HEART OF HEARTS A family walks past an installation of a series of big hearts at Rizal Park in Manila on the eve of Valentine’s Day, when lovers are drawn to the historical urban park, a favorite leisure spot for lovers and other strangers. JOAN BONDOC
In a current prime-time teleserye, the billion-peso question is, “Can first love be forever?” Unconsciously I suspect the show’s high ratings are due in part to the viewers’ desire to know the answer—or to be affirmed in the answer they have in their minds.
The dreamers among us would resoundingly say, “Yes, first love can be forever!” The more jaded or cynical among us would dourly quip, “No way!” The wise ones would calmly declare, “First love never dies.”
Today, Ascension Sunday, gives us the “final answer.”
In our reflections these past weeks about Easter on mission, we highlighted the Paschal Mystery as the core of mission. We pointed out that in the tradition of Luke, the Paschal Mystery is completed with the Ascension—thus it is the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension.
As we have been reflecting on this Easter season, the Ascension brings the synthesis to the pattern of the Cross and Resurrection, which we looked at as the antithesis. The Ascension narrates to us the co-missioning by Christ of his disciples, and his promise to be with his disciples until the end of time as they proclaim his good news and “make disciples of all nations.”
In the classic work of Joseph Campbell, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” he gives a succinct description of the protagonist’s journey.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men.”
Campbell says this is the journey that Christ, Gautama Buddha and Mohammed took; and their uniqueness, compared to other heroes, was that their message and the sharing of the “boons” was universal and not limited to one group, race or nation.
The journey each one of us is invited to take follows the same pattern: “Come follow me,” as Christ asked his disciples. They leave behind everything and follow him. They are witnesses to the wonders of “amazing grace” in the life and ministry of Christ.
But just as the best is yet to come—the decisive victory of the Cross and Resurrection—the apostles misread this stage of the journey.
They go through “the dark night of the soul,” the moment of doubt. The dawn of the First Easter is what transforms all this.
The Risen Lord’s first two “words” were: “Do not be afraid” and “Go tell my brothers to go back to Galilee and there they will see me.”
It is in the going back to Galilee, the remembering of their stories of life with Christ, from their first call through the three years of ministry, to the initial misreading victory of the Cross and Resurrection where the transformation takes place.
The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus were retold the story about Christ from scripture, and from them we are blessed with the graces of the encounter. “Were not our hearts burning inside us” and the knowing of the Risen Lord “at the breaking of bread.”
From Thomas’ doubt the Lord draws a fundamental confession of faith we echo at every Mass: “My Lord and my God!” From Peter we hear the prototype confession of our deepest desire and our falling short: “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you despite our shortcomings and failings.”
These are transforming encounters and moments of the disciples with the Risen Lord. They are very personal, each reminiscent of a slender thread in the tapestry of the story of their personal journey with Christ.
It is in the quiet realization in that moment in our journey that we claim the “decisive victory.” Not dramatic, but decisive and with great clarity.
In the words of Dag Hammarskjold (from “Markings”): “I don’t know who or what put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone or Something and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”
It is this moment that makes us go up the mountain again with the Risen Lord to witness and to embrace the moment of the Ascension in our life.
It is both the moment when we go back home after the transformation through the journey and the moment we are co-missioned into another journey.
Accepting our mission
The Ascension gives more than this. When we choose to go up the mountain with the Risen Lord, it is going home, back home to the mountain where in scripture it always represents a privileged place and moment of man’s encounter with God and God’s special revelation to man.
This is our total “yes” to God as we accept the co-mission of the Risen Lord before he ascends. A life of mission from hereon is a life of loving God with everything and above everything and everyone.
True love, authentic love is first love because there is no other love. First love is forever. First love never dies because He, the one who loves us most, promises every time we come home: “I will be with you to the end of time.”
This sends us off to another journey, another chapter in the mission that ever grows into greater and greater love—closer to true love, closer to forever where love has completely conquered death.