Just for a few minutes I ask you to think back to the time when you were a child. Those were some good times when probably playing was the most important aspect of your life—none of these adult responsibilities like earning a living, being a parent, making decisions based on facts and experience rather than just an impulse. Those childhood years had many advantages.
I remember so vividly how much I would look forward several times a year when we would get in our car in Indianapolis and head to Central Illinois to visit my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins. These trips were always special. Mom would spend several days getting all our clothes ready and then packing. Dad would bring the car to a service station and have the attendant check that everything was working properly. We would get out on the highway, and I would say, “Are we there yet?” I must have pestered my parents terribly during those trips, but I was so excited that I wanted to be there in no time! After all, this was big stuff, and often we only had an extended weekend to enjoy it.
In my opinion my grandmother made the best fried chicken and gravy in the whole wide world. Of course I loved my mom’s cooking as well, but with fried chicken she had to take second place. And then there was so much to see and learn in the country. My relatives lived on farms instead of in the city like we did, and I wanted to take it all in: the chickens, cows, sheep, hogs, seeing all the wheat, soybeans and corn actually growing in fields rather than just tasting them on the table. And best of all, I got to ride on a tractor and even drive it when I was a bit older. All this was extra special and well worth the wait of it happening.
This weekend we celebrate Our Lord’s Ascension, and I often wonder whether the Apostles were excited about it or dreading it to come. For the most part I wouldn’t be surprised if they really didn’t know what to make of everything that was occurring between Easter Sunday and the Ascension. Their hopes had been dashed when they saw their Lord and Master crucified on Good Friday. That’s not what they had signed up for. And then a few days later they heard the news that the tomb where he had been laid was open and his body no longer there. What had happened? Oh, he had spoken about his impending death and his rising, but what did that really mean? People did not rise after they had died. Thankfully the Risen Jesus appeared to them a number of times during these forty days to continue to steady their faith, to teach them about the future, and to tell them that he had to go back to the Father, but that he would not leave them orphans. He would send them an Advocate, who would teach them all things and to be their strength.
And then the day came when “Jesus led them to a place near Bethany, raised his hands and blessed them. As he blessed them, he parted from them and was taken up to heaven” (Lk 24:50-51). Again, this is not what they had signed up for. Where were all the crowds that had followed Jesus along the way? What were these disciples to do now? They had felt so good for those several years when Jesus was in their midst as Leader and Teacher. It was so good to walk with him, to listen to him, to sit at his feet, to watch the crowds be mesmerized at his words, to see him work miracles and make all things new. The excitement was gone; only questions remained.
We are somewhat in this same predicament as the Apostles right now. We had been moving along nicely in early March. Winter was gradually moving away, and spring was on the horizon. The economy was strong, our hopes were high, our future bright. Spirits were moving right along, and then came the Coronavirus pandemic. We saw what was happening in China, South Korea, Singapore, then Italy, Spain, other countries in Europe, and finally our own United States. Even in our fondest dreams we could hardly imagine what we have been experiencing over these last weeks and months: more than a million people in the United States testing positive with 86,000+ dead from this “invisible enemy.” Where is all this leading? When will it end? What are we to do?
Let’s remember what Jesus told the Apostles: “The disciples went to Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I am commanding you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’” (Mt 28:16-20).
There is our answer. Even though we may be feeling downcast and somewhat out of sorts, not knowing exactly what the future might bring—as were the Apostles on that Ascension day—we have no reason to fear and feel abandoned. Jesus is with us through it all. He gave the Apostles the promise of the Holy Spirit, and he has given us the Spirit to be our guide and our rock.
Jesus did not want his followers to hang their heads and mope around. Nor does he want us to do that either. We are to be energized and willing to evangelize the world by our words and actions. We have work to do and now is the time to accomplish it. This in between time of the Shelter in Place has been given to prepare us anew for what lies ahead. Like my excitement as a child going to the country, and like the Apostles in the early days of the Church, you and I need to be filled with excitement that Jesus has chosen us to be his spokespersons today in our world. Let’s get going!
SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
The Solemnity of the Ascension marks a move from the Risen Lord at Easter to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul reflects on God the Father’s power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him “at his right hand.” This biblical image symbolizes Jesus’ share in the Father’s power by placing all things in the universe subject to him.
Jesus promises to communicate this power to his disciples in the reading from Acts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Risen Lord makes this final promise on leaving his disciples at the Ascension, as Luke records in the opening of his second volume. The Holy Spirit will empower his disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Gospel reading contains the Risen Lord’s final commission to his disciples before his Ascension. Jesus communicates his power to them for their mission to evangelize the world: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” This mission continues Jesus’ mission to bring people into relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through Baptism and to teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus’ final words that he will be with his followers “until the end of the age” are a reminder of his eternal relationship with us as proclaimed at his birth (Mt 1:23): “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
Both today’s passage from Acts and the Gospel urge the disciples to act. In Acts, the angel hurries the disciples to their task, asking them why they are standing looking at the sky. Matthew portrays Jesus commissioning his followers to make disciples, baptizing and teaching the way of the Lord. That continues to be the work of the Church today. “The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit” (#737).
In the reading from Ephesians, Paul describes Christ as the head and the Church as the body, “the fullness of the one fills all things in every way.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Just as the disciples were given a mandate to make disciples, so have members of the Church through the ages. “As the ‘convocation’ of all people for salvation, the Church in her very nature is missionary, sent by Christ to all the nations to make disciples of them (#767).
For Your Reflection: The phrase, “the eyes of your hearts” is in the Second Reading. How might you see through your heart? How do you envision a land where Christ reigns? As a follower of Jesus, how can you take to heart Christ’s mandate to “make disciples.”
A LETTER FROM CARDINAL CUPICH
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Five years ago, Pope Francis issued the groundbreaking encyclical Laudato Si’. “I urgently appeal,” he wrote, “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” These words continue to resonate during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the deep interconnectedness of the relationship between our society and our common home continues to be emphasized.
Later this month, during the week of May 16-24, Catholic communities throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago are invited to participate in “Laudato Si’ Week” to mark its fifth anniversary. Pastors are encouraged to preach on the importance of caring for God’s creation and promoting an integral ecology and include intentions for the healing and restoration of our common home. I also encourage all the faithful to contact their Congressional representatives in support of H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at alleviating climate change by reducing national carbon emissions. This legislation has been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant.
Our Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity has provided resources and learning opportunities online at www.archchicago.org/creation to help your family and community care for our common home during Laudato Si’ Week and beyond. You, your families and our common home are certainly in my prayers during this unprecedented time.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Blasé Cardinal Cupich
Archbishop of Chicago
A SECOND LETTER FROM CARDINAL CUPICH
Dear Friends in Christ,
These fifty days of Easter, leading to Pentecost, are marked by unprecedented suffering, as humanity has fallen victim to a perilous contagion. In addition to the threats to our physical wellbeing, we are suffering spiritually as the Covid-19 pandemic has required restrictions of our worship and active participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Surely, there have been moments in history when governments and rulers have persecuted Christians and banned their public worship. This is not one of them. Rather, the present restrictions come in response to an extreme medical emergency as local, state and federal authorities—specifically public health officials—legitimately fulfil their responsibilities to safeguard human life and the common good. They have based their reasonable guidance on careful consideration of empirical data and the best available disease-mitigation practices as they seek to contain the pandemic’s rampage through our communities.
While everyone must exercise good citizenship in observing these restrictions, I call on the Catholic faithful, as advocates for justice and charity, to comply with these regulations. From the first pages of Scripture we learn that we indeed are “our brother’s keeper,” a truth that must inspire us as we are called to sacrifice. We should also be motivated to cooperate with public safety norms, given our reverence for life and human dignity. This is, at its heart, a moment to proclaim the breadth and depth of what it means to be pro-life, particularly as this virus preys on the most vulnerable in our midst.
The good news is that a plan for a gradual reopening of our churches has now taken shape, as I note below. However, since our movements will be restricted as that plan unfolds in different phases, your pastors and bishops will continue for the present time to offer Mass in private each day and to livestream and broadcast Masses from our parishes and the archdiocese. I am particularly grateful to ABC-TV, Univision and Polvision in Chicago for giving us airtime every Sunday. These celebrations surely are not the same as gathering in our churches for Mass, but I know from hearing from many parishioners that they provide a great deal of solace and support in this time of uncertainty.
We must be honest. We expect this situation to continue for some weeks, and any plan for reopening our Churches for public worship must include every precaution to ensure public gatherings do not create a second wave of contagion, thus squandering the gains made through our sacrifice in these days.
With those realities in mind, I am heartened to announce that the Catholic Bishops of Illinois have reached an agreement with the Office of the Governor on a multi-phase Plan for reopening our churches for the celebration of the sacraments, private prayer, adoration and Mass. As I share the plan with you, both by way of an Executive Summary and the full Plan in the attachment, I want to assure you of my prayers for you and your family’s personal, material and spiritual wellbeing. I also express my appreciation to the many people on the archdiocesan staff and in the Office of the Governor for the many hours they have given to designing and fine tuning this agreement. Again, I call on all Catholics to seize this moment to exercise faith-filled citizenship in a way that reflects our deep regard for life, our calling as disciples of Jesus and our love of country.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Blasé Cardinal Cupich
Archbishop of Chicago