and not quite yet who-we-will-be. And this liminal stage of confusion and darkness is what makes these times in our life so painful.

These transcendent crises come into my life on a regular basis. Sometimes the loss and confusion even last several years as I integrate who I was with who I am becoming, who I have been with who God has made me to be, my next step on the journey of my response to the call and grace of God. These are graced transitions.

If you are in one of these transformative crises in your life, take heart from the Twelve apostles. You may not be a stone in the foundation of the holy Jerusalem, and the Twelve certainly didn’t think they were during the 40 days after the resurrection when they remained fearfully hiding away. You have your own place in that holy city. You have been called with a purpose. Every event in your life has meaning. And no matter what you have come through or come from, God is working actively through every aspect of your daily life to keep moving you toward the fullness of what he has created you to be. Rejoice. Alleluia!

Image by Andrey Grachave on Pixabay

No power of evil can take us from Jesus’ hand

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”

This is one of the most powerful lines in the second reading for Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. In this reading from the book of Revelation (chapter 7), evil exists only as something that has been eliminated through the victory of Christ, through the triumph of the blood of the Lamb….

Evil no longer has any power to destroy God’s people….

A vast multitude of women and men from every nation, race, people, and tongue worship the One who sits on the throne. They fear the powers of evil no longer, for they have survived the time of great distress and are now shepherded by the Lamb who wipes every tear from their eyes….

No tears.

No hunger.

No thirst.

No wounds.

No death.

No war.

Nothing but the triumph of love….

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28).

On August 1, 1943, eleven sisters of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth stood in a secluded spot in the woods about 3 miles from Nowogródek, located in what is now central Belarus. The town had been occupied by the German army since 1941. The sisters were an integral part of the town and had helped the community find hope and faith through the days of “distress” in which half of the population had been murdered because they were Jews. Now, the sisters huddled around a mass grave.

When the women of the town had turned to the sisters to pray for the release of their husbands and sons who had been arrested and slated for execution, the sisters gathered to discuss what they could do. Unanimously they had expressed their desire to offer their lives in sacrifice for the prisoners.

The Superior of the community, Sister Maria Stella, C.S.F.N., shared the community’s decision with their local pastor, Father Zienkiewicz, telling him: “My God, if sacrifice of life is needed, accept it from us and spare those who have families. We are even praying for this intention.” Shortly thereafter, the plan for the execution of the prisoners was changed to deportation to work camps in Germany, while some were released.

When the life of their local pastor was threatened, the sisters renewed the offering of their lives: “There is a greater need for a priest on this earth than for us. We pray that God will take us in his place, if sacrifice of life is needed.”

The youngest sister, Sister M. Boromea, was just twenty-six. The oldest sister and superior, Sister M. Stella of the Blessed Sacrament, was fifty-four. With one heart and soul the eleven young religious now stood together awaiting their death. The Lord had accepted their sacrifice. They, like Christ himself, the Lamb upon the Throne, had offered their lives for their brothers and sisters. As they were gunned down by the Gestapo and buried in a common grave, they had indeed “survived the time of great distress” because they had loved others more than preserving their own life. No power of evil, no weapon on this earth, could take them from Jesus’ hand. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

Declared martyrs by Pope John Paul, he said of them at their beatification in 2000, “Together and unanimously they offered their lives to God, asking in exchange that the lives of the mothers and fathers of families and that of the local pastor be spared. The Lord graciously accepted their sacrifice and, we believe, abundantly rewarded them in his glory.”

Friends, we all face the power of destruction in our lives. We may face it in personal wounds, our own or those of loved ones, and in the powers of evil set loose in the world. These eleven martyrs teach us four important things:

  1. We will not perish. God has us in his hands. Nothing and no one can take us out of his hands.
  2. Only love is victorious, a love modeled on the self-giving heart of the Shepherd. No tanks can destroy that love.
  3. Our lives unfold in the time of great distress, but we do not need to fear what is happening around us because of who is in us.
  4. No matter the power of destruction that rages in our times, we need to wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, and we too will stand before the throne and before the Lamb where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, because death and evil at last will be no more.

I’m tired of storms

I must admit that I am tired of storms. I’m worn out trying to find my life story—my Covid pandemic life story—reflected in the apostles’ experience of storms at sea.

I’m exhausted trying to outsmart an invisible enemy.

I’m finished for a while with helping people make sense of what has been senseless suffering in their lives for these past two years.

The global consequences of the pandemic are so overwhelming I want to just sit down and cry. I long for the former days that seem in misty memory to have been more carefree and happy.

So the words that attracted my attention in the Gospel reading in today’s liturgy were these: “the boat immediately arrived at the shore to which they were heading.”

The apostles wanted to take Jesus into their boat. They were prepared to take charge and figure out the next best thing to do.

Oh, how much of my life I’ve spent doing precisely this. These past two years that have been not only pandemic-riddled but also have been years of great loss on different levels have finally worn me out. I certainly don’t know the next move and I’ve finally acknowledged that I certainly don’t have what it requires to take the situation in hand and plot a way forward.

If you feel this way, just a little, trust in the Lord who brought the boat immediately to the shore to which they were heading. Sometimes we get taken to places in our lives that we would never have gone on our own, places that we would never have chosen, that we still don’t entirely comprehend. Somehow through it all we are taken by God to a shore where we are safe, yet we don’t how we got there, where we are to go, or how we are to get there. We simply realize that God himself did it for us because he loves us poor storm-weary children.

It is a place of trust and of magnificent wonder: God is taking us somewhere, and he is doing it on his own, surprising us with his power, surrounding us with his love. “Do not be afraid,” he says. “It is I.”

I want to finish this reflection with three lines that perfectly express my prayer in these days. They are from a poem by Marie Noël (The Hours: Prime) found in the book Born from the Gaze of God: The Tibhirine Journal of a Martyr Monk (1993-1996).

Father, carry my soul in its carefreeness
To where you want, and let it sleep in your hand
Without asking the meaning and the goal of the road.

Learning the Art of Spiritual Discernment

Dear Friends,

The 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead, began in great silence. At the final meeting with Pilate before Jesus was ultimately condemned to death, the crowd was “shouting,” “howling,” and “shouting at the top of their voices,” (words from Luke’s Gospel in the New Jerusalem translation). The first lines of the narrative of the Resurrection are filled, instead, with silence, awe, rest, and joy.

“On the morning of the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared….”

And the first words are those of the angels. A few verses later Jesus joins two disciples who share with him the confusion within their own hearts and desires, their disappointment at Jesus’ death, the disintegration of their dreams. And Jesus’ voice cuts clear through all of that, a quiet, clear, strong voice.

The only people that populate the narratives of the Resurrection appearances are Jesus and his disciples. It is like Jesus took them on a 40-day retreat with him. He wanted to comfort them yes. But he had so many things he wanted to tell them. He wanted to shape them in his image so they could love the world as he did, serve as he did, preach as he did…with his voice, his heart, his wisdom and love.

The Easter season is a wonderful time to listen for the voice of God as did the disciples during those first beautiful days after the Resurrection.

Last night on my Facebook group we began a series of meetings in which we will be meditating on the Easter Gospels in relation to how God communicates with us. We began to explore how we can grow in our interior awareness and hear more clearly his voice through the muddle of our disappointments, confusion, dreams, desires. We began last night with two gospel passages that recount Mary at the tomb and talked about what makes an experience “spiritual” and some of the ways we can tell the difference between our voice and God’s voice.

Together during the Easter season we will be developing the art of spiritual discernment along with the apostles and women who followed Jesus.

If this sounds like it would be a great way to spend the Easter season, learning at the feet of Jesus how to hear his voice as it clarifies your heart and orders your desires, I’d love for you to join us. We meet on Tuesdays at 8pm EST. Even if you can’t come at that time, most people watch it in the days after since the video remains. In fact, you can still catch this week’s video if you’d like. Here’s the link to join the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/srkathrynhermes

And here’s the link to sign up for my mini-retreat this Saturday offered free on SmartCatholics. It’s just an hour (3-4), and you’ll receive an email link for 9 days to a daily prayer guide, leading you to a more silent, restful prayer in which you will more deeply abide in God and God in you. Again, if you can’t come Saturday you will be able to watch the re-run after. The link for the retreat is here: https://hopin.com/events/abide-in-me-retreat

Both of these opportunities are wonderful ways to transition from the “penance” focus of Lent to the “growth and transformation” focus of Easter which culminates in Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, and the amazing changes we see in the Apostles who then go out to the ends of the earth as witnesses to all they have seen and heard.

Know that I am praying for each of you in these days.

Christ is Risen indeed!

Thanks for joining me on the journey,
Sr Kathryn

A blessed and most grace-filled Easter!

 My friends who join me on the journey, Happy Easter. Christ has risen, and with him you and I have also risen. God exalted Christ who humbled himself even unto death. Not only did he raise Jesus from the dead, his whole plan is to raise up the whole of mankind through him from the death of sin. 

We can be certain that the whole of God’s will, the entirety of God’s plan, his ultimate end toward which everything tends is to establish all things in Christ risen and exalted at his right hand. The picture above is of Christ leading the souls out of limbo after his death. He has burst open the doors of hell, to the consternation of Satan, and has brought joy to the first Adam and Eve and Moses and Elijah and Isaiah and all those who were being held captive waiting for him to free them.

Lent, and retreats, are a time when we look back over our lives. We might experience this captivity in our own experience. We wonder why things happened the way they did, or why things we so wanted didn’t happen. These things might seem to have trapped or imprisoned us. We look at where we are and where we’ve come from. We see the tiniest details of our lives and how they have affected us, and we mourn the great losses which we have borne.

Jesus, in his life and death, submitted himself entirely to the details of his life, trusting in the care of his dear Father, in the wisdom and purpose of his Father. He also mourned, wept, feared, felt deeply the pain of loss. The Father’s one purpose is to establish all things in Christ, and that is why we can ultimately let go of all we try to make happen and surrender to the merciful and magnificent plan which God is unfolding in us day by day, as he establishes us in Christ. We may still mourn and weep, but we believe.

This is such a grace to receive: this vision, this hope, this faith. 
That even in the dark there is light, in the wandering there is purpose, in the fear there is courage,  in the visible there is always the invisible working of grace, in the end always a beginning.

May you have a blessed Easter Season, all of these amazing days that lead up to Pentecost.

Thanks for joining me on the journey,
Sr Kathryn 

The Liturgy of the magnificent Easter Vigil

Holy Saturday…

A day of quiet and calm. A day of intimacy and hope.

A day when all creation sighed in exhaustion after witnessing the sorrowful and tragic events of Calvary the day before.

A day when the earth trembled as it held the sacred Body of the Savior as it lay in the silent darkness.

A day of waiting….

The liturgy of Holy Saturday, the magnificent Easter Vigil, teaches us the divine art of waiting.

We wait in the dark around the Easter Fire, usually shivering in the early spring evening for the service to begin. We wait as the Paschal candle precedes us into a darkened church and our tiny candles gradually become a sea of lights punctuating the shadows. We wait for everyone to take their place before the lovely Exultet is proclaimed in song. And then finally we wait for the reading of the Gospel of the resurrection as the Liturgy of the Word “takes us by the hand” in the words of Benedict XVI and walks us through the whole trajectory of salvation history. If your parish proclaims all the readings for Holy Saturday Liturgy there will be seven Old Testament readings and one from the Epistles in the New Testament.

As these readings follow upon each other, one after another, I feel that in some way I take my place in the long centuries of creation waiting for redemption as I look through the “scrapbook” of memories and miracles, of suffering and assurance that is the heartbeat of the Liturgy of the Word of the Easter Vigil. Story after story is read from creation through the promise made to Abraham and the miraculous freeing of the Hebrew slaves as they raced across the path made by the Lord for them through the Red Sea, to the prophecies of how God has chosen Israel, making with them a covenant, inviting them to fidelity, through to God sorrowing over his unfaithful people to whom he promises a new heart and a new spirit.

Every baptized person stands in this arc of salvation, this mysterious longing of the Father’s heart for our return to him. We are baptized into Christ’s death and rise with him.

In the Easter Vigil, the readings assure us with the unmistakable echoes of a Father’s heart: “I love you. All of this was for love of you. I have always stood by my covenanted people and I will do so forever. I will stand by you. Even if you walk away. Even if you are weak and wobbly in your love for me, I will love you. You do not need to be afraid.”

And lastly, the community breaks out with joy as we celebrate the Baptisms of those who have waited many months of preparation. I always feel more complete as we welcome them among us, each of us holding them spiritually to our hearts.

If you have never been to an Easter Vigil, someday give yourself that gift. Don’t wait any longer!

Photo Credit: Cathopic, paulcamposraw