Solemnity of the Ascension

May 21, 2023

May 21, 2023


May 21, 2023

Solemnity of the Ascension





The Spirit Poured Out To All

“John baptized with water but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5) Ascension Sunday is a series of events, the completion of Jesus’ ministry, the sending forth of the disciples, the beginning of the early Christian church, and the hinting of the trinity.

Luke uses the events of Jesus' Ascension as a bridge between his two books, bringing together (the Gospel of Luke) Jesus’ ministry and the (the Book of Acts) or the continuation of the apostle’s ministry in the early Christian church.

The story of the Ascension functions as the transition point for when the disciples became apostles. No longer were the apostles simply being followers of Jesus but were transformed into being ones that were sent out.

The scripture passage doesn’t end with the ascension of Jesus, but rather begins with it to show the wider unfolding ministry of both the Spirit and apostles throughout time.

Through the Spirit each of us are called to be apostles. In Greek the verb apostles mean to send out or go forth. And through the sacrament of Baptism, we are called to be sent out and be the hands, and hearts of God ministering to the world in need.

Perhaps the story of ascension and transition also reveals that there comes a time to transition from focusing inward to turning outward.  

Often in my work with seniors, I hear of the growing pains or ambiguous grief related to transitions. Especially when it comes to the passing from one generation to the next. I frequently hear the groans of “things aren’t like they were when I was in my 20’s” or “I worry for the future generations because I never had to deal with the pressures of social media.”

Transitions can be disruptive and disorienting. If we spend time reading the book of Psalms, we will find a cycle and a series of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation (Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms.)

Perhaps we have experienced a very similar transition within our own life or family systems. For instance, when a family’s leader begins to age, becomes sick, or dies the responsibilities of uniting the family are passed onto another member of the family. That member of the family is then tasked with organizing seasonal holiday gatherings or calling members of the family that need support. These examples of transitions are present in both scripture and family systems.

Connie Zweig wrote a book titled The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul.

In that book she outlines the three phases that are present amidst aging and transitions. I am going to share them with you now and encourage you to think and apply these three steps to someone in your life that is going through a transition or a community that is going through transformation.

1.   Letting go: leaving behind past roles, attitudes, or regrets.

2.   Limited time: a period when a person or community feels lost, formless, empty, or afraid.

3.   New beginnings: emergence of new sense of self, purpose, awareness, or vision.

Applying these three steps to the passion and ascension story we can map out the layers of transition in Jesus’ life.

Take for instance the crucifixion and burial in the tomb, it most likely was a time when the disciples had to “let go” and leave behind the comfort in having Jesus lead them and instruct them in their ministry. The disciples I am sure felt a sense of bewilderment, regret, and disorientation. And then with the final burial and laying in the tomb I imagined the apostles wondered how they might go on, and to whom would they disciple with—who was going to be their prophet and guide in their world.

The last stage also known as the “new beginnings” when Jesus blessed his followers saying “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 have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” And then Jesus departed from them so that the apostles could take on their new purpose and sense of self.

Acts (1:11) closes with the local town folks asking the apostles “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” This question serves as our call to action.

We live in a world where it is better to be up than down. We all would rather have an up day than a down day. The economy is better when stocks are up rather than down. Singers want to be at the top of the charts. We hear and read of mountain climbers but rarely hear of those descending valleys.  

The reality is that we want to break free from the things that hold us down. And these are all good things.

However, often the problem is we disorient ourselves or we focus on things that are out of reach. That are up in heaven rather than working towards making heavenly things possible here on earth.  

There is a time to stop looking up and to start looking to our left and our right sides. There is a time to focus on drawing out what is from within. There is a time to move with the Spirit towards ministry and social justice, to work for equality even within the Catholic church.

As the Catholic church journeys through this synod may we open our hearts to the ways that the spirit is moving the church. May we focus in on the ways the apostles' work is being carried out through the Spirit as the church calls lay women and lay men to come together for the first time to vote at the synod assembly.

Remembering 1 Corinthians (12:13) that:  

“Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body we all drink of one Spirit.”

As a closing I want to offer this prayer written by Theresa of Avila and modified by the Spirit that prompts us to action.

Let us pray,

God of love, help us to remember that Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world. Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone. Ours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. May we be eager and willing to minister to one another. Inspire us oh Spirit. Move each of us to minister to our neighbor not as we would want someone to do unto us, but as they would want us to do for them.


Go forth renewed by the Spirit.

First Reading

Acts 1:1-11


Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Second Reading

Eph 1:17-23


Mt 28:16-20
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Emily Southerton

Emily Southerton

Emily Southerton is a member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) and recently completed her board certification. She is a chaplain at Phoebe Ministry where she provides spiritually themed small groups, funeral services, and leads monthly worship services for seniors. She has a BA in Theology and Philosophy (Aquinas College) and an MA in Theology and Pastoral Ministry (Villanova University).

Elders living with Dementia are spiritually active. In August 2022, Emily presented a workshop at NACC on the value and importance of using "Montessori like '' methods in spiritual care for individuals living with Dementia. In October 2022, she presented a webinar for NAJC sharing the importance of "Entering Their Story (Dementia Residents): Interacting with Scripture Through Experiential Methods". Emily finds value and meaning in leading Spirit Alive© workshops and offering training for CCRCs (continuing care retirement communities) that partner with Phoebe Ministries to receive Dementia specialized resources and training.

To put it mildly, Emily perceives the imperative need to deepen the conversations relating to lay involvement at all levels of the Catholic church. In 2021, during the height of the pandemic, Emily presented a research paper articulating questions and probing critical thought on "the missed opportunities" for the church to partner with trained Catholic (lay) chaplains present in various medical care context to assist in administering the sacrament of anointing amidst the strict CMS and CDC strict guidelines. She highlighted that (in extenuating circumstances) the sacrament of baptism can be conferred by lay Catholics. And noted that in extenuating circumstances (the pandemic) several if not many patients and residents in hospital settings or continuing care facilities were not offered the sacrament of anointing prior to death due to the potential of exposing clergy to sickness. This paper Emily presented at Notre Dame's fall conference "'I Have Called You by Name:' Human Dignity in a Secular World"


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