“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” ( Luke 24, 50-53).
Two real life stories
First story. “Promise you won’t leave me, will you, Mommy?” “Of course not, I would never leave you, darling, I promise. And a promise is a promise!” These were the last words that were exchanged between Kaye O’Bara and her 16 year old daughter, Edwarda, before the vivacious teenager fell into a diabetic coma on January 3, 1970.
For the past 28 years, Edwarda has been in a comatose state and her mother has kept her promise to never leave her daughter. This dedicated parent, now 70, has fed her daughter every two hours and given her insulin every four hours, without fail! In fact, Kaye O’Bara sleeps next to her daughter in a chair. Imagine if you will: Never sleeping more than 90 minutes at a time. Never going on a vacation. Never going to a movie theater. These are activities that most of us consider part of everyday life. But Kaye has never enjoyed any of them, especially since the brunt of Edwarda’s care has always rested on Kaye’s shoulders. Kaye’s husband Joe died in 1976 of a heart attack and ever since, Kaye has chosen to keep Edwarda at home. There is no help from the government, so Kaye has been fund raising privately for the past 28 years!
Kaye’s loving care is evident in Edwarda’s appearance. She is always clean, her gray hair braided, and her clothing spotless and feminine. Edwarda has never had a bedsore. Looking at the chair by Edwarda’s bed, one can visualize the number of nights over a quarter of a century when Kaye has fed Edwarda, waking at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, to pour the specially prepared mix of vitamins and baby food into the feeding tube that is her daughter’s life support. Kaye constantly speaks to her daughter, plays self-help tapes, new age music, and even television sitcoms. She is convinced that Edwarda will someday wake up and is determined to get her ready for that day.
Over the years, Edwarda has moved from being in a deep coma to being able to blink her eyes in response to a question from Kaye. Kaye has often been asked why she has not put Edwarda into a nursing home, where the government would take care of expenses and life would have been much easier for Kaye. Her response is immediate and forthright. “I knew she would never survive living in a nursing home, and so did my husband. I made her a promise that I would never leave her, and I won’t. I know that she will one day wake up, and I will be here just like I was on the third of January, 1970, and she will know that I lived up to my promise that I made when she was a little girl. After all, a promise is a promise!”
Second story. Chris Carrier, Fla, was abducted in 1974, when he was ten. His captor burned him with cigarettes, punctured his skin with an ice pick, shot him in the head and left him to die in the Everglades. The boy survived, though he lost sight in one eye. No one was ever arrested. Then recently, a man confessed to the crime and Carrier went to see him. He found David McAllister, a 77- year-old ex-con, frail, blind, and living in a North Miami Beach nursing home that reeks of excrement. And Carrier, now a married man with two daughters, director of youth ministries at his Church, befriended him. He began dropping by every day to visit, read to him from the Bible and pray with him. No arrest is forthcoming; the statute of limitations on the crime is long past. Carrier says that’s fine with him. “When I look at him,” he told a reporter, “I don’t stare at my abductor and potential murderer. I stare at a man, very old, very alone and scared.”
Two real life stories which capture the true meaning Ascension.
Good-Bye Or Here He Comes?
Ascension is an event which remains obscure for many of us. Why should we celebrate a departure? What is the big deal about Jesus lifting himself up in the clouds and disappearing? We normally hate good-byes. Why do the apostles react positively at his ascension to heaven : “then they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).
And why does the Church celebrate this feast with such solemnity? In the Eastern Church, this feast is known as analepsis (the taking up) and even as the episozomene (the salvation). The simple faith of the people added so many customs to this feast, realizing its relevance to their every day’s life : blessing of beans, grapes, first fruits, a candle, wearing of mitres by deacon and subdeacon, putting out of the Paschal candle, processions with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven, a representation depicting the figure of Christ being elevated above the altar, through an opening in the roof and that of the devil descending down the floor…
Obviously something important is happening! The facts are simple and well known. On the Mount of Olives, the same place where in the nearby Garden of Getshamene, Jesus started his final journey to death and resurrection, the apostles suddenly see Jesus lift himself up and ascend into a cloud. They never saw him again. The cloud received him out of their sight. Jesus had told them that this would happen. And He even added that it would be beneficial : “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Comforter will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
The secret behind all the story is very simple. Ascension is not a spatial reality – He did not go to some far distant planet of space. Heaven is not a place off yonder somewhere, several billion light years away. The Semitic use of ‘rising’ ‘ascending’ ‘climbing’ does not have necessarily spatial connotations. We rise in rank, we ascend to a higher position, we climb up in our ratings … meaning that now we have more power, we can reach more people, we can do more. The ascension of Jesus means just this : He has stepped into a different dimension of existence, He is now in the spiritual kingdom which surrounds us on every side, invisibly. Completing his work of salvation, He has entered with our human nature glorified into heaven. Now He can reach more people. He can transmit to each one of us intimately and personally His own life .
The Catechism number 668 puts it beautifully : “Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion’, for the Father ‘has put all things under his feet.’ (Eph 1:20-22). Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are ‘set forth’ and transcendently fulfilled. (Eph 1:10 ; cf. Eph 4:10; 1 Cor 15:24, 27-28 .)”
A Power Which Can Be Ours
Jesus Christ, the man betrayed by friends, condemned to death by the religious world, defeated by the political powers… has been constituted THE Lord. He has acquired a power which is unbelievable. A power which He wants to transmit to us! He can and He wants us to have His same ability. His same strength His same potential. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
What kind of power? The resurrection power, the power of a risen Lord. A power which is not demonstrative or spectacular – but is simply irresistible. Every obstacle thrown in its path is turned into an opportunity to advance. And so a Kaye O’Bara can stay thirty-eight years by the bedside of her daughter Edwarda. And so a Chris Gables can forgive his potential murderer. And so a Pope can keep traveling, evangelizing the whole world, even if he is sick and old.
Ascension means a divine power can be yours. This power works best in our cemeteries. It creates life where there is death. It operates where everything is dull and lifeless. It harmonizes, it heals, it draws together and breaks down “middle walls of partition” (Eph 2:14). The Liturgy sings “Christ ascended into heaven. He led captivity captive!” Now the “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (I Pt 1,4) is ours forever!
We can be empowered. The supernatural can become the NATURAL in our daily relationships. A miracle can happen. And we can be different. So much more different. This is what the Church is all about. Much, much more than what we have made it!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.