This story came to my mind as I was reflecting on today’s liturgy. Jesus goes up to Heaven, where he had come from. In a way, his mission is accomplished. He has done what he had come to do. And yet, simultaneously, the mission of Jesus goes on. It is still a work in progress. The only difference is that it is, now up to us to continue what he had started. Like Leonardo’s student, a number of questions and doubts may come to mind. Am I worthy? Probably not. Have I got what it takes? On my own, definitely not! But unlike the above-mentioned case, what makes it possible in my case is not simply the inspiration coming from what the master has already done. It is, rather, a power coming from the master himself. He has promised to give the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit He had. This is what is being promised today, and what we shall celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.
For the time being it is enough to be with that group of disciples on the day Jesus went up to heaven. Both Ascension narratives of Luke (the one in the Acts of the Apostles and in the other one in his Gospel), come with a mission. The disciple of Jesus is not supposed to stay there, “standing, looking into the sky”. He is, rather, to be a “witness” of Jesus, sharing with others all that Jesus is and stands for. In particular, he is to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations”. This had been, essentially, the mission of Jesus when he was on this earth. It is the possibility of a new life, free from sin, free, that is, from all that hinders us from being free enough to love God and neighbor.
Speaking about this feast-day of last year, Pope Francis made a beautiful reflection:
“This feast contains two elements. On one hand, it directs our look to Heaven, where Jesus, glorified, is seated at the right hand of God. On the other, it recalls the beginning of the Church’s mission: why? Because Jesus risen and ascended into Heaven sends His disciples to spread the Gospel throughout the world; therefore, the Ascension exhorts us to raise our gaze to Heaven, to then turn it back immediately to earth, carrying out the tasks that the Risen Lord has entrusted to us.”
Yes, I do have to look towards Heaven. Not in a nostalgic way like the look of someone looking at an airplane on which a loved one has just departed. But because I have to keep reminding myself that I constantly need Him to be able to fulfil my mission. That look, then, necessarily turns towards the world around me, wherever I happen to be. It is here that I now have to continue Jesus’ mission. The need to be truly able to love both God and neighbor is seen and felt all around me.