A few days ago there was a video post on Pope Francis’ Instagram account with the following message: “God accompanies us always, always, even in the most painful and difficult moments, even in the times of defeat, there you will find the Lord. And this is our hope. Let us go forward with this hope! He is close to us and journeys with us always.”
This is a very apt reminder as we celebrate Ascension Sunday. Our Gospel ends with this promise: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
This was a promise given after the Risen Lord entrusted to his band of 11 men one of the greatest missions in human history—to continue his mission and establish the kingdom of his Father, a kingdom of justice, peace and love.
In the midst of all the trials we face, like the seeming triumph of evil; the negativities dividing societies, communities and even families; the growing socioeconomic gap further marginalizing masses of people; and escalating violence in many parts of the world, we must go back to his promise to be with us always.
The events in the past week have been particularly disturbing: the Manchester terrorist attack, the violence in Marawi and the Jakarta bombing. They overtake an already tumultuous landscape from the Syrian carnage to the Korean peninsula tension.
Pondering on these thoughts one early morning that past week, this prayer came to mind with the first line very clearly resonating in my head, heart and soul.
“Disturb us, O Lord, when we are too well-pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, because we sailed too close to the shore.
“Disturb us, O Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the water of life. When, having fallen in love with time, we have ceased to dream of eternity, and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
“Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas where storms show Thy mastery, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
“In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes and invited the brave to follow. Amen.” (Attributed to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu; adapted from an original prayer by Sir Francis Drake.)
Many of us are disturbed by what is happening, and some are numbed into inaction that is the sense of defeat mentioned by the Pope; others are agitated into a response not quite the best or, at the very least, appropriate to address the situation.
Continuing the mission
This prayer reminds us that the disturbance is not to lead us to do wrong or to not do anything at all in the face of evil, but to be stirred, to be inspired again, to do what Christ has entrusted to us—to continue his mission to bring his Father’s kingdom into the world.
That we can and must build God’s kingdom here and now is not some abstract concept or dream, but is the very core of our Christian identity, vocation and mission that we remember in today’s Feast of the Ascension. We remember, too, that with this mission is given the assurance of Christ’s presence and accompaniment, guiding us lovingly.
Several times the past months, after conversations on what was happening here and all over the world, I found myself saying, “I refuse to lose hope.”
And often this was followed by a memory of the moment when my spiritual director over 12 years ago told me I had to leave the Ateneo de Manila and, being a Jesuit, do my work with public schools because “clearly Gods wants you to do this.”
Looking back at the past 12 years, there were many challenges, setbacks, mistakes and failures that tempted me to give up, stop or do something completely stupid, but I held on to the faith and hope that “clearly, God wants me to do this.”
Often I felt that I worked and dealt with the wrong people, but God was good—always kind and gracious—to bless me with so many more people who helped keep my faith and hope. It is my gratitude and love for these people and God that not only kept me going, but inspired me to correct my mistakes and work better.
I look back now and realize that maybe my experience of the Ascension was that moment with my spiritual director. It was both a clarity of mission and a certainty of Christ’s accompaniment—a loving, providential presence.
Feast of the Ascension
Today, the Feast of the Ascension, this is my prayer for us: disturbed, may we rediscover our core and experience, our moment of the Ascension. Stirred, may we live, act in hope that the Risen Lord entrusts us with a mission, one that shares in and continues his mission to establish the kingdom of his Father, a kingdom of justice, peace and love.
Our greatest blessing in the midst of everything that disturbs us—the evil and setbacks around and within us—is knowing that if we remain faithful to our mission and live it out with great love and a great soul, success is not the goal and failure is not even a consideration.
The only consideration is to love and to serve greatly this mission and him who sends us because he has won victory already.
No greater hope, no greater love than this. His Kingdom will come, and his justice, peace and love will reign.